Though women comprise just 22% of the utility workforce compared to 47% in other industries, we’re spotlighting the power of each individual spark to ignite change. Follow along with our Women in Power series as we celebrate and empower women leading the way in a wide range of careers where AR/FR clothing plays a role.
As the first member of Ariat’s apparel team, Susan Glynn reflects on her 20-year career at the women-owned performance apparel brand while reminiscing on inspiration from her past that have driven her to excel in her current role as Vice President of Apparel Design and Development. Susan shares how her childhood, education, and professional experiences have led to a meaningful leadership role designing safety apparel for women.
Check out this compelling episode hosted by Tyndale’s Director of Online Marketing and Events, Sarah Steel:
“My real true passion has been in the textile and clothing business,” says Susan. Early moments in her childhood shed light on a strong curiosity for garment creation. “My dad was in the garment business, so I grew up with a bunch of samples around the house and visits from buyers,” Susan recalls. She remembers cutting bed sheets into dresses and enjoying her home economics class where she learned how to sew. Looking back, Susan can see how these interests were always with her, even when she didn’t realize how they would shape her career.
After Susan got her undergraduate degree in Sociology, she decided to obtain her master’s degree in Textile Science. During grad school, Susan began an internship at Patagonia, a popular outdoor apparel company. This experience exposed her to world of performance fabrics and functional garments that ultimately helped her find her true calling. After grad school, Susan worked in the outdoor industry for nearly 10 years at companies like The North Face® and ExOfficio. “It’s really great working with athletes and the end-users,” Susan says, “They need your products to function, and I love that challenge.”
Ariat’s roots in the equestrian world naturally spread into the western apparel market. They moved into the western market with outerwear, mid-layer garments, and eventually shirts and denim. Susan recalls that western retailers were carrying Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and requested a flame resistant (FR) clothing line from Ariat that looked like their established apparel but with the FR properties. This started Ariat and Susan’s expansion into FR apparel.
“It’s been a really fun journey,” says Susan. Like the progression from equestrian to western, Ariat’s entrance into the safety apparel market was organic. Susan recognizes that while the products are different, they have core similarities. “You’re making functional products and you’re making them with high-performance fabric. You need to make products that provide mobility and performance to the users.”
Susan’s development efforts hinge on her experience in the outdoor industry. “For the longest time, I worked with athletes,” says Susan. “Clothing is a really essential part of your gear.” Understanding mobility and fabric performance while applying the core elements of what Ariat stands for – innovation, technology, durability, and comfort – directly translates to the successful development of FR clothing. “When I look at our end-users I see them as athletes. We want them to be super comfortable. We need [the products] to be functional and really protect them from the elements and exposures.”
Generally, across the apparel industry, it was thought that men’s garments could be scaled down and offered in different colors to accommodate women. Susan clarifies, “Developing women’s products is so much more complicated. You really want to focus on the right fit. Getting the product to fit on a woman’s body requires a lot of adjustment in patterns. We fit on all different body shapes. We want to make sure that all the products look great on the body but are also really functional and provide a lot of mobility.” In fact, Susan is known for going above and beyond to develop workwear for women – making hundreds of small changes during the design and development process to give women work clothing made for women on the move – so that it works the way you need it to.
In fact, Susan shares that it can take up to two years to develop an FR product from start to finish. “Developing FR products is really challenging and fun at the same time. All the fabric has to go through all the rigorous testing and certification.” At the end of the day, the reward is knowing you provided a product for someone that’s going to be comfortable and protective. “When you can see all the products come together and you get feedback from customers that they love it, or it provided a need that they felt they couldn’t get from FR clothing – to get to that end point is really rewarding.”
When asked about how important choice is for women who are required to wear FR clothing, Susan knows better than most how choice drives satisfaction and safety. “For the longest time, women didn’t have a lot of choices. In terms of colors and fabrications and fit, there were very limited options. You’re wearing this clothing 8-10 hours a day, so you want to feel good when you’re doing your job.”
For women looking to pursue a similar career, Susan recommends getting as much experience as possible and trying different areas – design, development, merchandising, production, etc. – and seeing which one sticks with you. “Once you find that passion, you’re naturally better at it. Keep getting as much experience and exposure as possible.”
In a male-dominated industry, Susan says it’s important to focus on relationship management. When you’re working with people from different cultures, it’s particularly important to make sure you maintain strong relationships with all your partners to successfully build products.
Susan, we are so grateful that you were willing to add your voice to this powerful series and we know that your story will resonate and inspire women in various roles – from the end-user wearers you serve to those with similar interests, looking to harness their passion to pursue a similar role.
Share your story with us – please email MarketingInfo@TyndaleUSA.com with your name and preferred contact information, your role and the name of your company, and the best days/times for us to reach you.
Follow along with this interview-style series to hear directly from women fueling careers in the energy sector on why they chose their occupation, what they like about it, their hopes for the future, their vision for the evolution of PPE, how we can help pave the way for other women, and more: