Entrepreneur Stacy Flynn wove her magic, and turned ambition into reality. And for Flynn, the chief executive officer and founding partner of regenerative fiber technology company Evrnu, her success was shaped by transformative experiences in education, and impactful mentorships.
Flynn is a sustainable systems expert with experience in textile innovation roles across the supply chain, at companies such as DuPont, Eddie Bauer and Target Corp. She holds an MBA in Sustainable Systems and a bachelor’s degree in Textile Development and Marketing from the Fashion Institute of Technology. Flynn’s overarching mission is to “ensure that the textile industry is healthy and able to grow in the future by elegantly managing resources.”
Here, Flynn talks to WWD about the importance of mentorship and how education impacted her confidence and career.
WWD: Your experiences at FIT helped shape a new career path. Would you elaborate on how your professors helped develop your unique skill set?
Stacy Flynn: When I was a student at FIT in the mid-Nineties, my textile dyeing and finishing professor discovered I was a kinesthetic learner. I would sit in class, pay attention and ask questions — but when he would test me, I would fail. It was so incredibly discouraging and I thought something was wrong with me. I went up to him in tears and asked if there was a way to make up for the poor grade. He said the low score didn’t make any sense to him because I was paying attention and asking all the right questions, so he asked me if I wanted to try an experiment. We went into the dyeing and finishing lab and he asked me to dye an un-dyed piece of fabric to a specific color of blue. I measured my color, pulled my dye, heated it up and stirred my sample to hit almost a perfect shade match. He tested me on a bunch of colors and I hit the color match on each attempt. He told me I was a kinesthetic learner and he had to teach me differently by running the experiments first and then testing me. [As a result], my grades significantly improved. More than that, I learned how I learn — and once he taught me that, I’ve pushed myself ever since.
WWD: How did your career experiences lead to the development of Evrnu? How is Evrnu’s regenerative fiber technology differentiated among other sustainable fibers?
S.F.: I took off three years between high school and college to work full time. I always felt I was behind my friends academically, so when I did make it to school and then into the workforce, I had a plan. My plan was to get as much experience as possible from the largest companies I could find.
I did not necessarily set out to start a business. When I was in graduate school in my late 30s, I was in an “intrapreneuring” program, so I could learn how to innovate within a large organization. Once I brought in the research of what I wanted to tackle within the textile and apparel industry and my business concept, the facility strongly encouraged me to join the “entrepreneuring” program, to start creating my own business. I [was not immediately attracted] to this program, as the entrepreneurs were unfunded, and it seemed much riskier than anything I had ever experienced professionally. Looking back on it, I’m so grateful the facility recognized something in me I couldn’t necessarily see in myself.
I don’t think you can ever be fully ready or prepared to start a company — let alone build a technology — that doesn’t exist. In 2014, my cofounder Christo Stanev quit his job and we officially arranged for Evrnu to participate in a start-up accelerator called Fledge; by early 2015, we received our first funding.
What makes Evrnu unique is two things: First, we want to outperform virgin alternatives using waste materials by creating fibers, yarns and fabrics that look better, feel better and perform better in some way, while at the same time significantly cutting negative environmental impact; second, all products we make must be designed for disassembly, as all products we are building in partnership with our brand and retailers are designed to be broken down using the same process that in effect eliminates the need to send our textiles to landfills or incinerators.
WWD: Have you had mentors at FIT or in the industry? If so, how have they helped you?
S.F.: Yes, I am one of those people who believe very strongly in mentorship and I’ve been under the wings of some fiercely fantastic people. [In] the first few years of the business I needed the most mentorship, as we were facing a lot of rejection to the point where people said we should just give up and get jobs (mainly my Dad). And in the beginning of forming a company, even with the best business plan you have no idea how things will actually begin to unfold, and which things should be a priority to pursue. This is how many start-ups fail — they pursue the wrong things.
I had mentors who were business owners, inventors, academics, investors and a handful of senior leaders within brand and retail organizations, and I talked with each of them about the challenges we were facing. I know we wouldn’t be where we are today without their advisement, and I think anyone who looks back on their journey of starting a business likely pays tribute to the people who are on the sidelines cheering, even when you crash and burn. It’s hard to stay down for long when you’ve got good mentors and advisers helping you get back up.
WWD: If you could go back in time and give career advice to your younger self, what would you say?
S.F.: Never be afraid to do what you know needs to be done. No one can ever see what you see, and you can never see what others see, so be sure not to make assumptions about what others say or do. Get in the habit of understanding what you and others care about, and why — this is always the underlying motivation for action. [Remind yourself that] you are great at getting [things] done and don’t forget to take care of the people you love, and let them take care of you from time to time. As you become wiser, everything you do must be focused on setting up future generations for success. Finally, you need very little to be truly fulfilled — if you ever forget this, go to the mountains, forest or sea.
WWD: What advice would you offer to young professionals in the fashion and textiles space?
S.F.: I would say they are inheriting a significant challenge and they can choose to accept the way things are, or can choose to change reality. The size of the problem is always directly proportionate to the size of the opportunity, so never be afraid to understand a problem completely — this means you must ask questions and avoid making assumptions. Never, ever be afraid to do what you know needs to be done for the benefit of those yet to come.
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