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Category: Industry

Alumni Stories: Where are they now?

Material Concerns

Lauren Birrittella in hot pink blazer
Lauren Birrittella

Shopping with Lauren Birrittella, Home Products Development ’07, is a hands-on experience. She can’t help knocking on a piece of furniture to see if it sounds like wood, or running an expensive sweater through her fingers to see whether it’s fine cashmere or some kind of blend. When she visits people’s houses, she admits, it takes every ounce of self-control not to touch everything. Fortunately, Birrittella is paid to do just that. A color, materials, and finishes (CMF) specialist at Glen Raven, Birrittella is the gatekeeper of the 10,000 different kinds of materials supplied by the North Carolina–based fabric manufacturer, best known for its Sunbrella shade textiles. She runs the Glen Raven Materials Explorer, a free online database featuring 200 representative materials—from SPF-enhanced cloths and water-resistant fibers to antimicrobial finishes and industrial metal fasteners—that architects, furniture makers, automotive designers, and more consider incorporating into their creations. “We have so many different products, and we sell into so many different industries,” she says. “Sephora, Harvard Bioscience … and I have to know about all the new materials and innovations happening.”

Glen Raven’s Concept Gallery.
Glen Raven’s Concept Gallery.

Birrittella’s obsession began at FIT, when her senior trend project had her visiting Material ConneXion, the world’s biggest materials library and consultancy. “I thought it was the coolest place in the world,” Birrittella recalls. She got an internship and eventually was hired as an archivist maintaining a library of more than 7,000 materials. While there, she collaborated with her design hero Betsey Johnson on a weather-resistant mannequin for an outdoor installation called Sidewalk Catwalk. In 2011, Glen Raven wanted to launch a similar “Materials Explorer” library—to showcase its own textiles, as well as the metals, plastics, and other materials it carries from other manufacturers—and asked Birrittella to spearhead the project. “There was no library at all before,” she says, “so I had to work with all the market managers and designers and the people who make the fabrics to pick an assortment of 200 samples that represent those 10,000 different products. “It was initially a short-term contract to make the library, but I loved Glen Raven and Burlington so much that nine years later, I’m still here.” In addition to the online archive—which she updates continuously— Birrittella keeps Glen Raven’s six brick-and-mortar Concept Galleries stocked, organizing exhibitions on topics such as 3D printing for designers and R&D teams seeking ideas and inspiration. But she says that her work isn’t just for designers. “The way we interact with our world is affected by the quality or even just the feel of different materials,” she says. “Like, everyone is addicted to their phone, but if it felt really gross like sandpaper, would you keep pulling it out of your pocket? Probably not. It really affects everything. That’s exactly what my role is about—to show the importance of materials.”

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Chic! (Our trip to Chicago)

Students from the junior and senior Home Products program recently traveled together to Chicago to attend the International Home + Housewares Show.

The trip included group activities pertaining to “best in booth” judging, fact/inspiration finding for our individual upcoming projects, and a great dinner out together.

After our NY Now field trip, we were told the Chicago show was about 3-4 times larger. This was intimidating at first, except that we had about ten times as much time to explore. Starting with an early flight on Saturday morning, straight to McCormick Place to hit our assigned areas (Wired & Well, Clean & Contain, or Dine & Décor). The range of booth styles and sizes were so much larger than those at NY Now-we could actually walk around in most of them. We set out listing our faves and describing what we liked about them.

That night, dinner at Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria (YUM-regardless of your NYC vs. Chicago pizza preference) where on the walk over, our group inadvertently traipsed through someone’s proposal, (she said yes!) and then on Sunday, back to it for Experience Day. The juniors were given an early morning additional intro to the show, and then were encouraged to split up to meet students at other tables, and while initially we all sort of cringed at the forced mingling, (joining a table full of strangers, not usually anyone’s favorite!), each table had a mentor/leader, which made the networking much easier.

Ours was Elliot Benitez, exhibiting at the show to introduce his patented 6-at-a-time tortilla toaster. Something I had never thought of, but he explained how many hours his own mother missed of family meal time, toasting one tortilla at a time for everyone having a taco, so he invented this product. He gave a lot of great insight into what brought him to now being an inventor and business owner.  His product is now available for purchase at Sur la Table. We had the opportunity to ask questions and learn about the world of home products from someone with relevant, recent expertise.

We were encouraged to attend the sessions that interested us; included in these were cooking demos by Emeril, Robert Irvine and a range of other talks by industry experts.

Among the most interesting new products I saw was a juicer that determined the juice you should make after measuring your body mass index, by pressing your thumbs onto two small pads on the juicer. It made me wonder if someday we will be able to just get a meal plan for the day based on our body composition and goals, right in our homes. I also liked that a variety of new devices incorporated a hollow bottom for storing USB/charging cables. What a world, to not have to look through my entire apartment to find the cord for whatever I need to charge! (currently turning it upside down looking for my Clarisonic charger, so I can wash my face again).

Overall, the show was a great learning and class bonding adventure. We had some time to explore on our own (The Bean, The Skydeck), hang out together outside of class, and see where this degree could lead us.

Large enough to stand in, but no I didn’t.
This cute pink cup is actually a humidifier, and…
…this is where the charging cord goes!
Portable, inflatable hot tub!
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NY Now Field Trip!

Our HP 314/Manufacturing & Marketing of Home Product Hard Lines’ (“Hard Home”) second class of the second semester has already included an interesting field trip, to NY Now.

Instead of meeting in room 307 as we usually do, we met in the enormous Javits Center, and were advised in advance to wear comfortable shoes and take any shopping bags that were offered to us. Both very helpful pieces of advice, because there is a lot of walking, and a lot of samples and freebies to carry around!

We split up in groups, with assignments to examine products, trends and booths. Fortuantely we were given smaller categories to choose from, since there was a lot to see. I was in the Tabletop & Gourmet Housewares group, and the entire section was carpeted in a light blue rug. Once we knew what color rug to look for, it was easy!

When we got back to school, we did presentations on our favorite brands and booths. Among the faves were Swig Life, Provence Platters, Corkcicle, The Napkins, Deborah Rhodes, Bungalow 5 and a long list of others. Trends we saw included a lot of wood (trays, tabletop), varieties of sustainable products (straws, cups), and I noticed what I called “sassy sayings” (see towel), bright colors/color blocking, and faux marble.

It was hard to see everything in one three-hour visit, but it was very easy to find a lot to like! Overall, great practice for what to do and look for at trade shows!\

Swig Life’s marble martini to go
Retail Renaissance!
Sassy Sayings, Hand Towel Dept.
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