No matter who you are or where you come from; no matter your age, your background, your dreams—we are all drawn to the power of a compelling story.
It’s how we share our thoughts, shape our actions,
and impart our knowledge to one another. For a diversified manufacturer like
Milliken that is grounded in science, storytelling is the way we demonstrate the
transformative potential of our products to impact the world around us.
David Karstad, who joined Milliken when we welcomed Polartec into the company last year, is a master storyteller. Today, he shares his
take on the power of a story and how words can amplify our impact around the
Tell us about your role and how you came to be in
As vice president of marketing and creative director
for Milliken’s Polartec business, my role encompasses all things marketing and
brand. I get to share our unique story with both customers who purchase and use
our fabrics and consumers who wear them. With a team that stretches from Milan to
Massachusetts and out to Portland, Oregon, we get the honor of making the science
of fabric cool!
I’ve been in my current position for a year and
with the Polartec brand for seven. I’ve been in the athletic/outdoor soft goods
space my entire career—starting at adidas and Vans, and then as the founder of
a creative agency for 18 years. Part science nerd, part athlete, part creative,
I knew early on this was the role for me. Polartec was the right spot for me to
The Polartec business is a new addition to Milliken
& Company, can you tell us more about the Polartec brand?
The Polartec business is premium
producer of innovative and sustainable performance textile solutions. That’s ‘what’
we are. ‘Who’ we are is more complex.
We’re knitters, descendants of a 100-year-old New England
mill family. We’re also inventors, engineers, and scientists who regularly
advance fabric science into category-defining innovations—from developing synthetic
fleece, one of the 20th century’s great material advances, to
the reinvention of softshell weather protection, NeoShell; from pioneering sustainable manufacturing and the
use of recycled plastic as raw resource to introducing a whole new insulation
type, Polartec Alpha, that regulates temperature. We don’t just invent
fabric. We create categories. In that sense, we’re innovators!
Finally, we’re enthusiasts and evangelists. Our
insights into fabric performance come from the fact that we, too, are end users,
and our passion for what we do comes from a culture of collaboration. We get to
work with other passionate people, other experts in their fields, to create
something new or to solve problems. To me, this is one of the more exciting
synergies of Polartec joining Milliken—solving intractable problems is what we
Polartec looks to solve problems with unique fabric
technologies. Can you give us an example of that?
If we’re talking about solving problems with unique
fabric solutions, we’re talking about Power Air. We set out to create a new type of mid-layer
fabric—something that’s both warm and visually interesting. We wanted it to be even
more three dimensional than our Power
Grid fabric, the original grid fleece that’s now a part
of our performance and protective fabric offerings. Kind of like a fuzzy bubble
It was in this pursuit we envisioned encapsulating
lofted fibers, the things that trap air and keep you warm, inside visible ‘pods.’
This, in a sense, turns the fuzzy bubble wrap look inside out. By doing this,
we discovered this knitting technique could dramatically reduce the amount of
fiber shedding seen with typical fleece—between five to 10 times less! Once we
saw this potential, Power Air became the biggest development effort in our
history, and we created the first textile specially designed to deliver a
performance function, keeping you warm, while reducing microfiber shedding.
In what way(s) is the Polartec brand upholding the
vision of Milliken’s 2025 sustainability goals?
Our values-based business perspectives aligned
Milliken and Polartec, which made the acquisition a perfect fit; yet, the bold
commitment of Milliken’s sustainability goals encourages us to redefine our
efforts. It is exciting to join an organization that is making these kinds of
meaningful impacts and is committed to empowering the big, innovative thinking
of our associates.
I believe the Polartec business can contribute to
these lofty goals, especially as it relates to environmental impact. It is a
path we’ve been on for more than 25 years, and 1.5 billion plastic bottles
later, we’ve only increased our dedication to redefining raw material to
include recycled inputs. Every year, we convert more and more of our products
to this goal—now 200 fabric styles and counting. Bolstered by Milliken’s
science-based problem solving, I have to think our collective progress towards these
2025 goals will show we’ve only scratched the surface.
How does marketing enhance your ability to tell the
Polartec brand story of sustainable and innovative fabric construction?
I might say marketing doesn’t just enhance a
brand’s ability to tell a story, it’s how a brand tells its
story. Otherwise, all we have is rumor or dinner conversation!
As a branded textile provider, Polartec occupies a
unique space as part B2B supplier, part B2C brand enhancer. This means every
story we have to tell, like our dedication to sustainable fabric construction,
must be told from very different perspectives. Often, that’s reflected in how
deep we go in describing technology, features, benefits, or principles. Or it’s
reflected in where we reach the audience. In all cases, it’s this integrated
mix of stories and tactics that achieve the best results.
something the B2B and B2C worlds have in common is both markets are comprised
of human beings. And people tend to respond to similar themes—themes that are
strong, unique, and engaging. This is really the secret to our sauce: respect
every potential customer with compelling content and they’ll reward us with a
positive relationship, a lasting connection, and ultimately, purchasing our
products. All which enables our ability to positively impact the world around
us for generations to come.