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VF Purpose Driven Speaker Series Conversation with Roian Atwood

By Iman Usmani, BSC Associate & BS in Statistics (’19)

I recently had the opportunity to interview Roian Atwood, the Director of Sustainability for Wrangler Jeans, as part of my role as an Associate in the Business Sustainability Collaborative. I was particularly excited about the event given my interest in the brand. I remember having worn Lee Brands jeans as a kid and still wear Wrangler logo t-shirts now, years later. Wrangler and Lee are two brands that seem to work for any age group, which makes sense since the quality of the clothing makes them last almost forever.

Roian visited campus as part of the Purpose Driven Business Speaker Series, hosted by the Business Sustainability Collaborative and sponsored by VF Corporation. The series kicked off last fall with a conversation between VF’s Global Vice President of Sustainability and Responsibility, Letitia Webster and Rejaul Hasan, another BSC Associated and a PhD Candidate in the College of Textiles.

Letitia discussed the overall goal of VF to transform the company into a purpose-led and performance-driven organization. The company is undergoing significant changes and is unifying its brands under one purpose-driven mission. At the same time, VF is spinning off their jeanswear business into a new publicly traded company called Kontoor Brands. We are very fortunate that in the midst of all this transition, Roian made the time to come to campus to meet with representatives from the Wilson College of Textiles and the Poole College of Management  and to give a public talk.

When meeting with Roian before the talk, I immediately noticed his relaxed and cheerful demeanor. I saw his schedule for the day and know that he was packed minute-by-minute during his time at State. I later found out that his flight didn’t get into Greensboro until 1 am, meaning he wasn’t able to sleep until 3 am. It was unclear how someone could be so full of energy at the end of a full day especially after having so little sleep the night before. He clearly was used to having a packed schedule and was passionate about his work at Wrangler.

Roian started with a presentation about the mission of Wrangler, where he covered the sustainability aspect of the company as it relates to farming and textiles. He discussed the company’s purpose, illustrating the intersection between the company’s strengths, passions, and society. Ultimately, the company wants to “empower everyone with the confidence to thrive in new frontiers.” The talk made the sustainability goals of the company clear, especially in the context of the company’s western roots.

Roian Atwood and I during the Q&A portion of the event.

After his opening remarks, I had the opportunity to sit down with Roian to host the question and answer section of the event. I asked the first two of the five prepared questions, and Roian answered the questions so thoroughly that we ended up running out of time. His passion for sustainability and his company came through in his answers to my questions. This was especially clear when I asked him a question about how Wrangler’s sustainability goals would affect specific stakeholders like businesses, employees, universities and so on. He answered the question in regards to all the stakeholders listed, which was especially interesting to the students who care about a company’s impact.

When asked a question about what events have impacted his career trajectory, Roian demonstrated his passion for nature. He studied Ecology and Evolutionary Biology in college and grew up having spent a lot of time outside. This developed his interest in nature which ultimately led to him wanting to work in a sustainability-related role. It was helpful to understand his background, especially for students who would like to work in a similar capacity.

Overall, my experience meeting and interviewing Roian showed me that not only is Wrangler working towards being a more sustainable brand, but the leadership sincerely cares about preserving nature through a purpose-drive business model.