Career + Life: Balance in the Outdoor Industry

This piece was created in partnership with Sorona®. We appreciate their support of our community.

Outdoor interview with Marketing Director at Dupont Sorona Renee Henze
 

“Push the paradigm. Don’t settle for mediocre — ever — in anything.” 

-Renee Henze

If you’ve ever felt your professional life doesn’t mesh with the outdoor life you love, or you have a driving hunger to move into a career you are passionate about — one in the outdoor industry — but aren’t sure how to break into it, listen up.

Renee Henze’s career ticks all the boxes. She’s the Global Marketing Director for DuPont Biomaterials — specifically Sorona®, an eco-efficient performance fiber found in some of your favorite outdoor brands (think: The North Face, LL Bean, prAna, Royal Robbins, etc.).

In some ways, you might say she puts the clothes on your back.

Henze gives us a look into her role, sharing her journey into the outdoor industry and giving insight into how her personal outdoor life plays into her outdoor industry career.


Give us the 30,000-foot view: What does your role look like?

In addition to developing the strategic marketing direction for DuPont Biomaterials, I lead a team engaged in sales and marketing for existing — and emerging — renewably-sourced technologies.

Through the development of high-performance, renewable biomaterials, our team is solving critical issues for varied industries — such as packaging, food and cosmetics, and apparel and carpeting — all facing the challenges of greening their supply chains and offering high-performance, sustainable choices to their customers.

My work with the bio-based fiber, Sorona® , allows me to … interact closely with textile mills, brands, and retailers in the outdoor and fashion apparel industry.


How does that 30,000-foot view break down into your average working day at Sorona
®?

Wow — an average day doesn’t really exist! If I’m in the office, I am likely interacting with members of our team on things such as new product development, marketing communications, channel strategies, mill and brand inquires, and new apparel applications.

My role takes me out of the office to travel often and all over the world. My workday abroad may consist of meeting with our global team, customer visits, conferences, speaking engagements, and trade shows.

Outdoor interview with Marketing Director at Dupont Sorona Renee Henze
What did your journey to this position look like? Is this — or even, is the
outdoor industry — where you planned on being all along?

In short: no, but I can’t imagine not being part of it now.

Growing up, I spent a lot of time with my family exploring the Adirondack Mountains in northern New York and skiing our way around the mountains and trails of Vermont. My academic background is an undergraduate degree in Molecular Biology, then onto an MBA and finally a degree in Environmental Sustainability. Along the way, I’ve had various sales, marketing and business management roles in industries such as Lawn & Garden and Sustainable Aquaculture.

Being part of the outdoor industry was never my intended career trajectory, but given my love of the outdoors, I’m so excited every day that it has become such a huge part of my role.


What’s the story of materials and the outdoors? Tell us your perspective of where outdoor material has been and where you foresee its future going.

Outdoor materials have always been born out of performance necessity. In the early days, it was about finding ways to keep us warm or cool, dry, or free from blisters and irritations. In general, materials performed in basic ways that allowed people to pursue outdoor activities with some measure of comfort.

Those needs for comfort haven’t changed; however, materials now have the capability to really enhance comfort and performance for the wearer. There are now materials that stretch and retain their shape indefinitely, help reduce muscle fatigue, use reflective materials to retain body heat, and incorporate technologies that repel odors.

And, more and more, there are materials that use sustainably-sourced ingredients that can be degraded at its end-of-life.

Future materials will give us even further innovation in areas such as wearable electronics, color changing fabrics, materials that regulate body temperature, reduce wind resistance and even protect against hazards such as radiation.


How does your role play into shaping that story?

I build a bridge between what the market wants and needs and our technical teams’ new product and application ideas.

I, along with my team, sit with brands and their innovation teams and designers on a regular basis. We discuss their wish list of things they’d like to bring to their customers; in turn, with our technical team, we brainstorm ways to turn those wishes into product realities.

Some of the things that are exciting me right now — and that I’m pushing for innovation in — include degradable fabrics, higher-stretch, long-lasting materials, increased bio-based content fibers, odor prevention incorporated directly into fibers, and marine-degradable polymers that would significantly help reduce the amount of micro-plastics in the oceans.

Outdoor interview with Marketing Director at Dupont Sorona Renee Henze
 

Have confidence in your capabilities and skills — they are likely greater assets than you realize or give yourself credit for.

-Renee Henze


What about the female consumer: How is she shaping (or, how can she shape) the future of outdoor fabrics?

A 2016 Outdoor Foundation report showed that, of those people who participated in an outdoor activity, 46% were women, and that number is growing. That means there’s a significant voice from women who are demanding that outdoor apparel (and gear) be made for them … with an eye toward women’s different body shapes and body thermodynamics, as well as aesthetics.

To help fuel these initiatives and shape the future of outdoor fabrics, women need to support companies that are thoughtful about women’s-specific designs as well as speak up about their fabric needs so those of us developing new fibers and materials can incorporate those goals into our new product development pipeline.


Shifting gears a bit to incorporate who you are as an outdoor woman: W
e’ve heard you are always planning one outdoor adventure or another. Tell us what’s coming up on your adventure calendar and how you balance your outdoor goals with career goals.

I’m really excited for an upcoming family trip: My husband, 15-year-old son, and I will be trekking in Patagonia for two weeks. We’ll be in the incredible national parks of Torres del Paine and Los Glaciares.

I’m fortunate that I’ve been able to see some amazing places in both my professional and personal careers. Many times, when I’m away on business, I’ll try to talk with locals about their favorite outdoor places and then try to plan a personal trip back to that location using their insider knowledge. Being in the outdoor industry also offers a fantastic venue to do this as many of our colleagues are also adventurers for a living.

Outdoor industry interview Dupont Sorona Marketing Director Renee Henze
And what benefits do you gain from being active outdoors — mentally, physically, or even for your career?

Like many of us who are serious about being outdoors, as soon as I step into that activity — be it a mountain hike or a paddle in the kayak — I feel myself just “breathe.” It really does bring about a level of calm and way of thinking that helps me remain centered in other parts of my life.

If I can’t get away to some great outdoor activity, running on the trails near my home helps shake the cobwebs off my thinking. It helps me organize and prioritize things that need to be done or lets me shut it all down for a while, which makes me more productive afterward.


What’s an important lesson you’ve learned along the way to becoming Director of Marketing for Sorona® Brand Materials?

Push the paradigm. Don’t settle for mediocre — ever — in anything.


And what advice would you give women interested in following a similar career path?

Have confidence in your capabilities and skills — they are likely greater assets than you realize or give yourself credit for.





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About the Author:

ggorman
I grew up outside of Seattle exploring all things mountain and sea and spent six years being snowboard-obsessed in Tahoe. Currently, I live and work on a big property in the Sawtooth Valley in the Central Idaho Mountains, which allows me to get outside and play (a lot). Split-boarding, hiking, biking, backpacking, and trail running are my favorite activities; I love meeting up with other like-minded folks for adventure!