LMI’s Kilara Le is opening eyes to a problem that can’t be seen: microfiber pollution.
Le authored “Microfiber Shedding: Hidden Environment Impact,” which details how microscopic strands of plastic in synthetic fabrics like polyester, rayon, and acrylic detach and release into the water ecosystem when garments are washed. The fibers permeate water treatment systems, flowing into natural bodies of water, where they endanger fish and wildlife and introduce ingested plastic into the global food chain. An astronomical 1.4 million trillion microfibers have found their way into the world’s oceans, according to a 2016 estimate by the Ocean Conservancy.
Synthetic fibers, valued across the textile industry for their durability and versatility, are used in high-performance apparel, from yoga pants to military uniforms. As a lifecycle management senior analyst, Le helps LMI’s defense clients understand the role technology plays in product creation, including production, use, and disposal.
“Retailers, manufacturing firms, the military—they all want to make sure their products are safe and there are no adverse reactions. They want to understand how a product, in its lifecycle, affects the wider community, the wider environment,” said Le, who interviewed a cross-section of industry stakeholders for her article.
The American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists (AATCC) published Le’s article last year; other groups took notice. Trade Association Business Publications International named “Microfiber Shedding” one of its top 25 feature articles of the year. Le also received an APEX Award, which recognizes excellence in publishing by professional communicators. Le and AATCC had mutual interest in better understanding the microfiber epidemic—which Le calls “mind-blowing”—and she is pleased her article helped raise awareness within AATCC, one of the most established associations for designers, dye makers, and other professionals in the textiles trade.
Le has authored other articles for AATCC, including “Sewing Up a Storm: How Robots and Other New Technologies Are Shaping a New Era of Manufacturing,” which more accurately captures her day-to-day expertise. She describes her work as “the intersection of product development and technology,” helping clients to understand how innovation can benefit manufacturing and retail operations.
“I’m always exploring what’s next,” said Le, who received bachelor’s degrees in textile technology and arts and design from North Carolina State University. Her first job took her to New York City, where she worked for a company that implemented software to manage product development. She later consulted for some of the world’s largest and most recognized fashion retailers and sports apparel companies, helping them to leverage apparel sizing and fit optimization techniques, 3-D body scanning, and apparel visualization software.
As wearable technology like biometric shirts and smartwatches moves further into the mainstream, Le is at the forefront of this growing field. “There’s certainly demand for people who understand technology, people who can use it and adapt quickly,” she said. “Companies want to use technology to make things more efficient or to create products they were not able to make before. They are looking for people who understand how to use these new tools.”
Le joined LMI two years ago, thanks to a timely encounter with a colleague at a manufacturing technologies event. She supports the Defense Logistics Agency’s Military Unique Sustainment Technology Program as it develops a common approach to production of military uniforms and individual equipment items.
“People at LMI are smart and they connect the dots,” Le said. “They’re easy people to work with. It’s, ‘Let’s get this work done and make sure we’re fulfilling our mission,’ and I really love that about LMI.”