By Jennifer Bringle

The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)

Growing up in North Carolina, Kat Williford understood the importance of the textile industry to the state. And while studying at the Savannah College of Art and Design, she interned with local fashion luminaries Sarah and Victor Lytvinenko of Raleigh Denim, gaining experience designing and producing garments made with fabric produced in the Tar Heel State.

But it wasn’t until Williford moved thousands of miles away to Budapest, Hungary, that she found the impetus to make her own mark on the North Carolina textile scene.

“I believe that living abroad challenges your perception of the world in ways that impact you for your entire life,” she says. “For me, living in Hungary taught me that I can make something out of nothing. The creative scene in Budapest is thriving because of the generation of kids who were born as communism fell. They didn’t have the luxuries (or the dependence on those luxuries) that I grew up with in America. They had to create everything for themselves.”

That independent spirit inspired Williford to found Pamut Apparel (,) a Raleigh-based, sustainably sourced women’s apparel line.

“I strongly believe that sustainability is the future of fashion, and consumers are starting to catch on, too,” Williford says. “Our customers want to know that they aren’t contributing to sweatshop labor or environmental pollution.”

The line — which includes shirts, pants, dresses and more — is made with organic or sustainably loomed cotton sourced in the United States. Those fibers are woven into fabric at an employee-owned knitting plant in Lumberton. The garments are then produced in western North Carolina by cut-and-sew operation Opportunity Threads. And any pieces bearing screen prints — such as the company’s positive-message tees — are printed by Durham-based Hey Monkey Design or Greensboro’s TS Designs.

Having a completely domestic, sustainable operation model is Williford’s way of supporting not only her fellow North Carolinians but also a textile industry that has experienced serious decline over the past few decades.

“North Carolina has an extensive history of textile and garment production, and the backbone of that industry still exists today,” she says. “If new brands don’t continue to invest in our local production, that backbone will fall apart. I’ve met so many amazing people who work at North Carolina textile factories, dye houses and sewing facilities. They deserve our business.”

Next year, Williford plans to roll out a men’s collection. As her company grows, she hopes to use her own success to help benefit others in the state.

“My long-term vision for Pamut is to continue to expand our business so that we can create a support system of local designers, artists and producers in North Carolina,” she says. “We have a great tradition of textile and manufacturing in our state, and I look forward to working with local makers to help grow the production of truly sustainable North Carolina clothing.”