Jyotsna Gopinath ’21 Connects Chemistry with her Passions for Sustainability and Fashion

By Sarah Stone 

When you think about chemistry, fashion may not necessarily be the next word that comes to mind. Wilson College of Textiles alumna Jyotsna Gopinath (’21 M.S. Textile Chemistry), on the other hand, makes that connection every day through her job at Fashion for Good’s headquarters in Amsterdam. Fashion for Good is the global platform for innovation, uniting the entire fashion ecosystem, from brands, manufacturers and suppliers, to consumers, to collaborate and drive the change towards a circular industry. 

As the Innovation Analyst for Fashion for Good’s Innovation Platform, Gopinath manages all innovators focused on the chemical or mechanical recycling of textiles and clothing at the end of their use. She also provides support for any end-of-use-related projects. 

What does that look like day-to-day? A little bit of everything, working in collaboration with stakeholders from all areas of the fashion supply chain. 

“Every day is different, but my days often involve collaborative meetings with other Fashion for Good analysts, external calls with Innovation Programme alumni, Fashion for Good brand partners, industry experts, and/or new innovators. Fashion for Good’s office is located in the heart of Amsterdam, so a typical day for me also includes a walk through the canals.”  

Connecting passions for sustainability, science and fashion

Gopinath has had a passion for both STEM and style for a long time. She started thinking about how to combine those during her undergraduate education at Santa Clara University. In addition to pursuing bachelor’s degrees in bioengineering and chemistry, she spent much of her free time designing clothes and modeling. 

“I got a fellowship to go to Cochabamba, Bolivia to work for a fair trade manufacturer called AHA Bolivia, and I started realizing that there’s a need for engineers within the fashion industry to make more sustainable systems and uplift the people within the supply chain that are often forgotten,” she says. “That’s when I decided to apply to graduate school in textiles. I wanted to focus on how to create technology that will alleviate some of the pollution that comes from textile manufacturing.”

Once that decision was made, she says the reputation of the Wilson College of Textiles made it the obvious choice to pursue her education. After working in research and development for Elevate Textiles following graduation, she heard about Fashion for Good and realized the opportunity she had to make an impact.

“There is a great deal of innovative science being done across the globe to address the challenge of waste in the fashion industry and tap into the opportunities it presents,” she says. “And to be able to learn about their technologies and participate in their scaling journey is quite exciting.”

Hands-on learning and valuable mentorship

If you ask Gopinath what helped prepare her for this impressive career success, she will immediately tell you: working with Pamela McCauley. McCauley, who serves as the associate dean for academic programs, diversity, equity and inclusion at the Wilson College of Textiles, also has an impressive track record in engineering research, including stints at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the National Science Foundation. 

McCauley joined the Wilson College about a year after Gopinath enrolled. This provided Gopinath with a unique and valuable opportunity to help the associate dean set up her new Women’s Ergonomics in Footwear and Textiles (WEFT) research lab. 

“It was almost like working at a startup within academia. I was responsible for coordinating all internal and external communication, as well as working on Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) so that we could involve human subjects in our research.”

While she developed significant project management and research skills from research assistantship, she insists the most valuable part of the experience was finding a mentor in McCauley. 

“She’s like family to me. It means a lot to have someone who is so groundbreaking see things in me that I don’t see in myself,” she says of McCauley, who was the first Black woman to earn an engineering Ph.D. in the state of Oklahoma. “What she knows about me is not just professional. It’s not often I find someone who is so dependable, and she always tells me that the world needs someone like me.” 

Recognized nationally for STEM accomplishments 

Gopinath’s impactful international job is just the latest in a string of accomplishments early in her career. 

Last October, she was named a Technology Rising Star by the Women of Color STEM Awards. McCauley nominated Gopinath for the award. The associate dean says Gopinath’s excellence, leadership and commitment to sustainability made her an obvious choice for this honor. 

Jyotsna Gopinath stands in front of a green screen that reads "Women of Color STEM DTX Conference." She holds an award and stands beside three other people.

“Some of the characteristics that make her so very special are a deep commitment to helping society through her textile education, as well as a commitment to inclusivity and justice, as she is always working to make sure all are considered and communities operate with diversity, inclusivity and integrity,” McCauley says. “I also noticed her impeccable character and integrity as she interacted with fellow students, and as a student and young professional.” 

“Not only did Dr. McCauley nominate me, but she also corralled all these people to write letters of recommendation for me,” Gopinath says. “It was so surprising to win. The way that I found out I had won is that she immediately forwarded the announcement email to me, because she just couldn’t wait to tell me.” 

Now, watching her career unfold from thousands of miles away in Raleigh, McCauley is eager to see what her mentee accomplishes next. 

“One of the things I admire most about Jyotsna is that she is so courageous and willing to take on new challenges. I am thrilled that she took a new position in Amsterdam, and is eager to use her textile knowledge and her passion to make a difference in the world, thousands of miles away from her comfort zone in the U.S.,” McCauley says. “This is characteristic of her – a no-fear attitude and willingness to take on new and bold opportunities to positively impact the environment, society and the global community is something that will take her far in life.” 

This post was originally published in Wilson College of Textiles News.