Women of the Year 2021: Sheertex CEO Katherine Homuth Created Unbreakable Hosiery to Tackle Fashion’s Sustainability Problem
From Olympic athletes and tech startup founders to social impact champions and business changemakers, our inaugural 2021 Women of the Year guide features 37 impressive leaders who are making a difference, both individually and as a collective. They’ve all navigated incredible obstacles to get to where they are (often on an uneven playing field) and yet, despite this, have still managed to summit their industries and change Canada—and the world around them—for the better. In our series of one-on-one interviews, get to know each honouree a little better: their values, mission, lessons learned, and the other women that inspire them in their own lives.
What is your elevator pitch to the world?
Katherine Homuth: Do the impossible thing.
What excites you most about the work that you are doing?
Katherine Homuth: At Sheertex we are revolutionizing the hosiery industry. We have created a proprietary knit with a fiber never before used in hosiery. We have miniaturized the fibers used in performance applications like bulletproof vests and mountain climbing equipment. This makes the knit sheer, extremely resilient, and strong. Sheertex represents the first innovation in this category since Spandex in 1959. What really excites us is that Sheertex is working towards not only disrupting the hosiery category but also advancing fashion and apparel’s transition to sustainable manufacturing and a zero-waste future.
Where do you think you have made the most impact in your company and community?
Katherine Homuth: I believe I can have the most impact at Sheertex and our community by creating an enduring organization that cares about doing the right thing. We care deeply about sustainability and inclusivity. We host wellbeing sessions onsite and regularly give back as a team to organizations supporting women in the workforce, LGBTQIA2S, Indigenous and anti-racism organizations (to name a few) including through initiatives where we donate a portion of sales from products sold.
When we took over Canada’s largest knitting factory, we re-hired many of the original team who had been employed at the factory for many years. We provide competitive wages, benefits, and insurance to our employees and their families. All of our products are manufactured in Canada using the highest environmental and labour standards.
We care about the community around us and our community worldwide. We’re inclusive and embrace diversity in both our team and our customers. We offer an extended size range and one of the largest shade ranges of nude tights on the market. We’re always pushing ourselves and the company to do more to create a more sustainable and inclusive future for all of us.
What kind of problems are you trying to solve?
Katherine Homuth: We want to bring sustainability to the most disposable area of the fashion industry, hosiery. Every year billions of pairs of tights fill landfills globally. We want to change that. We launched into sheer hosiery in February 2019 and we estimate we’ve already diverted 3.5 million pairs of disposable tights from landfills.
What are you doing that no one else is doing?
Katherine Homuth: We have fundamentally changed the hosiery category with our proprietary Sheertex knit technology. Sheer can now be a sustainable staple in your wardrobe. With our super strong knit we have had to re-think knitting as a whole. We have retrofitted all our machines to work with the world’s strongest yarns. We developed a brand-new process to knit our products and we are able to do everything in-house. Our Sheertex factory is the only connected knitting factory in the world. Every part of the production process is tracked in real-time using our proprietary operating system developed in-house.
Why is your work important?
Katherine Homuth: We believe that it’s important to solve a real problem, not just produce technology for technology’s sake. At Sheertex we’re not only solving the problem of hosiery waste, we are revolutionizing the apparel category for a carbon-neutral future. Over a billion pairs of pantyhose end up in landfills each year, and our mission is to reduce that number drastically by creating a product that actually lasts, eventually shifting the way consumers perceive hosiery as a disposable product.
Was there ever a turning point in your career that fundamentally changed your business for the better?
Katherine Homuth: When we took the opportunity to take over Canada’s largest knitting factory in 2019 it fundamentally changed the trajectory of the company and my life. It unlocked exponential growth and is enabling our dream to replace the entire hosiery category in the coming decade.
What have you learned about yourself as you’ve led your company?
Katherine Homuth: I’ve learned that asking for help and having a strong network of entrepreneurs to lean on is invaluable. Getting a leadership coach and taking care of my mental health has also been something that has helped me as I’ve led the company through periods of rapid growth. Entrepreneurship can be a lonely profession—it’s always good to surround yourself with the right people and tools.
What has been the most challenging part of building the business?
Katherine Homuth: One of the many challenges was first developing a sheer knit that didn’t break. Everyone said it wasn’t possible. Even once we found the right polymer there were many more obstacles; the fiber was white and non-dyeable, the fiber didn’t stretch, the fiber was so strong it was breaking knitting machines. It took years to make it work, and then years to get the manufacturing process right.
What has been the most rewarding part of building the business?
Katherine Homuth: The most rewarding part of Sheertex has been building something truly unique that has never been done before. There hasn’t been an innovation in hosiery textiles since the 1950s when Spandex was invented. Hosiery is the plastic water bottle of the garment industry and being a part of creating a sustainable alternative has been an incredible experience. Seeing customer reviews about how many times they’ve worn our tights really emphasizes our impact.
What questions do you think all leaders should ask themselves before building a company?
Katherine Homuth: They should be asking themselves what problem they are trying to solve. Why is it important?
In your experience, what do you think is the quickest way to get people on board with your mission?
Katherine Homuth: Being transparent with our team and customers has been key. We provide transparency around our cost and the impact that we are having on the hosiery category.
Presenting company goals is important, but the “why” is even more crucial. This gives folks a chance to better understand their individual impact on not only our business but the environment as well.
What is your mission? The bigger picture?
Katherine Homuth: My mission is to lead and accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable apparel and a zero-waste future. A decade from now, people will barely remember a world where tights ripped—that’s what we’re on a mission to do.
How do you define success? What does it mean to you?
Katherine Homuth: Success is an ongoing process of growth and learning. You can be successful from both failures and wins. It means not being afraid to try hard things—the failures often teach you more than the wins.
What is one lesson that you hope people will learn or walk away with from your work?
Katherine Homuth: Make opportunities out of dead ends. When someone tells you no, try something else. There were so many reasons that Sheertex shouldn’t exist. But trying a multitude of things and using those dead ends as opportunities, you could create something revolutionary.
If you could go back and give yourself advice, what would it be?
Katherine Homuth: Don’t be so hard on yourself when something doesn’t go 100 percent the way you think it will. Move on and push forward.
Who is a woman in the community that you admire?
Katherine Homuth: My friend Heather Payne, who is the founder of Juno College and who sits on our board at Sheertex as well. She was the first investor of my first company when no one else would invest. It wasn’t actually about the cheque she wrote, it was the vote of confidence. Her belief gave me the energy to drive forward and I often look to her for advice and inspiration.