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Clemson names Kentwool distinguished professor

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Igor Luzinov of Clemson University has been appointed the first recipient of the Kentwool Distinguished Professorship in Natural Fibers, named for a 176-year-old textile company.

A $250,000 gift from Kentwool in 2009 enabled Clemson to receive a matching gift from the lottery-funded SmartState program, creating the endowment that made the professorship possible, according to a news release. Kentwool is headquartered in downtown Greenville and has a 135,000-square-foot yarn production plant in Pickens County.

Kim Kent, the CEO of Kentwool, said the idea for the professorship started with her late husband, Mark, who died in 2017. He was a graduate of Wake Forest University and the Clemson University School of Textiles.

“Mark was passionate about supporting innovation and next-generation talent in the textile industry,” Kent said in the news release. “This is a passion that Kentwool continues today, and we are so pleased to know the professorship will support the outstanding work being conducted by Dr. Luzinov and his students.”

Luzinov has done research on natural fibers since he arrived at Clemson 18 years ago. The funding he receives as a result of the endowment will help him and his students attend conferences, he said in the news release. Luzinov has graduated 18 Ph.D. students, most of whom work in the fiber and textile industry. Two became professors, one at the University of Western Australia and one at the University of Georgia.

“It’s like your children, in scientific terms,” he said in the news release. “They learn from you. First, they repeat your words, and then they produce their own. When they produce their own words and ideas, they become ready to go. Kentwool and SmartState are playing a crucial role in helping us get even more students ready to go, and I’d like to thank them for their support.”

To consumers outside the textile industry, Kentwool is best known for its retail arm, Kentwool Performance, which makes Merino wool athletic socks. The company also includes Kentwool Development, a division that owns and operates two historic buildings in downtown Greenville.

The majority of the company’s 176 years in business, however, has been devoted to producing wool yarn. Skilled employees are essential to the Kentwool business, Kent said.

“We have employees who have been with us for years, sometimes decades,” she said. “They are experts in their respective functions, and without their textile knowledge, Kentwool would not be able to produce the caliber of product for which we are so well-known. We know that continuing to foster new talent in textiles is paramount to maintaining both the health of the industry and our own competitiveness as a brand.  

The professorship marks the third endowed fund that Kentwool has provided to Clemson.

The Warren “Tom” Kent Presidential Memorial Scholarship provides need-based scholarships for South Carolina residents and is named for Mark Kent’s father. The Kentwool Educational Endowment provides partial scholarships to students in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

The timing of Kentwool’s contribution was critical in helping Clemson secure matching dollars from the state for the $8 million Advanced Fiber-based Materials Center of Economic Excellence in the SmartState program, according to Ann Marie Alexander, assistant vice president for strategic corporate partnerships.

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