Kim Kitchings

Senior vice president, Consumer Marketing at Cotton Incorporated

Husband Chip, children Gracelyn and twins Caroline and Chase

Pittsboro, N.C.

Associate of Arts, Peace College; Bachelor of Arts in business, N.C. State University; master’s in business administration, Meredith University

Exercise, shopping, interior decorating, travel

Community involvements:
Active at First United Methodist Church in downtown Cary; volunteer at Cary Family YMCA and Habitat for Humanity; member, Fine Arts Board at Green Hope High School

Association of National Advertisers, NC Textile Foundation-Investment Committee, and American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists

Fun facts:
One of first lifeguards at Jordan Lake’s Parkers Creek Campground; took hot laps at Las Vegas Motor Speedway; has met the casts of “Modern Family” and “Blackish”

Watching people do laundry has been part of Kim Kitchings’ workdays, in homes and basements from Connecticut to India and China.

Professionally speaking, it’s called ethnographic research, to watch how consumer behavior impacts the care of cotton products.

“I work for cotton producers, many of whom have farmed their land for generations. These are real people, and we market the natural product they grow,” said Kitchings of her role at Cotton Incorporated, a nonprofit with its world headquarters in Cary.

“I love it, from the product and people I represent to what I do every day on their behalf.”

The multi-faceted work of Cotton Incorporated navigates everything from “dirt to shirt.” Strolling through the company’s clean, quiet and high-tech labs, Kitchings points out the cotton process from growers’ fields to color forecasts for the 2017-18 fashion season.

In her early years at the company and at her initiative, Kitchings’ laundry room analyses helped move her into speaking engagements and other company roles.

Now as senior vice president of consumer marketing, a role she on took this past January, Kitchings’ team is responsible for analyzing cotton’s economic and industry forecasts, tracking cotton’s performance, conducting global market research, and anticipating shifts in consumer demand, as well as the responsibilities of advertising, public relations and strategic partnerships.

She is the corporation’s only female senior vice president.

Kitchings appreciates the various roles she’s held at Cotton Incorporated, but takes a pragmatic approach to that “only female” label.

This former school bus driver, basketball player and intramural referee, raised in a family that encouraged her to ask questions, said, “You need the background and the knowledge regardless of your gender. I’ve been able to deliver, to do the jobs asked of me.

“I roll up my sleeves, and never ask someone to do something I haven’t or wouldn’t do.”

Kitchings predicted her career path in the pages of her high school yearbook, pledging in her “last will and testament” to become a nonprofit executive. Back then, she says she was thinking of working somewhere like the Red Cross.

She came to Cotton Incorporated in 1995, intending to stay one year then move into pharmaceuticals.

“But I fell in love with the industry,” Kitchings said. “Opportunities presented themselves, and I’m fortunate to be in a place where ideas are accepted. I learn every day, and am amazed by (people) much smarter than I am. And I’m fortunate to be able to research and market the products we create.”

“Love what you do” is one of Kitchings’ personal philosophies. When you do, she says, your passion will be contagious and everything else falls into place.

But making the transition to her new role was at first bittersweet.

“For 15 years I was one of the primary persons giving market presentations to companies, and traveling. Now it’s time to give that opportunity to others,” Kitchings said. “It’s hard letting go of your first love. But now there are others in place, and I trust them. You have to allow people to reach the objectives in their own way, with their own gifts and talents.”

That’s a lesson she takes home, as a parent to three children — along with a sense of humor. For all her world travels and vital research, the children seem most impressed by her brushes with celebrity at various industry events.

“Having my picture taken with wrestler John Cena was ‘it,’” Kitchings said with a laugh.
Change is the only constant in the textile industry and in marketing to consumers, she says, so it’s important to keep up through research, membership in industry organizations, and talking with other leaders about the next evolution of cotton.

“We want cotton to be the fiber of choice among the supply chains and consumers,” she said. “Our product developments and promotions at Cotton Incorporated will preserve and grow cotton’s position in the market. I’m very competitive, especially for the company and cotton.”

Is she willing to take risks?

“If you don’t take risks, you’re not trying hard enough,” Kitchings said. “Failure is part of moving forward. It is disappointing to fail, but it teaches teams it’s OK to try. Otherwise, where is the innovation?

“Own your failures, and find the pathway out.”

Kitchings says another must in any workplace is collaboration.

“Sincere, authentic collaboration is imperative, and integral to your success. Representatives from all divisions are needed at the table, for their different perspectives. Without that, you can miss opportunities.

“That collaboration doesn’t occur by email,” she added. “In a global industry and even with significant advancements in technology, face to face is still the best way to build relationships. There’s no replacing that. It’s how you learn to trust your partners.”

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