Celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2021, Coyuchi has been a pioneer in sustainable textiles since it was founded in 1991 in Point Reyes Station in Northern California. The brand was always inspired by its coastal roots and is known for its subdued, nature-inspired color palette.
Coyuchi founder Christine Nielson was a pioneer in sustainable textiles and incredibly passionate about sustainable architecture. Coyuchi was one of the first companies to sell organic cotton bedding and today remains a leader in sustainable initiatives. The company prides itself on innovation and was recently recognized as the first home textile brand to enter the circular economy, meaning that Coyuchi will make a new product using the original, natural and certified organic fibers.
According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which helps businesses accelerate the transition to a circular economy, one garbage truck of textiles is wasted every second. Coyuchi launched Coyuchi 2nd Home, a take back program where customers can send old Coyuchi linens and Coyuchi will then renew the textiles with liquid CO2 and labeled for sale as renewed. This is in an effort to ensure textiles don’t end up in a landfill.
Coyuchi isn’t your average home textiles brand. The company has a sustainability manager, further proof that the company is heavily committed to investing in sustainable practices and ensuring that they continue to innovate in this area. The brand is also committed to educating its customers, whether it’s enlightening them on the manufacturing process, where the cotton comes from or what certain organic certifications mean.
Coyuchi President and CEO, Eileen Mockus, has spent her entire career in textiles working for Patagonia, The North Face and Pottery Barn, among others. She speaks to Forbes about several new initiatives Coyuchi is launching (including the brand’s investment in regenerative agriculture), the upcoming 30th anniversary and her love of textiles.
Tell me what led you to Coyuchi.
I’ve worked in textiles my whole career. I actually spent the first 10 years in the outdoor industry working for Patagonia and The North Face in fabric development. I worked for another smaller outdoor brand on the product development side with sleeping bags and gloves. Back then, Patagonia was already working on environmental initiatives, and this is 25-plus years ago. They were working on recycling polyester, transforming soda bottles into fleece, so I worked on that. Working at a place like Patagonia sticks with you.
What was interesting about that work that applies to what Coyuchi is doing is this appreciation for performance: How does the fabric work for whatever you’re doing with it? The beauty of home is that, as a person who loves fabric, there’s a lot more fabric in your homes than in the outdoors. Coyuchi was the best of both worlds for me: home textiles and the commitment to organic.
When I joined, Coyuchi was primarily a wholesale business. We’ve really embraced e-commerce and all things digital. And that, to me, is kind of the other excitement working in retail, because the customer’s behavior is changing. To be able to tell a story like Coyuchi’s, and doing that online, is really valuable.
Coyuchi has such an impressive and a long history. How are you bringing innovation to the brand while also sort of retaining the heritage and its identity?
We were already committed to organic fiber. That’s kind of the basis of how the company was founded. In my time with Coyuchi, we’ve kind of reestablished what the brand values are, and how we evolve what the meaning of sustainability is to the business. And that goes hand-in-hand with innovation. My performance background comes in handy. I want the comfort level of the product to be right up with the best of what you can find out there. We also hold ourselves to these higher standards around sustainability, so we’re still committed to organic fiber. We have introduced organic linen fiber as well. The bulk of what we do, though, is still organic cotton. We were following Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certification, but we got ourselves GOTS-certified, which means that we get additional visibility to the supply chain, but it also means that all of our processing steps have kind of a safety component to them.
We’re now also looking at chemical management. The values of the business are organic fiber and safer processing, which we refer to as ‘Design with Intent.’ The safer processing is for the worker, but it’s also for the user. We don’t want the extra finishes that we don’t think add to the value of the product. A lot of it has to do with how it feels and making sure that the true inherent properties of those fibers really come through instead of trying to make the fiber behave like something else.
One of the other values in commitment to people. That comes out of our fair-trade standards, and then making sure that when we use GOTS processing, we are effectively also saying the worker needs to be taken care of as well.
What else are you doing in terms of innovation and moving the brand forward in the name of sustainability?
We have a point of view on what’s going to really make a difference to the customer. On the sustainability front, we have the 2nd Home program, a business model that ties back to our product. We also publicly announced the launch of our Renewed website, so you can buy renewed pieces online.
The textile industry is headed towards a circular model and this element of factoring in the climate impact of the textile industry. That’s where our initiatives are going to go. We were a great candidate for the circular economy because we were already doing the things that allow us to renew and recycle our product. That’s been a big chunk of the innovation that we’ve wanted to focus on for the last couple years, and there’s still more to be done. The Full Circle Blanket that we launched as kind of one example of yes, this is possible. The next step is more complex. How do we make it a system? How do you make that scalable? What’s really possible? We can continue to do it on our own, but for it to really succeed, it’s an industry initiative because it’s a shift in how we’re going to view all the textiles that already exist in the world.
If you make a high-quality product that has longevity, it has a future and future value. I think that’s a shift in how consumers are going to view things. Things have been viewed as very disposable and that’s kind of a fundamental shift.
I’d love to hear about Coyuchi’s commitment to regenerative agriculture.
We are partnered through an investment in White Buffalo Land Trust to look at regenerative agriculture as the future of agriculture. We also work with Fibershed. We’re already offering regenerative, or what could be viewed as regenerative, practices for the wool that we’re using in our wool products. What we know about regenerative agriculture is that it has the capacity to draw down carbon, which is why it makes sense, in terms of a climate initiative, to continue to look at ways that we can use agriculture to improve our situation here on planet Earth. What we’re looking at doing is partnering with farm groups, both farm groups that we may work with today, or new farm groups, and be part of the research and the work that needs to be done to figure out how a regenerative cotton agriculture system starts to look.
There is also work to be done in understanding how growing cotton in a regenerative system will benefit the soil, and that’s what we want to be a part of.
How has the pandemic influenced the way people outfit their homes?
We’ve certainly seen a pretty positive influence from customers being more interested in purchasing for their home, because we’re all spending more time in our home. And there’s really been a lot more online purchasing as well, which can’t be ignored, because home textiles has been a category that the adoption rate was high for online, but it’s certainly accelerated in the past eight months. For a customer that goes into a shop, they want attention and guidance in how they purchase. What we’re seeing is more customer contact through our customer service team. We call them natural home advisors, and the natural home advisors have been very busy.
Some information from a couple of different marketing agencies has also shown that the customer has made the connection between a global pandemic and the health of the climate. Keep in mind, for millenials, there is a much greater interest in buying organic and buying sustainably. The Organic Trade Association has data showing that 65% of millennials have bought an organic product in the last three months.
Tell me about the design element of Coyuchi.
Our last pillar is that it’s coastal-inspired, meaning the way you live on the coast is a little more relaxed. California’s kind of dressed down compared to the rest of the country, and I think that’s true in homes as well. It can still be very luxe in terms of the material you’re using. We want great quality linen, but it’s not pressed. We want the bed to be inviting because of the way it’s going to feel, not just the 20 pillows and perfectly placed blanket. We’re dressing it down a little bit, and it’s this desire to allow your living space to reflect how you want to feel. What’s going to basically give you the space to rejuvenate yourself and get up and lead the busy lives we all lead.
How is Coyuchi different in a landscape where many businesses are turning to organic cotton?
Organic cotton has been available since around 2008. Keep in mind though, only 1% of the cotton that’s produced is organic, so there is a lot of what I would refer to as kind of dabbling in organic as opposed to committing to organic. There’s still a long way to go. What I see as really Coyuchi’s value add is that we really are designing and innovating in textiles, and bringing sustainability to the customer. I think that’s a key difference, because there is a lot of sameness out there, but if you don’t build that product from the ground up, I’m not sure that you’ve really created something that is going to stand out.
Coyuchi can do a whole mix of home textiles, not just your bedroom or your bathroom. We’ve got other rooms of the house that we can start to get into, that give us more opportunity in the future. Staying really close to what it is that brings value to the customer in the textiles that they want to use in their home [is important] and will give a home durability, longevity and timelessness. How do we help the customer curate what is going to be in their homes for years to come?
The brand will celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2021. What do you attribute to Coyuchi’s longevity?
I think it’s a matter of always knowing what we provide that is different from what else is on the market. Initially, that was organic. Now, we’ve got kind of a whole comprehensive program in what we believe is sustainable and innovative in textiles. Going forward, it’s continuing to push the envelope and know what’s going to make the difference and have a positive impact in satisfying the customer with their home textiles.