Shortening the global supply chain and going direct to the consumer — Supply chains take so much energy to maintain, and every new partner and distributor you add compounds the carbon emissions on products and gets you further away from the factory that made it. For those customers that want to reduce the associated emissions, we want them to find us.
As part of my series about companies who are helping to battle climate change, I had the pleasure of interviewing Corey Koscielniak.
Corey’s expertise in product management, strategic sourcing, and international business development is a driving force behind the success of Tricol-Everplush, a vertical manufacturer of innovative textiles. As Vice President of Sales, he develops and administers initiatives to increase sales and market development activities for the retail, commercial, hospitality and housewares industries. Corey’s passion for global sourcing, sustainability, and shortening the distance between the manufacturer and the end user has attributed to the success across all phases of the product and customer journey.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I grew up in retail, working in global sourcing on the retailer/buyer side, consulting, and now
with the manufacturer. One of the nuances of American retail that always baffles me is how little the consumer is told about the companies that physically do the work (i.e. produce the products that are online and on store shelves). A brand or retailer can tout all the sustainable certifications and techniques they think the customer cares about, but when the well-informed, research-oriented consumer starts critically thinking about the products they buy, and doing the work, they’ll uncover those misrepresentations and hold you accountable. Transparency and authenticity must be present, especially when you start talking sustainability — these values are the reason I am currently with Tricol-Everplush.
In my role at Tricol-Everplush, a Chinese company that also happens to be family-owned, I’ve learned a lot about sourcing practices in China. Namely that there’s a stark contrast in sourcing textiles from the south of China versus a vertical manufacturer like Tricol-Everplush (where all 13 of our factories are located within a close proximity of each other). The south of China relies on a majority migratory labor pool, meaning that the employees come from all over western and central China to get a job in a factory and send that money as remittance to their homes. Often these migrant labor pools are told that they’ll get a stable job and place to live if they accept an offer. What happens is ethically abhorrent as factory workers end up living in two room facilities where they work 12-hour shifts on and off. The factory they work for isn’t the factory of export, so there’s zero motivation for the factory owner to create a safe environment for workers.
Meeting any customer’s environmental or ethical standards is viewed as a cost driver, not the basis for doing business. To make things worse, the behavior of US buyers and product managers reinforces this notion. US buyers are notorious for wanting the best quality products at the cheapest price and will walk away from longstanding supplier relationships if costs should increase. This practice makes companies like mine less competitive, because we take care of our workers, we value product quality, and we have 100% oversight of everything that happens during production. If consumers knew how unethical these players have been, I’m sure they’d reconsider their loyalty.
What is the mission of your company? What problems are you aiming to solve?
When I first joined Tricol-Everplush in 2015, our mission was to “create a comfortable world.” After much back and forth with the CEO, we have now shifted our focus on responsible innovation. We’re a unique company, for we were the first to market bi-component microfiber in the 90s, and we’ve taken a lot of ownership in combining innovative textiles with responsible production practices. We aim to solve end user problems, and our product line and customer base reflects that. We can do all of those things in sustainable ways; from a faster drying towel, to a towel made from post-consumer plastic. We have to be championing sustainability from all aspects of the supply chain and user experience.
Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?
- Shortening the global supply chain and going direct to the consumer.
Supply chains take so much energy to maintain, and every new partner and distributor you add compounds the carbon emissions on products and gets you further away from the factory that made it. For those customers that want to reduce the associated emissions, we want them to find us. There will be a world in which manufacturers work directly with the end users, so why not start in 2020?
2. Utilizing certified recycled materials
We started developing a recycled microfiber in 2015 and have been successful in certifying the finished products and yarns we produce through Global Recycled Standard. Our microfiber is made of polyester and polyamide, and the polyester is certified recycled post-consumer plastic. You can see some of the products where we’ve used recycled polyester here. Making products with recycled polyester is a great start, but we also wanted to make quality products with recycled materials. Over the years, our team has developed the production technology to ensure that every recycled product performs just as well as a virgin one.
3. Transitioning our top performing items into certified recycled
As a brand we’re leaning into the recycled materials wherever possible, including adding recycled material into all our products by 2022.
4. ZDHC dyeing
We’ve joined the ZDHC Roadmap to Zero programme because we own and operate two dyehouses. This program audits our dyehouses and ensures that we do not have any harmful substances within the wastewater.
5. Garnering Oeko-Tex & other certifications
There are so many new certifications that can help consumers buy the right products. In the United States, the retailers have mostly driven the certifications and we’re following those practices.
How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?
To start, I think this depends on what your definition of costs and profits are and why you’re motivated to do business. The main goal of any business is to make money. Working in global sourcing shows you what retailers typically do to ensure products are safe and ethically made, but it also exposes what they’re not doing. As a consumer, I’m told the products are made safely and ethically, and the retailer markets a “robust process for evaluating their suppliers ethical and environmental standards”. But if you dig deeper, you realize that some of this is just for show. Even though most retailers require social and environmental responsibility audits for their global supplier factories, they often work through trading companies (importer/distributors) that take on the responsibility of these audits directly with the factories. These importers rarely own any manufacturing. Instead they work with dozens of factories globally and place the order to the lowest cost supplier that can pass an inspection. Textile products, like the ones that Tricol-Everplush manufactures, typically involve multiple factories, and if you’re only requiring one factory to be audited, that means there’s a lot of factories that touch a product but never get checked. The retailers and vendors have some complicity in maintaining this dynamic because it keeps their product costs low and programs profitable. However, it creates a loophole in the whole process, that, to me, defeats the purpose of having any audit process at all.
The youth led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion what are 5 things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.
I wish I could yield the question to my mom, who has been an ongoing source of inspiration for me. As a young gay kid growing up in Missouri, you learn to be resilient to the criticism. I also think the generation you speak of has done more for social and environmental justice than any generation before them, and I am so excited to see what Gen Z leaders can teach me and my generation about standing up for your values on a daily basis. I think we need to be critical thinkers and teach parents and kids to question their environment and norms all the time. You have to do the work; you have to accept that what others may tell you is the norm doesn’t have to be your norm. You’re allowed to take a stance and give it visibility, especially when confronted with oppression. If I have to write 5 things listicle style they would be:
- Embrace hobbies and downtime.
- Show a lot of patience and ask “why” as often as possible.
- Arrest the cops that murdered Breonna Taylor.
- Tell your parents to be politically engaged and stop advertising to children. We allow children to be taught very materialistic ideals disguised as individualism. Gen Z has been so vocal about this particular issue and that is why I love this generation.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- If you do the work, it becomes your responsibility.
- Earn the trust of others — don’t assume people have the same understanding of a problem as you do.
- Listen 2x more than you speak (I still need to work on this one).
- Ask for help.
- It takes nothing for you to be nice, so just be nice.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My parents always stood up for me, especially during high school where students, teachers and administrators simply weren’t supportive of diversity and inclusion. I had a choir teacher in high school that made some very inappropriate remarks about me to other students and was trying to fail me in choir. My parents stepped in and were total allies and were able to get me out of that environment safely. They taught me how to advocate for your rights and hold people accountable to that.
You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would like to see more consumer advocacy groups that make sure consumers receive the protections and visibility they need to engage in capitalism. I think for far too long Americans have been calling each other consumers instead of citizens. Why do we place so much value on the ability to buy stuff over the fact that we live together as citizens of a shared society? We are so much more than buyers of stuff, we’re so much more than viral black Friday videos. Why is it acceptable for consumers to trample over one another for a great deal, but not okay for black and brown people to peacefully protect injustice? I would also like to see a federal ban on advertising to children, (however, the 1980 Advertising Fairness Act would have to be revoked). Also, I’d like to see the cops that murdered Breonna Taylor arrested.
Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?
Adrienne Rich once wrote, “Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you; it means learning to respect and use your own brains and instincts; hence, grappling with hard work.” In my history class, the teacher covered up pages about Alexander the Great being gay, and I was not about that. I took the time to find the article she blacked out and read it. We can’t assume that institutions teach us the history we need to know, they teach us a version of life that is convenient for them. Knowledge is power.
What is the best way for people to follow you on social media?
This was so inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!