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Voices: A Route Interview Series Feat. Tyler Cobian
Sustainability goes beyond sourcing materials
MATE is a new breed of leisurewear taking folks by storm. Love comfy and cozy while treating the earth well? Then dip into MATE’s lineup of sustainably made clothing crafted from non-toxic, natural, and organic materials. It’s a brand on a mission “to provide people everywhere with essentials that are clean from seed to skin,” and helping lead the way is sustainability manager Tyler Cobian.
His hot take on true sustainability is a breath of fresh air and a promising outlook for helping heal Mother Nature for years to come. See how Tyler is treating sustainability at MATE, what he’s thinking about post-pandemic life, and beyond.
Q: What’s one thing you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?
A: I think that I’ve dedicated a significant portion of my formal education to data science, but I would have dedicated even more into data science.
Moving into the sustainable apparel industry, I think that data science and things like life cycle assessment and carbon accounting are bringing a lot of legitimacy to sustainability claims. I wish I would have integrated myself even earlier in that process with tools such as learning about modeling efforts and the kinds of carbon models.
Carbon accounting covers life cycle assessments and will look at the carbon impact of a product over time. For us, it would be growing cotton to the point that we sell it and then carbon accounting looks at it. It’s essentially doing our corporate footprint. We’d look at the impact the company has over the year, over all the products and all the different facets that would be involved. It’s expanding a different carbon over all of our activities for a year.
I think that consumers are getting extremely well-educated on spotting greenwashing. Having these kinds of things to back up claims are becoming more and more important.
Companies have to be more honest about their supply chain and their claims that they’re making, and these kinds of tools add credibility to each of our claims.
Q: What does the future of ecommerce look like in your mind?
A: I think that radical brand transparency is going to be big. People want to know about the honest story of a brand and they can spot when you’re trying to hide something. Maybe you don’t want to talk about something, but it’ll be a lot more beneficial to talk about and show that you are doing better than you were. It might not be where we want to end up, but it’s a journey that we’re hoping to go through.
I think that that kind of transparency lends itself really well to customers. The first initial stab at highlighting sustainability and companies was framed like “we’re doing all these great things, we’re not doing anything wrong!” And today, the message has transitioned to “sustainability is a part of our journey.” I think there’s a more honest way for ecommerce to talk about things, and we’re on our way there.
Q: What is your best failure?
A: It’s still relatively early in my career, so I still have plenty of time for more failures, but I think that my biggest has been transitioning from looking at sustainability and apparel as an issue of sourcing to more of an issue of systems. The low-hanging fruit for most companies, and for a lot of sustainability, is looking at your source material. The more evolved thinking of sustainability, however, is looking at your entire industrial ecosystem and not just pointing a finger at sourcing.
Looking at source material and inputs are a good place to start, but that should not be the place where sustainability ends and finishes when thinking about your entire system. You have to look at your production processes, your methods of transportation, and, even when it’s leaving your hands, what the consumer is doing with it.
When it comes to apparel, you have to consider things like how many times are they washing it? Is it shedding microplastics? What are they doing when they’re done with it? Are they holding onto a piece for just two years because it’s going out of fashion or are they holding onto it for 10 years and passing it onto children? It’s hard to conceptualize what happens beyond your warehouse, but it’s a crucial facet of being truly sustainable.
Going beyond the point of sale is a better way of looking at sustainability than simply thinking “OK, we need to just source better materials for our products, right?” It’s an effort that doesn’t just begin and end with sourcing—or even with customer purchase. It’s a long-term view.
In a dream world, we would love to take a purchase back from a customer, recycle it, and maintain that ownership of the garment while incentivizing customers for giving back, similar to Patagonia’s method for recycling goods.
Q: How have you pivoted strategy during the pandemic?
A: So from MATE’s perspective, we’ve always produced loungewear. By our nature, we were already uniquely positioned to do well in this new work-from-home situation. I think what I’m interested to see post-pandemic, really, is how the workplace changes overall.
It’ll be interesting to see if offices change their dress policy or if people are allowed to work from home more often than pre-pandemic. I also think that it may be smart for us to look into a post-pandemic world of creating more streetwear or expanding our activewear. So post-pandemic life is more of what we’re pivoting towards and looking toward the future than necessarily having made big changes throughout this time.