Interview by { Beth Weitzman

Christine Nielsen was a true pioneer in organic cotton. In 1991, unable to find home textiles made of organic cotton in North America, she created her own company, Coyuchi, with the vision of bringing sustainably sourced, ethically made, high-quality, organic cotton goods into homes everywhere. Nearly 20 years later, Coyuchi’s product line—bedding, towels, sheets, duvet covers, sleepwear and baby wear—is still made according to the founder’s belief that you don’t have to sacrifice luxury to shop responsibly. All items are made of organic fiber grown according to the highest USDA and international standards. The result is natural fiber items that are super soft and devoid of harmful chemicals. In addition, Coyuchi is a pioneer in the subscription services space, having developed an organic linen subscription program before such programs were commonplace. After trying out Coyuchi linen sheets for ourselves, we’re hooked. Here, we chat with Eileen Mockus, CEO and life-long lover of fine textiles. 

What is your background in textiles?

Growing up in a household where my mother and five sisters all sewed, I’ve been passionate about textiles from the very beginning. I earned a B.S. in textile and clothing from UC Davis, and an M.S. in business administration, with an emphasis on small business and entrepreneurship, from San Francisco State University. My years spent at iconic companies [North Face, Patagonia, Pottery Barn Kids and PB Teen] allowed me to expand my deep knowledge of the technical side of the textile business, working in fabric development, materials testing, product development and sourcing. During this time, my visits to manufacturing facilities in Europe and Asia piqued my interest in organic cotton and inspired my pursuit for better, cleaner textile-processing methods. 

What inspired you to join Coyuchi?

The challenge of making high-quality products in a way that is respectful to the people who make them, and the Earth we all share, drew me to Coyuchi, and continues to guide my vision for the company as it grows. I was inspired to join the team when the company was expanding the assortment. At the same time, e-commerce was expanding and created this unique opportunity to interact directly with the customer. It was an opportunity that appealed to my desire to work with great materials and be part of a shift in consumer behavior and sustainability.

What are the brand’s core values?

Luxurious comfort without compromise. Driven by a deep reverence for nature and a desire to fill homes with sustainably sourced, ethically made goods, Coyuchi has been committed to the highest standards since 1991. From organically grown fiber and Global Organic Textile Standard-certified manufacturing to the latest water-recycling methods and circular business practices, we are committed to creating the highest-quality linens in the most innovative and environmentally sustainable ways. 

What is Coyuchi’s design inspiration and philosophy?

Coyuchi started in Point Reyes Station, and it’s no coincidence that the origin of organic food, slow food and life with intention all stems from Marin County. Inspired by the relaxed luxury of California’s coastlines—the colors, attention to detail and the desire to protect it—our aesthetic embraces the tones, textures and calming energy of those peaceful places where water meets land. There’s a relaxed lifestyle that we’d like our customers to feel. Our expertise in home textiles is grounded in the education, experience and guidance of our product development team, all of whom hold degrees from prestigious textile design schools. Coyuchi is an active member of Textile Exchange (TE) and has been a proud supporter of the Chetna Organic Farming Cooperative—an ethical textile and fashion value chain community—for more than 10 years.

What makes Coyuchi’s cotton exceptional?

Natural fibers are the best performance fibers for sleep, for bathing and for the home, and using organic fiber and processing is our way of ensuring we have the safest product for our customers. All organic fiber is grown according to USDA organic standards (the National Organic Program, or NOP) and we follow the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) for processing. GOTS ensures the product is made organically and the processing is nontoxic and low-impact on the environment. We’ve recently adopted the Made Safe standard for a portion of our assortment as another verification that our product is safe for our customers. We want to avoid harmful chemicals, such as flame retardants, formaldehyde finishes and heavy metals in dyestuffs. We are about to launch an organic GOLS-certified latex assortment—a breathable, supportive alternative to traditional down or synthetic fillers. Each Coyuchi latex pillow is uniquely protected by 100-percent GOTS-certified organic cotton and filled with naturally derived, 100-percent GOLS-certified organic Dunlop latex foam. Organic latex resists the growth of mold and mildew while repelling allergen-filled dust mites, providing superior ventilation for a timeless pillow with customizable support. We also follow the Climate Beneficial Wool for wool products, meaning we work with farms through Fibershed to sequester more carbon into the soil than released. Lastly, we team up with 1% For The Planet to donate 1 percent of our earnings on certain products to give back to the Fibershed fund.

Why are organic linens and towels better for people and the planet? 

Organic textiles ensure that you are wrapping yourself up in safe and pure fibers. Conventional linens and towels are created with softeners and pesticides that affect our hormonal health, respiratory health, [and] some of these chemicals have even been linked to cancer. Not to mention the harm it causes farmers and factory workers who touch each product (as well as the soil and wildlife). We want to ensure that no one has to sleep in sheets made with this list of toxic chemicals deemed too harmful to use by GOTS, like formaldehyde, phthalates and endocrine disruptors. Purchasing organic cotton supports more than just cotton, it affects the entire ecosystem of organic farming. Organic farming creates 60 percent less output of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases than conventional cotton. We believe that if you are going to create a brand-new product, it has to be done ethically and with respect to the planet. 

Tell us about the Coyuchi For Life program.

Each year, the U.S. generates 21 billion pounds of postconsumer textile waste. All that (nonorganic) waste—and the raw materials and manufacturing that go into replenishing those discarded resources—releases toxins into the environment and contributes to climate change. Coyuchi For Life is our simple, circular solution to this growing problem, offering an organic linen subscription program that closes the loop on home textiles. Fresh sets of organic sheets and/or towels arrive at our subscribers’ homes in increments of six, 12 or 24 months, with rates starting as low as $5 per month. As soon as the new sets arrive, subscribers simply send their previously loved linens back to us in the packaging provided. That’s where our partners at the The Renewal Workshop step in with the most innovative, sustainable methods to renew, upcycle or recycle these returned linens. They may be laundered using an Earth-friendly waterless process, then mended, specially packaged, discounted and sold as “refreshed” at our brick-and-mortar Point Reyes Station store. Or, if they have issues that can’t be fixed, like a large, centrally placed tear, offered to artisans and independent designers who upcycle textiles into new products like bags, clothing and accessories. We imagine a world where landfills are linen-free, and all living spaces are furnished with thoughtfully designed, organic sheets and towels that never lose their usefulness.

Have customers been receptive to the idea?

The team grappled with the hesitancy of consumers to accept “renewed” linens as the clean, sanitary products they are. There was the possibility that “used” linens might not be embraced so easily. But the stringent standards and efficiency of our partners at The Renewal Workshop quickly put our minds at ease. Thus far, our consumers have been receptive to luxury organic linens with extended lifecycles. The response has confirmed a definite interest in alternative payment plans, purchasing used product at our brick-and-mortar location in Point Reyes Station, and a willingness to support a circular economy through closed-loop initiatives.

What’s next for Coyuchi?

Our Coyuchi For Life pilot program has recently expanded into our new 2nd Home service, which invites all customers to send their used Coyuchi linens back to us for repurposing in return for a discount toward a future purchase—no subscription necessary. Launched in 2019, 2nd Home is our next step in circularity, and we are continually exploring possibilities for innovation and expansion. Our goal for the future is to develop new Coyuchi product out of 100-percent recycled materials—using the returned fabrics from both programs. We are also working on being completely plastic-free with the goal of fall 2020.