The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of annual carbon emissions globally. According to the World Bank, that's more than all airline flights and maritime shipping combined. With the rise in fast fashion and trends that move at lightning speed, more and more of our clothing is ending up in landfills. Even the clothing we keep in our closets is being produced using manmade, unsustainable practices and resources. However, there are trailblazers at the forefront of this issue, innovating ways to use new technology and data analysis to ensure that clothing is being manufactured in the most sustainable way possible, from the seeds being planted to the end product in your wardrobe.
As the Sustainability Manager for Mate the Label, an eco-conscious clothing company, Tyler Cobian has already made his mark as a young trailblazer in the field of sustainability. Cobian grew up in the city of Ventura in Southern California, right outside Los Padres National Forest. His love for nature and sustainability started early when his father, a product manager at the outerwear company Patagonia, would bring him to the Patagonia childcare center. With such a beginning, it's no wonder Cobian would end up finding his way back to the sustainable clothing industry.
Education Focused on Sustainability
A promising volleyball player in high school, Cobian went on to play on the volleyball team as an undergraduate at the University of California - Merced. While still a student, Cobian grew his love for the outdoors as a trip guide for UC Merced's Outdoor Experience Program, guiding hiking, backpacking, and rock climbing trips throughout California. He also served as the UC Merced campus sustainability coordinator and the sustainability intern for the city of Ventura. Cobian earned a bachelor's degree in management and economics before moving on to his master's program at UC Santa Barbara. There, he refined his skills and love of sustainability with a master's of environmental science and management, focusing on corporate environmental management.
A Full-Circle Career
With his advanced degree and wealth of knowledge and sustainability experience, Cobian returned to where it all began, beginning his post-graduate sustainability career at Patagonia as an environmental research associate. While at Patagonia, Cobian combined his environmental knowledge with a deep understanding of data analytics to help the company assess the sustainability of its materials sourcing, looking at the lifecycle of surfboard production and making data models to find sustainable water repellent materials.
His experiences, combined with his deep knowledge of the importance of data and analytics when it comes to corporate sustainability practices in the clothing retail industry, landed Cobian a job at Mate, a clothing company dedicated to providing essentials and basics that are produced in environmentally sustainable ways.
Creating More Sustainable Fashion
Cobian has spent the past two years helping Mate the Label assess, through his understanding of the lifecycle of clothing materials and with a focus on data analysis and corporate transparency, the entire lifecycle of its clothing to ensure that the raw materials like cotton are sourced from environmentally sustainable producers. His work helps Mate ensure that the pieces they produce are made in such a way that they are durable and will stay in customers' wardrobes and out of landfills for years to come.
For Cobian, the use of data analytics is integral to a company's sustainability practices. Instead of baseless greenwashing, a practice where companies use environmental buzzwords but do not actually follow through on their promises, Cobian focuses on data and analysis to back up any environmental claims, stating, "consumers are getting extremely well-educated on spotting greenwashing," in a recent interview.
Through carbon modeling, Cobian is able to look at a garment through its entire lifecycle, including after it's purchased by the consumer, to determine the water use and carbon footprint of each piece, find solutions for limiting that carbon footprint and even use that information to take the initiative to offset what cannot be completely reduced.
To ensure that the clothing is made as sustainably as possible, he starts at the source, starting from the seeds and farming practices of the company's cotton growers, to assess the water use and carbon footprint of the growing and harvesting process. He also analyzes the company's use of manmade materials like Spandex, a material that is made with nonrenewable resources.
For Cobian, the key to corporations creating sustainable products and trust with consumers is through transparency in their processes and in their materials. This does not mean that corporations have to be perfect; instead, he encourages radical transparency when it comes to the areas that companies are trying to improve, even if they aren't perfect yet. For Mate the Label, that comes in the form of reducing the amount of Spandex needed to make sure their athleticwear still performs up to a high standard. It also means supporting the creation of technology that will allow for slowly phasing out synthetic materials like Spandex once similar, more sustainable materials are developed.
Despite global emissions continuing to rise and climate change at the forefront of everyone's mind, the fashion industry continues to churn out unsustainable, polluting materials that end up in landfills and contribute to carbon emissions. The work of Cobian and others in the fashion industry will hopefully help transform retail companies into spaces for transparency and innovation that will help create more sustainable fashion for all.
The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of annual carbon emissions globally.
Tyler Cobian is a sustainability leader in fashion and business, especially for Mate the Label.
Businesses and retailers are encouraged to deliver more sustainable products to gain higher approval from consumers.