Rivet is celebrating Women’s History Month with a series of Q&As with female leaders in the denim industry.
Tricia Carey, director of global business development for denim at Lenzing Fibers, turned two passions—denim and sustainability—into a career that has taken her all over the world.
Carey cut her teeth in the apparel industry as an assistant merchandiser for Duet Textiles, a heat transfer domestic converter. “I was an intern there when I was at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City and they offered me a position after graduation,” Carey said. “It was mid ’90s and prints were all the rage.”
In 1998, Carey eventually landed at Courtaulds, the founder of Tencel Lyocell, where she began to promote the man-made fiber as a sustainable ingredient in denim brands’ collections. And along the way, she has become an influential voice in the industry, guiding designers and brands down a path toward sustainability.
Here, Carey shares her proudest career moments and why experience is the best teacher.
Rivet: Did you have any female mentors?
Tricia Carey: I have several female mentors who have taught me about life and business. First and foremost, my mom who has always been an advocate for sustainability, even before it was mainstream. With her thriftiness, she never let anything go to waste, and still does not. She has an amazing optimism about life and compassion towards people.
My marketing and business development mentor is June Lauck. In 1996, I went to a seminar about this amazing fiber from trees. I was hooked, and two years later she hired me as a merchandiser, a role where I learned about events, storytelling and marketing. Fiber production is actually quite boring, but June made a handful of fiber seem like magic as she would explain how it is transformed from trees, what it can do and why it is blended with other fibers. She would give me a list of companies to call—no one had emails then—to invite them to our events. We had some remarkable events when launching Tencel Lyocell and she always knew good food brings people together.
My fashion mentor, or perhaps idol, is Diane von Furstenberg. What an extraordinary woman who has had her share of career highs and lows. I had the opportunity to attend her International Women’s Day IN Charge workshop this year at the DVF Meatpacking Studio with about 150 women where she explained her philosophy and vision for women. She said the 21st century is the time for women and that we need to embrace imperfections.
There is no textbook, website or app for what these women share.
Rivet: Do you think companies in the denim supply chain could do more to support women?
TC: I think the denim industry needs to support women with regards to education and families. As the UN Sustainable Development Goal #5: Gender Equality states, ending all forms of discrimination against women and girls is not only a basic human right, but is also crucial to accelerating sustainable development. Empowering women and girls has a multiplier effect and supports economic growth and development. Companies need to support this process by investing in the education and development of women.
I was very fortunate to have work flexibility when my kids were young. Working for an international company, I see how European countries support women and families, especially during early childhood development. In the U.S., the average maternity leave is 12 weeks and companies are not required to provide pay. Compare that to the average maternity and parental leave in Europe which is 90 days with adjusted pay. In the East, the majority of factory workers are women who need fair wages, working conditions and family programs. What value is placed on supporting families and why can’t the denim or apparel industry lead the change?
Rivet: What are you most proud of in your career?
TC: I am most proud that I work with a great team and amazing leaders in the denim industry. I have contributed to the evolution of Tencel Lyocell over the past 27 years. When I first started in 1998 we tracked every fiber bale and struggled to grow a supply chain and understanding the processing challenges, including ‘fibrilation.’ Now we have grown to produce approximately six times as much Tencel Lyocell fiber and gain an international presence.
Five years ago, we formed a small denim team with Michael Kininmonth, Hale Ozturk and myself to support global denim business development. Since then, we have found our voice in the denim industry and have compiled our stories in Carved in Blue, even registering the name globally. We collaborate with like-minded people and companies who support innovation and sustainability. We now see an increased number of core and fashion Tencel denim programs at retail, which consumers can purchase at a variety of price points and styles with a lower environmental impact.
Additionally, I am proud that two years ago we introduced the next generation of Tencel Lyocell. We now have textile-to-textile circularity by upcycling cotton scraps for new fiber using Refibra technology which is at retail in denim programs at Boyish, Country Road, DL1961, Levis, Reformation, Sevda, and more to come.
Rivet: What advice can you offer to people who are seeking a career in the denim industry?
TC: Well, I am always giving advice to my daughter, Alexis, who is a freshman in college studying fashion merchandising and marketing. The advice I give to her is the same for anyone seeking a career in the denim industry.
Step away from the screen. You cannot learn by sitting at your computer or being on the phone. Get your feet on the ground—visit mills, factories, trade shows and ask questions. Seek out information on sustainability, not only in the apparel industry, but also other industries. Most important is to go shopping (but you don’t have to buy) because stores are the classroom. The retail industry is transforming now so it is key to observe and assess consumer lifestyle and buying habits. Ultimately it is the consumer who we need to understand.
And don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today. Perfection is the enemy of good. Make a plan, pick a lane and just do it!