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Up Close: In Conversation with Unifi’s Cheryl Zukowski

Up Close is Sourcing Journal’s regular check-in with industry executives to get their take on topics ranging from personal style to their company’s latest moves. In this Q&A, Cheryl Zukowski, director of marketing at textile manufacturer Unifi, discusses the benefits of localized sourcing and how her company is tackling plastic pollution. 

Name: Cheryl Zukowski

Title: director of marketing

Company: Unifi Manufacturing, Inc.

Which other industry has the best handle on the supply chain? What can apparel learn?

If I look at industries I admire, I usually will always look to packaged goods and technology. Both of these industries leverage consumer insights first to drive product development, and then work to find the most efficient and effective ways to deliver value to their customers. Sustainable practices frequently have driven these industries to find better ways to combine efficiency and value without sacrificing quality.

I think apparel can look to diversify supply chains to best deliver products without huge carbon footprints. We offer our products globally to give our sustainability-minded customers the option to source yarn and fibers in-region to limit transit costs, time and emissions to help with those efficiencies.

How would you describe yourself as a consumer?

I’d like to believe I am a savvy consumer (like everyone). I tend to look for excellent packaging, high quality and a value for the money. I read a lot of reviews, and I crowdsource recommendations when shopping for major purchases. I am a sucker for a deal.

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As a consumer, what does it take to win your loyalty?

Quality and excellent service. I love products that last, and when they don’t, I respect brands and companies who work hard to make it right. I love trying new things—whether flavors, cuts or colors—and I’m always happy to get an upgrade. Innovation and constant improvement are important to me.

What’s your typical uniform?

Work: ponte pants, loafers and fun tops. Weekends: yoga pants, T-shirts and Nike Flyknits or flip flops.

Which fashion era is your favorite?

I hate to admit this, but I loved the grunge era in the early-mid ‘90s. Babydoll dresses and Doc Martens, giant flannel shirts and distressed jeans. I loved the easy way to look fashionable while being comfortable.

Who’s your style icon?

Audrey Hepburn

How would you describe your corporate culture?

We recently issued this statement, which is important to who we are and our core values: “At Unifi, we believe that true change starts from within and now is the time to use our voice to stand in solidarity against racial injustice.”

Diversity and inclusion for all people are key components of our core values.

We are dedicated to creating a workplace that is safe, open, understanding and compassionate for those whose lives we touch across the globe. Ahead, there is much work to be done, and we’re committed to caring, listening and always improving.

What can companies learn from COVID-19?

The pandemic has brought to light the importance of Made in America. The global health crisis has highlighted why having a vertical supply chain within the U.S. for essential and critical items like PPE and medical supplies is key. The U.S. has traditionally been reliant on outside sources for lower costs. The pandemic has revealed our need to have these supplies readily available right here instead of relying on other countries. While we have the resources and supply chain in place, we need to increase our capacity.

What should be the apparel industry’s top priority now?

Sustainability. We believe the commitment to sustainability will be even stronger post-COVID-19 as the world looks toward a new reality that affirms a healthier planet, with industry leaders who are ready to create environmental, social and economic change. Our brand and retail partners have helped us reach our goal of recycling more than 20 billion bottles by 2020 through their use of our Repreve recycled polyester.

Tell us about your company’s latest product introduction/service:

People around the globe are asking, “how can we save our oceans from plastic pollution?” We listened and carefully designed meaningful processes to address this problem directly. That’s why we created Repreve Our Ocean, which is made with plastics collected within 50 kilometers of waterways or coastal areas in developing countries or regions. Unifi continues to see strong interest in Repreve Our Ocean offerings since launch, as more customers are serious about reducing ocean plastic waste. We’re finding swimwear brands are particularly interested in Repreve Our Ocean, and we’re proud to provide a textile solution to help protect this critical ecosystem.