Voices of Tomorrow: Coyuchi COO Marcus Chung on the importance of taking up space

Chung opens up about the challenges that face PoC in retail and the changes he’d like to see.
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· 4 min read

Voices of Tomorrow is a recurring feature highlighting PoC who are reshaping the retail industry.

As a brand that’s been around for 30 years, Coyuchi has established itself as a purveyor of sustainable home textiles with everything from organic bedding to bathrobes.

The retailer has also expanded into areas like home decor and kitchen linens in recent years. At its operational helm is COO Marcus Chung, who joined two years ago and has since taken on projects like integrating secondhand products into its site.

Prior to Coyuchi, Chung also worked at retailers such as The Children’s Place, Stitch Fix, and ThirdLove.

In an exclusive with Retail Brew, Chung opened up about his work at Coyuchi, how the home goods industry has changed, and the challenges PoC in the industry face.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

How do you feel the home goods industry has changed in recent years alongside the focus on sustainability?

I think [sustainability] has definitely become a trend. You see more and more brands talk about “organic” in particular, or different sustainable materials. There’s a customer out there who absolutely cares about sustainability and impact. We consider ourselves to be differentiated in a few ways. One is that we’re very focused on certifications. So I don’t know how many brands can say that they’re GOTS, which is the global organic textile standard. That’s a degree of rigor that’s really hard to achieve and really requires you to look at not only your supply chain, but also your own operations. Last month, we had our auditor come on site and look at our headquarters to make sure that our practices and how we treat our own employees is consistent with their standards. So it’s not an easy certification.

But for the consumer, that’s one way they can tell that the company or brand is really doing what they claim to be doing. Because there’s so much opportunity in the supply chain for people to claim one thing, but the practices aren’t actually happening.

What challenges do people of color in the retail industry face?

Early on in my career, and this is probably true for many PoC, is that you didn’t see a lot of other PoC in leadership roles. So it was hard to understand what behavior needed to be modeled…You just didn’t have a ton of examples to be able to learn from. I do think that the numbers probably still support that there’s opportunity for more PoC to be elevated to executive roles. That is part of the challenge. The second is mentorship, whether formally or informally, isn’t as strong maybe even in retail than in other industries. I have friends in other industries who talked about really formal mentor networks or relationships—in tech, and in healthcare—but I’m not sure retail has that same sort of sense of mentorship. I think there’s an opportunity for that.

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What needs to change in the way the industry functions to create more opportunities for PoC?

There’s a few different ways to look at it. One is even in sort of a structural way that recruiting and talent development happens. Many more companies are starting to really look at their recruiting practices to see if they may be unintentionally excluding certain PoC from applying for jobs because they might not even see that they fit in when they read a job description. But I would even say that from my own experience, like culturally, my parents immigrated from Hong Kong. I am first generation and they didn’t work in big companies. So just trying to understand things like how do you show up in a professional environment when you haven’t seen that from your parents or other people, and just learning the vernacular like what to wear sometimes can be so challenging.

Especially being Asian American, you’re just taught to be like, “Don’t rock the boat.” You want to come in and make sure that you’re not causing too much trouble. I would encourage people—especially PoC, especially Asian Americans—to not be afraid of taking up space. That’s really hard for someone who’s been raised a certain way where that is not necessarily valued to be able to come into a meeting and feel that their voice is equally as important as the other people around the table. I will admit that that’s still something that I struggle with every day. But it’s definitely something that, for Asian Americans in particular, is important to be able to succeed in a corporate environment, where it’s important to get many perspectives to make decisions.

Retail news that keeps industry pros in the know

Retail Brew delivers the latest retail industry news and insights surrounding marketing, DTC, and e-commerce to keep leaders and decision-makers up to date.