Good (?) Fashion - Everlane

 
Everlane sustainable fashion transparency Gap Michael Preysman black silk fig trench coat factory transparent

Feeling sassy in my Everlane black silk camisole. Click links at bottom of post to buy!

 

Four years ago nobody really knew what sustainable fashion was, but these days, everyone (OK at least everyone in New York and San Francisco) knows about Everlane. The minimalist brand has managed to win its way into the wardrobes of ‘it’ girls and onto the pages of glossy magazines by way of good design and great marketing. They have often been praised in the realm of sustainable fashion, but how sustainable is Everlane really?

Everlane proudly touts ‘transparency’ as their number one priority, displaying cost breakdowns on their website and sharing videos from inside their factories. As consumers in the US become more and more aware of the horrors of garment factories around the world (much in part to the Rana Plaza tragedy and the documentary True Cost), Everlane has capitalized on providing stylish clothing without the guilt. Creating a fully visible supply chain is a huge responsibility, and I commend anyone taking on the challenge. It is hard to hide poor manufacturing practices behind marketing stories when those stories are audiovisual and accessible by anyone. Everlane’s commitment to a responsible and transparent supply chain is something that I would like to see at the heart of more fashion companies.

 
Transparent pricing infographic. Source: Everlane.com

Transparent pricing infographic. Source: Everlane.com

 

In an article reporting the recent appointment of Rebekka Bay as Everlane’s new head designer, founder Michael Preysman states that the majority of his time is spent visiting factories and that he is surprised at “how not often [apparel] executives visit factories.” Perhaps it is his proximity to Silicon Valley that has inspired Preysman to disrupt so entrenched an industry, but I hope that existing and emerging fashion brands all over the world will follow his lead. Everlane is one brand that can provide an honest response to the question that we ask on Fashion Revolution Day - who made my clothes?

Images from inside of Everlane's outerwear factory in Yantian, China. Source: Everlane.com/factories

Still, there is more to sustainability than a commitment to transparency. It is an incredible step in the right direction, yes, but what about a commitment to caring for the environment or fighting a fast fashion consumer culture? Well, to the latter, Everlane has something of a half-formed response.

Despite shutting down their website on Black Friday in 2012 and 2013 (and in 2014, dedicating all of their Black Friday sales to a recreational center and garden at one of their factories in China) Everlane continues to encourage a great deal of consumption. Obviously, selling product is somewhere near the top of any apparel brand’s priority list, but saying “Buy Less, Buy Better” one day a year doesn’t quite hold up against some recent announcements. In the same article regarding the recent hiring of Rebekka Bay, Preysman mentions something about how “hundreds of styles” are in Everlane’s future. Bay also states that her designs for the brand will have to “be relevant, desirable, and create urgency.” Hundreds of styles and a sense of urgency sound a lot like fast fashion to me. It is clear that Everlane’s goal is to grow into a household name, not dissimilar to Gap, whom Bay most recently designed for. While I have no objection to Everlane becoming “the new Gap” in terms of style and iconism, I do have an objection to their promoting over-consumption. Encouraging consumers to buy buy buy is the real root of the fashion industry’s current issues, and continuing on with this purchasing model cannot be fixed by transparency alone.

"Buy Less, Buy Better" marketing campaign from Black Friday 2012. Source: Google Images

"Buy Less, Buy Better" marketing campaign from Black Friday 2012. Source: Google Images

Over-consumption is the driving force behind fast fashion where brands essentially create new product every other week and push trends on their customers at light speed. This results in us buying more clothing than we need and therefore treating it with less regard, and eventually, throwing it in the donate or trash pile within the year. This is a problem, not only for the planet in terms of raw materials plus energy input and gargantuan waste piles as output, but also for our psycho-emotional well being as consumers. We are made to feel as if we need that new article of clothing, that our lives and closets will be complete when we have it. Then, once we have it, we feel like we have nothing to wear and that our lives are a mess, all the while racking up credit card debt and environmental damages.

Everlane has also fallen short in responding to the issue of environmental impact. While the brand tends to focus on natural fibers, there doesn’t seem to be any effort towards using environmentally friendly dyes or processing techniques that conserve either energy or water. Chemical dyes, water and energy usage have a huge impact on local environments as well as global climate change, especially at the scale of production that Everlane is looking towards. Even more disconcerting, a complaint that I have heard from numerous Everlane fans, is that the quality is just not quite there. Yes, the design of Everlane products has been spot on and evokes the utmost luxury, but I’ve witnessed seams falling apart, leather straps ripping and t-shirts acquiring holes all within the first 3 months of wear. This does not say luxury, quality fashion to me, and quality is a major player in the sustainable fashion world. When your clothing is of a higher caliber, you are likely to hold onto it for a much longer amount of time, therefore preventing you from tossing your now-holey t-shirt and going out to purchase another new item in just 3 months time. With poor product quality, Everlane evokes fast fashion once again.

 
Chemical waste dumping into a flowing river next to a textile factory. Source: The True Cost

Chemical waste dumping into a flowing river next to a textile factory. Source: The True Cost

 

Despite a low quality product, a high volume of sales and a lack of attention towards lowering their environmental impact, I would still consider Everlane a sustainable fashion company. Personally, I enjoy shopping with Everlane and plan to continue to do so, and I have no interest in condemning them to the realm of conventional fashion evil because it is apparent that this brand is at least making an effort. If the perfect is the enemy of the good, then Everlane should be celebrated for at least doing some form of good. The fashion industry needs leaders, and Everlane has succeeded at fulfilling that role. I hope that this brand will continue to push the boundaries and ask disruptive questions of itself as well as of the industry that is so enamored by it.

 
Piles of discarded textiles and old clothing. Source: The True Cost

Piles of discarded textiles and old clothing. Source: The True Cost

 

One thing that would make me feel more warm and fuzzy about Everlane would be the implementation of a take-back, or recycling program. Incentivizing customers to send their holey t-shirts and stained silk tops back to the company would be a wonderful step on the long path towards total sustainability. Not only is this a very easy thing to do for a brand that already heavily utilizes the postal service (simply throw a return shipping label in with every order!), it is a step that numerous other companies have already taken. Most recently, Reformation and Levi’s have announced their clothing recycling programs, even allowing customers to send in their old duds that didn’t originally come from them. Even H&M has a take-back program in place! I hope to see some textile recycling and used clothing donations in Everlane’s very near future, too.

But in the meantime, I’m going to continue to have dreams about this trench!

Adorable fig colored Swing Trench that I can't stop thinking about. 

Adorable fig colored Swing Trench that I can't stop thinking about. 

Movie Review - The True Cost

 
 

 

Pollution, human rights violations, extreme poverty, cancer, consumerism and egregious waste - all of this and more in one documentary that tackles the fashion industry. This past week saw the release of the long awaited documentary, "The True Cost." Director, Andrew Morgan has been working on this film for the past two years, and I must say, it is a huge project.

"The True Cost" exposes the fashion industry for exactly what it is - ugly, profit-focused and exploitative. The documentary attempts to make a point about every aspect of the industry today and to tie them all together into the larger message that current conditions are unacceptable, and that we are in dire need of change. The topic is vast and highly controversial. I imagine that Morgan felt overwhelmed by the task at hand, and yet, I think he has done a wonderful job.

In the film we get to hear from the perspectives of a wide range of people who are involved in and affected by the fashion industry. There is Shima Akhter, a garment worker who tells her story of physical abuse and poverty. Vandana Shiva weighs in on seed monopolization and capitalism. Safia Minney, the founder of sustainable fashion brand, People Tree, talks about her hopes for the future of fashion. There is a powerful moment during an interview with Bangladeshi factory owner, Arif Jebtik, as he reflects on the Rana Plaza tragedy of 2013. These perspectives, and those of many more, all come together to show the huge problems that the fashion industry has created in our global society and our environment.

Shima Akhter hugs her daughter, Nadia, on the morning that she has to leave her with her family in a village in the countryside. She will only see her twice a year, since Shima must remain in Dhaka to work at a garment factory. Image Source: The True Cost.

Shima Akhter hugs her daughter, Nadia, on the morning that she has to leave her with her family in a village in the countryside. She will only see her twice a year, since Shima must remain in Dhaka to work at a garment factory. Image Source: The True Cost.

I know that I’ve talked about the problems in the fashion industry before, and I’m sure that you have seen some of the horrors through other sources. However, “The True Cost” is the first of its kind in that it stitches together a comprehensive story. By showcasing different aspects of the fashion industry, from garment workers to farmers to consumers, the film reminds us that every step of the process is interconnected. Indeed, the film reminds us that as humans, we are all connected. Unfortunately, this is a story where everyone (except for a small handful of executives in charge of the industry) is losing, and losing hard. From cancer and physical abuse to a lack of happiness and the slow poisoning of our planet, the effects of the fashion industry have an impact on everyone in some way or another.

A woman who was born with an alarming skin condition due to contaminated water, food and air in her village that is situated next to a leather tannery. Image Source: The True Cost.

A woman who was born with an alarming skin condition due to contaminated water, food and air in her village that is situated next to a leather tannery. Image Source: The True Cost.

Larhea Pepper walks in her organic cotton field. Her husband died of a brain tumor which was caused by his close contact with chemical pesticides. Image Source: The True Cost.

Larhea Pepper walks in her organic cotton field. Her husband died of a brain tumor which was caused by his close contact with chemical pesticides. Image Source: The True Cost.

Something that kept coming to my mind as I watched “The True Cost” was my sheer anger and disbelief at the fact that there are still people in the world who just don’t care. There are people whose only concern is profit, and those people exist in the fashion industry, the food industry and in governments around the world. The problems that humanity faces are tied to the same problems that we have always faced. It’s amazing how a garment workers’ protest in Cambodia looks so similar to a #BlackLivesMatter protest in Baltimore.

A Cambodian woman demands living wages through her tears during a protest in Cambodia. She works at a factory that produces clothing for H&M and Walmart. Image Source: The True Cost.

A Cambodian woman demands living wages through her tears during a protest in Cambodia. She works at a factory that produces clothing for H&M and Walmart. Image Source: The True Cost.

Towards the end of the documentary, Morgan touches on this issue that seems to connect all of our problems; the current Capitalist system. In order to overcome the greed and complete disregard for human rights and environmental protection, we must change the system. This just keeps coming up, doesn’t it? As we define the future of fashion, and the future of our earth, we will need to face systemic change.

Though a lot of “The True Cost” is sad and wildly upsetting, Morgan ends it on a hopeful note. We, as a global society, are on the cusp of great change. All we need to do is step up.

The True Cost movie documentary by Andrew Morgan fast fashion sustainable fashion fayelessler.com

As you know, this blog is all about stepping up to create positive change in the world. I aim to raise awareness about the serious issues that we are facing, but I also hope to inspire by bringing to light some of the wonderful solutions that are out there. I urge you to download and watch “The True Cost,” and I hope that it will sit with you. I hope that it makes you feel angry, but not powerless. As Stella McCartney puts it in the film “If you don’t like it, you don’t have to buy into it.” As a consumer and a member of the global community, you have the power to create change. If you ever have questions on how you can do that, or if you want to talk more about the subject, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me - I am always available at fayelessler@gmail.com or in the comment section below.