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.
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.
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.
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.
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!