When we surveyed 15 ethical fashion bloggers back in 2015, the American cult brand Everlane was revealed to be a favourite of the group. One look at Everlane’s fashion offerings and it’s easy to work out why.
Aside from Everlane’s commitment to “radical transparency” and “transparent pricing” (somewhat revolutionary considering the company’s size and scale), its affordable collections featuring timeless basics, beautifully tailored garments, and its minimalistic design aesthetic has fashionistas – ethical or otherwise – swooning.
The brand even features diverse fashion models scoring brownie points with hard-lined feminists.
But just how sustainable is Everlane?
We’ll explore this question in a moment, but first, let’s revisit how the company began…
Everlane was founded in 2010 by Michael Preysman a 25-year-old entrepreneur. From the outset, Preysman wanted to create designer-quality basics at low prices. To do this, he aimed to sell direct to consumer through an e-commerce site in order to bypass the middleman and avoid traditional retail costs, inflated margins and markups.
“We believe our customers have a right to know how much their clothes cost to make. We reveal the true costs behind all of our products—from materials to labor to transportation—then offer them to you, minus the traditional retail markup.” – Everlane website
To help achieve his vision he needed capital investment. The concept proved too attractive for venture capitalists and in 2011 Everlane raised $1.1 million in seed funding from a number of high-profile investors including Kleiner Perkins, SV Angel and Lerer Ventures.
Good quality low-cost basics can be found almost everywhere in the world (Uniqlo and Zara springs to mind) so how did Everlane distinguish itself from competitors and attract so much venture capital investment? The answers can be found on its website.
There is the brand’s striking use of minimalism in its fashion and product photography appealing to the mass market. But it’s core value proposition can be found in its “ethical approach”. The brand devotes an entire section to their “Radical Transparency” mission where it discloses a line-by-line breakdown of costs for producing their products and then compares their “true costs” to those of traditional retailers. Everlane also publishes a list of its factories around the globe along with the manufacturer’s stories and photographs.
“We go to incredibly ethical, high quality factories around the world to produce beautiful, clean minimalist clothes and then with every product we tell the story of how it was made, where it came from and what it cost us to make so the consumers have complete transparency into the supply chain,” Everlane founder Michael Preysman tells Hubspot.
Ethical is not the same as sustainable
Everlane’s commitment to transparency is to be applauded, but let’s not confuse a ‘transparent’ and ‘ethical’ supply chain with sustainability practices.
Firstly, the brand does not use GOTS certified organic cotton or even fair-trade cotton and for a brand its size – that can afford to be audited independently by various certifying bodies – it doesn’t hold any independent ethical certifications, not from Fairtrade, B-Corp or Goodwell.
It also doesn’t make clear where it sources all its materials from. One has to click on a specific factory (from its factory locations map) to read through each summary before realising that Everlane doesn’t sustainably-source or sustainably-grow any of its fabrics or materials. So although they are performing well in pricing transparency and even supplier transparency, Everlane is still falling short in environmental transparency. For all we know, its conventionally-grown cotton fabrics could be grown in India’s ‘Suicide Belt’ region or perhaps picked by child labourers in Uzbekistan. Independent fashion organisation Project Just conducts rigorous research into many leading brands and confirms that “as at March 2017, [Everlane] had not conducted any audits on its raw material or textile processing facilities” and nor can it “trace its entire supply chain.”
Since the brand is turning seven years old – seven years is plenty of time to consider using eco-friendly fabrics and incorporate sustainable practices into their supply chain as far as I’m concerned – we thought it was high time we at EWP nudge them along.
Last Friday September 22 I sent an email to Everlane’s customer support team (firstname.lastname@example.org) asking when the brand will begin using certified organic cotton.
That same day, I received this response from Customer Experience officer, Lily:
I was impressed by their quick response. Since it was only to notify me that my question had been passed onto someone else, I continued to wait patiently.
Two days later, on Sunday September 24, I received a more detailed and seemingly ‘final’ response from Customer Experience officer Anne:
The brand’s response is welcome and makes sense. Its customer experience officer’s friendly but somewhat elusive communication style is also expected. It’s difficult for a fashion brand to tackle all industry issues at once and choosing just a few things to concentrate on – in Everlane’s case ethical fashion production, human rights and fair treatment of animals – is a wise decision.
But we also know how much more difficult it becomes for a brand to incorporate sustainability practices when it gets larger and the supply chain becomes more complex (ahem H&M) which is why we’ll continue to apply gentle pressure on the seven-year-old brand before it bows down to worship at the alter of the Greenback – not exactly the kind of green we want them to be worshipping!
So yes, while I adore the brand’s designs, and appreciate its commitment to transparency, ethical manufacturing and exceptional customer service, there is room for Everlane to do so much more with respect to its environmental impact.
And since sustainability is high on my list of considerations when shopping for new garments, (I co-own an organic farm and prioritise human and planetary health), I won’t be giving any of my money to Everlane just yet. Not until the brand is as sustainable as it is ethical.