17 Oct Sustainable Fashion: No Longer an Oxymoron
Millennials Killed Shopping Malls
Have you seen the headlines? Millennials are at it again. We’ve allegedly killed the shopping mall industry. However, this time, we will not be made the scapegoats.
In recent years, shoppers have been fleeing brick and mortar stores and choosing to shop online instead. This has forced big name brands to close hundreds of locations. In 2017, Macy’s, Michael Kors, J.C. Penney, Foot Locker, Sears and the Gap have each closed more than 100 store locations in the U.S. Many of these companies are shifting their focus to online retailing due to the steep decline in mall visits: between 2010 and 2013, the number of mall visits dropped by half. The rise of internet shopping has led to the collapse of the American mall.
Shopping Malls by the Numbers
To business analysts, this retail collapse is no surprise. Currently there are around 1,200 malls in the United States, but experts predict that within a decade, the number may drop to 900. Even more dire predictions claim that by 2022, 1 out of every 4 America malls could be closed. In the US, there are significantly more stores per capita than any other country in the world. For comparison, the US has five times as much retail space per capita as the UK and ten times as much as Germany. It’s safe to say, this is unsustainable. Don’t get me wrong, consumerism is still alive and thriving, but where and how we shop is changing.
As we see a shift towards online retailing, companies like Warby Parker (eyewear) and Bonobos (menswear) have relied almost entirely on e-commerce to build their brands.
However, Everlane, has taken things a step further and has used e-commerce as a way of bringing “radical transparency” to the changing retail landscape. Founded in 2010 by Michael Preysman at the age of 25, Everlane uses a direct-to-consumer business model that targets sustainable millennial shoppers by selling ethically-made and reasonably priced closet staples.
Values that Influence Every Business Decision
Everlane’s core values of exceptional quality, ethical factories and radical transparency influence every business decision.
When the industry cost of cashmere dropped by 16%, Everlane reduced the price of their cashmere sweaters from $125 to $100 and passed the savings onto their customers. But, believe me, it was a profitable decision given they saw a 200% increase in sales.
When customers pointed out that some of the men’s products cost less than the women’s, Everlane dropped the price of their women’s products to eliminate gendered pricing. They continuously encourage their customers to speak up and “always ask why”.
When Everlane overstocks an item, they offer a “Choose What You Pay” model that allows customers to pay one of three prices. The lowest price covers Everlane’s marginal costs while the profits from the higher prices are invested into future product development and sustainability initiatives. Believe it or not, 12% of customers choose to pay more.
Designed to Last
Everlane is focused on creating clothes that will stand the test of time. “Wool pants that are millennial pink – that’s not something that is going to last,” stated CEO Preysman. Instead, the company’s offerings consist of neutral tones and staple items. “We have trouble with colour here at Everlane,” he added. Although, I should mention that I did buy a funky pair of millennial pink heels from Everlane earlier this year, so it seems they have spiced things up a little bit.
Competing against established fashion-favourites like Zara and H&M, Everlane has proven that consumers no longer need to sacrifice style or price for ethically-made clothing.
The Goal? Complete Transparency
Everlane’s goal is to create an entirely transparent supply chain. Currently, every product on their website features a breakdown of the product’s true costs. “We believe our customers have a right to know how much their clothes cost to make,” stated Preysman, “We reveal the true costs behind all of our products – from materials to labour to transportation – then offer them to you, minus the traditional markup.”
Customers also have the opportunity to see inside each Everlane factory through virtual tours. Descriptions and pictures of the factories’ working conditions, production processes, employees and management teams are provided. Everlane even shares how they found each factory and why they partnered with it. While there is still room for improvements (many of Everlane’s ethical claims are quite vague and lack specific details), this kind of transparency is almost unheard of in retail.
Clean, Green Jeans
In September 2017, Everlane partnered with Saitex, “the world’s cleanest denim factory” located in Southern Vietnam. Initially, Everlane was reluctant to enter the $40 billion denim industry because according to Preysman, “denim is a really dirty business.” Typically, one pair of jeans uses 1,500 litres of water. To give some perspective, that is the equivalent of showering every single day for 3 weeks. Usually, this polluted water is left untreated. However, Everlane recycles 98% of the water it uses and less than half a litre of water goes to waste per jean. Preysman is quick to add that their recycled water is clean enough to drink. He’s tried it!
Aside from being water-intensive, the denim production process also creates a toxic byproduct known as sludge. Saitex has developed an innovative solution to this problem. First, they extract the sludge and ships it to a nearby brick factory. The sludge is then mixed into concrete and made into bricks. By storing the toxic material in the bricks, Saitex prevents it from leaching into the environment. Everlane and Saitex then use these bricks to build affordable houses. In the first month following this initiative, they built 10 new homes.
Stylish? Check. Sustainable? Check. Affordable? Check! Almost every pair of Everlane jeans sell for $68. The only exception is their line of cropped pants which costs just $10 more. In all honesty, I am not sure why this line costs more given they both have the same “true cost” according to their website but hey, at least, Everlane is upfront about their markup.
When Everlane’s denim line launched, 44,000 people joined their waiting list. But their success is not solely limited to jeans. In 2015, Everlane had roughly $35 million in sales, a 200% increase since 2013. It seems Everlane’s product offering and sustainable mindset has resonated with their customers.
Everlane’s Leading the Way to More Sustainable Fashion
In a changing retail landscape, Everlane is proving that clothing can be relatively cheap without being cheaply made. Everlane is redefining the retail industry’s definition of sustainability and transparency while also continuously putting their customers first. After the opening of their first two brick and mortar stores in New York and San Francisco in 2017, I am excited to see how they will overcome the challenges of traditional retail. Originally, Everlane’s direct-to-consumer model allowed them to cut out the costs of the middleman (the retailer) and could offer competitive prices. I am curious and excited to see how they will fare with the added costs of operating retail locations. If they can earn a profit while still staying true to their core values, they can help break misconceptions surrounding the feasibility of sustainable fashion.
While online shoppers have led retailers to e-commerce, I hope e-commerce companies like Everlane can