San Francisco-based, mission-driven casual fashion brand Everlane is starting a new chapter.
Founder Michael Preysman will step out of the chief executive officer role to become executive chair and climate activist.
Andrea O’Donnell is joining the business as CEO.
O’Donnell was formerly president of Fashion Lifestyle at Deckers Brands, where she transformed Ugg from a sleepy cold weather boot business into a fashion player through buzzy designer collaborations and influencer campaigns featuring everyone from DJ Peggy Gou to fashion editor André Leon Talley.
Through the rest of the year, Preysman and O’Donnell will work together to manage the transition. They will take their respective roles beginning Jan. 1, 2022, and continue to partner on bringing environmental impact to the center of the business.
Preysman, who comes from a private equity/tech background, founded Everlane in 2010 with the mission of selling ethically made clothing with transparent pricing. The modern basics have a minimalist appeal. Some pieces, including the Wide Leg Crop pants, ReWool coats, Day Glove leather flats and Market Totes, have achieved cult-like status thanks to fans like Meghan Markle.
In recent years, Everlane has focused on lowering environmental impact, and is on track to eliminate 90 percent of virgin plastics from its apparel materials by the end of 2021, which is 10 percent off the goal it set in 2018. During the last two years, the brand has incorporated 1 million pounds of postconsumer and postindustrial recycled materials into product. Last week, Everlane released two ReLeather sneaker styles using a patchwork of recycled leather and polyester scraps, requiring 80 percent less water to produce.
“Everlane is a special kind of company. We have two agendas, one is to make change in the industry and the world at large, and we’ve refashioned our image to focus on environmental efforts,” said Preysman. “At same time, we have a business to scale. That’s a two-person job. My focus will be on impact and environmental work, and we wanted to get the absolute best person to scale the business and found that in Andrea.
“The two of us hit it off in our first conversation, it was partnership at first sight,” he laughed. “She’s had such a huge impact on the world of retail.”
“I’ve been looking at them for a long period of time, and there is something exciting about a brand that from its inception challenged the industry to create new values for consumers. That excited me 10 years ago. And now, Everlane is inspiring us to live our best lives with the least impact on the planet. It’s modern and progressive, what I need now and the world needs now,” said O’Donnell, a Brit who has career experience from DFS Group, Lane Crawford and John Lewis department stores in the U.K.
“We share values, incredible taste in food and design,” said Preysman. “I have a ton to learn from her about building an empathetic and accountable culture. That’s something we strive for and are trying to improve.”
Last year, Everlane came under fire by a group of former employees for selling an image to the world that did not match the experiences they had with the company culture, resulting in public allegations of racist behavior and union busting. The brand was also named a sustainability “offender” by the Remake fashion advocacy organization, for falling short on transparency and worker well-being initiatives.
Preysman has been an outspoken critic of greenwashing in the industry, pushing Everlane’s materials innovation, including recycled denim, cashmere and leather. He’s also been candid about COVID-19’s effect on the brand, saying supply chain issues and labor shortages will take years to recover from.
O’Donnell will be responsible for leadership of Everlane’s team of 350, strategy, resource allocation, and overseeing and building out product offerings. She starts on Oct. 6.
“I had a quite a traditional career in corporate retail for a long period, helping brands realize their true potential, so I would expect my expertise to be different than Michael’s. From the beginning we’ve been clear about the opportunities, it’s helping the team around supply chain challenges and the inflation that’s being seen overall in the industry, those are the issues I will be focused on in the short term,” she said. “Michael will take the day-to day and product launches in the run up to January when he transitions to his new role in taking Everlane to a new level and visibility in the climate space, and how we connect that good work to the strategy of the brand.”
Could that involve more of a fashion play, in line with O’Donnell’s designer and celebrity collaborations at Ugg?
“This is something we have had conversations about,” she said. “Everlane leads with a responsible consumption message, and we’re telling stories about being responsible and kind to the planet. Fashion doesn’t always lend itself to that. It’s important at Everlane that our storytelling is geared to longevity. But fashion is the kind of thing that gets people excited and gets them to pay attention. I don’t know all the answers yet.…There’s going to be sustainable storytelling that will give us excitement through product innovation, and we will work out how appropriate it is for a responsible brand to talk more to fashion.”