Yael Aflalo, founder and chief executive officer of L.A.-based fashion brand Reformation, is a California native whose foray into fashion began with regular visits to the downtown L.A. garment district at a young age. At 20 years old, she sold her first collection of handmade skirts to renowned L.A. retailer Fred Segal. In 1999, Aflalo launched Ya-Ya, a women’s clothing line, and founded Reformation 10 years later with a mission to “prove that fast fashion and sustainability can coexist.”
Today, Reformation is a vertically integrated lifestyle brand that considers sustainability at every step of the supply chain. Its headquarter office is home to the first sustainable sewing factory in the U.S.; it features a heat-reflecting roof and fuels clean energy throughout the facility. The company uses recycled and eco-friendly fabrics, recycled hangers in its stores and eco-friendly packaging for at-home shipments, among many other “green measures.”
Here, Yael talks to WWD about the challenges of pioneering sustainability in the fashion industry.
WWD: When did you begin to pursue a career in fashion?
Yael Aflalo: I got started in the fashion industry at a young age and spent a lot of time in the downtown L.A. garment district. Growing up, I would always play dress up and have fashion shows, using all of my siblings as models. The power of fashion and its ability to change a person’s mood and persona is incredible, and I loved playing around with this idea throughout my childhood. Fashion has always come naturally and to me, so I wanted to use it to do something meaningful. When I was 20, I created handmade skirts from pashminas and sold them to Fred Segal. I’d say that kick-started my career as a designer, and then in 1999, I launched my first clothing line, Ya-Ya.
WWD: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in the industry?
Y.A.: When I used to tell people that I wanted to create a sustainable clothing company, most rolled their eyes. At the time, many eco brands weren’t looking at trends or focusing on fit, but I knew I wanted to prove that sustainability and style could coexist. I looked past the criticism and moved forward with creating Reformation. As we started to grow, we saw challenges in creating sustainable clothing without using traditional manufacturing methods overseas, which is why we opened our own factory here in L.A.
WWD: Have you had any mentors throughout your career? If so, how have they helped you?
Y.A.: I have a few mentors who’ve helped me in lots of ways, anything from consulting about various business problems to helping me find new talent. I also admire brands like Patagonia, who are helping destigmatize “eco fashion” and influencing positive change in the fashion industry and environment.
WWD: What was the main source of inspiration behind creating Reformation?
Y.A.: Throughout my years in fashion, I really started to notice the harmful industry practices that I had become a part of — overprinting look books and tossing 80 percent of them, yards of leftover fabric getting thrown out, etc. On a trip to China, I saw firsthand the devastating amount of pollution from manufacturing and I knew that I had to make a change and stop contributing to the fashion industry’s waste. Reformation started as my attempt to break this cycle; I wanted to create a brand where fashion and sustainability could coexist and where “green” fashion didn’t mean sacrificing your style. You can look good and still do good by the environment.
WWD: What advice would you impart to emerging designers or entrepreneurs entering the fashion industry?
Y.A.: I think the best idea is to figure out what’s missing. What are the holes in the market, and then really focus in on your vision. If you have a clear idea of what it is that you want, the next steps are much more clear.
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