As consumers’ affinity for ethical apparel continues to flourish, brands and retailers are taking a second look at best practices and sustainable manufacturing methods. And while they’re answering the demand for sustainability, manufacturers are also faced with the challenge of keeping up pace with fast fashion, a somewhat conflicting practice on equal footing.
As a result, apparel brands such as H&M and Levi Strauss & Co. have partnered with companies such as I:CO, which collects clothing and footwear for reuse and recycling. Patagonia offers services to repair and extend the life of its garments while also collecting used clothing in its stores and via direct mail, according to a report by McKinsey & Co.
At Reformation, a vertically integrated women’s apparel brand headquartered in downtown Los Angeles, the brand positions itself as a wholly sustainable company. Reformation “[makes] killer clothes that don’t kill the environment,” it touted. Reformation is being heralded for its cool girl aesthetic, and it has quickly become a mainstay among twenty and thirtysomethings searching for feminine, flowing frocks with not-so-subtle sex appeal. “Effortless” silhouettes paired with red lips on sunglass-clad models help shape Reformation’s devil-may-care attitude, which is resonating with consumers, the company noted.
Founded by Yael Aflalo in 2009, Reformation integrates best practices throughout its entire supply chain. All of its designs are conceived, manufactured, fitted and shipped directly from its L.A. factory, while responsible manufacturing partners located in the U.S. or abroad produce additional garments with the use of sustainable materials. Its business model’s “domestic fast-fashion capabilities” enable the company to release new limited-edition styles on a biweekly basis. Design processes begin with identifying what women actually want to wear, bearing comfort, style and affordability in mind. Sketches become dresses in about a month, the company said.
Aflalo worked in the fashion industry for a number of years namely as the designer of her first apparel brand, Ya-Ya. She was motivated to create a sustainable clothing brand after a trip to China, where she was confronted by the realities of insufferable pollution.
Aflalo told WWD, “[After the trip] I was really inspired by all of these disruptive business models and I realized that I could actually take my expertise in fashion and follow this very real problem of sustainability.”
Sourcing is the core of Reformation’s commitment to sustainability, as it relies on fabrics such as Tencel, Viscose and recycled materials for the bulk of its product line — approximately 15 percent of its fabrics are rescued dead-stock fabrics or repurposed vintage clothing. The company’s knits are sourced in the U.S., while wovens hail mostly from China and India. Its denim line, which the brand plans to expand and officially launch in the fall, is sourced from the U.S. and Turkey.
The company’s vertical integration allows for its supply chain to exist under one roof, as the firm designs, manufactures, photographs and fulfills all orders in its factory headquarters, which is the first sustainable factory in Los Angeles, according to the brand. The 33,500 square-foot facility is powered by renewable energy, features a sustainable garden that operates on recycled gray water from the factory and the brand heavily invests in green building infrastructure to reduce as much waste, water and energy as possible.
Its pledge to sustainability includes RefScale, which tracks the brand’s environmental footprint by adding up the gallons of water, pounds of waste and carbon dioxide emitted from gallons of water generated to make each product as compared to other American-made garments. RefScale’s calculations are displayed on every product page of its web site.
“I did my research and I saw that fashion [is] the third most-polluting industry in the world. It’s [also] the second-largest polluter of water in the world after agriculture,” Aflalo told WWD. When Aflalo began the brand, there were very few sustainable options for consumers. “Definitely, things have improved a great deal,” she said.
Earlier this year, Reformation opened the doors to its factory to the general public as a way to show consumers its sustainable practices. Last fall, the company partnered with Net-a-porter on a capsule collection while also mounting a pop-up showroom to market and sell its seasonless collection.
The Reformation began as an e-commerce brand that later commenced with opening bricks-and-mortar stores after ongoing success. Its curated in-store selection is based on the best-selling items online. “We don’t go to market and just launch,” Aflalo explained. “We like to really to see what fits well so that our products are smart. I think another reason why people really like our stuff is because when something sells well we make more [products] like that.” Today, The Reformation has seven brick-and-mortar stores, which include a vintage store and a pop-up.
“I think we do that more so than other companies so that with any length of time we start to develop a product assortment that people are really vibing with,” Aflalo added.
New products are initially manufactured in small quantities, launched online and later produced in bulk if they yield low return rates. Consumer responsiveness and continued demand determine whether or not a product will be manufactured in larger quantities. “What ends up happening is that if we sell something and everyone feels it’s really flattering, then we’re like ‘Oh, we should make more like that.’”
“[Other brands] have more of a designer-led approach and we don’t have that,” Aflalo said. “We don’t have designers, really.”
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