Is Everlane ethical? That’s the question I’m asking today, as my investigative series into the ethics of our clothing continues.
While Fashion Revolution Week may be over, the Fashion Revolution certainly isn’t, and my magnifying glass has turned from asking fast fashion brands “Who made my clothes?” to looking at the ways my favourite ethical brands do things right.
(Want to join in with the fun? Here’s my guide on how to be part of the Fashion Revolution which I wrote for the Ethical Influencers community).
And so today, I’ve done a little experiment – I’ve looked into one of my most coveted brands, Everlane*, to see how ethical they truly are.
What is ethical fashion?
Just like in my investigation of ARKET, I want to start out by establishing what ethical fashion really means. There’s three main areas to cover:
- Sustainable fashion: clothes made from materials and practices that are earth-friendly
- Slow fashion: clothes that are not governed by seasonal trends, classics, investment pieces
- Ethical or fair fashion: clothes that pay a fair wage to their producers, garment workers, etc.
To get a balanced conclusion, I’ll be looking to answer whether Everlane fits into all/any of these.
Who is Everlane?
So, to start, I think it’s worth delving into the brand’s origin story. I try to do this with every brand I come across before shopping with them. My reasoning? You can usually see if their ethical standpoint was ingrained at the start, or if they’ve chosen to sprinkle things in later on, which is often the root problem of greenwashing.
Everlane is US-based fashion retailer creating high quality clothing, using “ethical factories”, and championing transparency. The business was founded in 2010 by Michael Preysman and Jesse Farmer. Interestingly, they started off selling only menswear, focusing on creating basic, high quality apparel with transparent pricing.
Over the years, their approach has won them hundreds of thousands of fans, customers, and millions in investment. They now stock menswear, womenswear, footwear, bags and accessories.
They credit their online-only approach and their radical transparency as the reasons why they can compete with high street fashion. (Although this is changing – they recently opened their first stores in San Fransisco and New York).
What does Everlane stand for?
Like all good brands, Everlane has a few key values it really sticks to. Their main focus is “Radical Transparency”, which covers three main activities:
- Working with ethical factories around the world
- Sourcing fine materials
- Sharing the supply chain journey of each garment
Of course, it’s easy to just say all this. In fact, H&M are currently implementing a very similar model with their clothing, without giving true transparency.
The second of Everlane’s unique selling points is its design – dubbed “Modern Basics”, their aim is to create high quality pieces, designed with clean lines and classic styles, that can be worn over and over.
When you dig into the backstory of Everlane, you can see that both of these values have been at their core since the brand’s inception, and today they are – quite rightly – leaders in the ethical fashion space.
Is Everlane ethical?
So, it’s time to dig deeper. Does Everlane pay its workers fair wages, and treat them fairly?
Everlane’s ethical factories
Thankfully, it’s really easy to find out. Everlane lists their factories on their website, with manufacturers in America, China, Italy, Peru, Spain, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam.
You can trace each product on the Everlane site back to the factory that made it, and also read the story as to why Everlane chose to work with them. This empowering information gives every customer the option to know who made their clothes, where they were made, and how they were made too.
Everlane’s transparent pricing
You can also do this per item – their transparent pricing guides are listed underneath each garment, showing how much they paid for materials, labour, and transport. This also shows how much profit Everlane makes per piece, and how much the traditional retail equivalent would cost.
For example, the (gifted) wide leg crop pants* I’m wearing in my above pics, their $68 price tag is made up of:
- $10.57 for materials
- $1.41 for hardware
- $9.00 for labour
- $3.48 for duties
- $0.75 for transport
- $43 for mark-up
This seems like a reasonable amount spent on each area, except transport costs. These pants were made in China, so there are definitely some air miles involved – and $0.75 seems awfully low. Clearly there’s no carbon emissions offsetting going on here.
(Also a word on the mark-up: you have to remember that this cost covers everything from office payroll to marketing budget, so it makes sense that it’s a large portion of each item).
Alongside carbon emissions offsetting, there is one thing that I believe would improve Everlane’s transparency further: an overarching report into the treatment of their workers.
From the information on their website, I still can’t tell how much workers are paid per factory, how many hours people work on average, or whether they have access to trade union representation – so some kind of easily comparable report into this would make me feel even more empowered as a customer. Plus, numerical data is a lot easier to interpret than wordy summaries about each factory.
Is Everlane sustainable?
At first glance, the materials Everlane uses are similar to many other brands. Cotton, elastane, leather, wool, cashmere – they’re all there.
For these to be sustainable, a few things need to be looked at: are clothes made from mixed fibres? Do they take measures to source organic raw materials? And what about recycled fibres?
It’s nice to see most of Everlane’s clothing is made from 100% cotton or linen. This includes their jeans, meaning post-consumer garment recycling is possible. When asked, Everlane said they are looking into the circularity of their ranges (see below).
I’m yet to see much in the way of organic materials, but perhaps that’s to do with their pricing model.
And as Everlane works with high quality materials, their use of recycled materials is quite restricted. Right now, their focus is on plastic – they’re committing to eliminating all virgin plastic from their supply chain by 2021, and they announced this change with their ReNew recycled outwear range*.
Is Everlane slow fashion?
Finally, onto slow fashion. Everlane designs modern basics, so their turnover of styles is a lot slower than fast fashion.
As an affiliate of Everlane, I’ve been aware of their changing collections over the past few months. For a popular brand, they release new styles each month, but these tend to rest on their site for months on end.
My classic cream cashmere jumper* that was gifted to me in December 2018 still sits on their site as of writing in May 2019.
Interestingly, they do have lots of seasonal promotions – so they are not quite seasonless – but definitely slower than a typical high street store.
What does Everlane say?
To write this piece, I got in touch with Everlane to ask them four key questions, covering their ethics, sustainability, slow fashion, and circularity:
1. Who makes Everlane’s clothing? Do you ensure your workers are in a safe and healthy environment? If so, how?
Relevant information from Everlane’s press kit:
- Our factory partners work with 17 factories in seven countries.
- We look for factories that work with premium brands we respect, and more importantly, we look for partners and owners that really respect the people they employ.
- We visit these factories often and have developed strong, personal relationships with the management.
- For the past two years, all profits made on Black Friday went directly to improving the lives of the workers at our factories.
2. Do you use sustainable materials?
Our denim and ReNew press releases note some of our sustainable materials. Further information can be found under each product description on the site.
Relevant information from Everlane’s press releases:
- Everlane is making a commitment: No virgin plastic in their entire supply chain by 2021.
- Everlane Denim … is made at the world’s cleanest factory. The water recovery and filtration is so sophisticated, you can actually drink the recycled water.
3. How many seasons does Everlane produce each year?
We produce new product on a monthly basis.
4. Do you take any post-sale measures to ensure the longevity/circularity of your clothing?
We’re actively looking into this, as we think about sustainability and the lifecycle of our clothing.
Everlane is an ethical fashion brand. Sure, they’re not perfect. They could do with offsetting their carbon emissions. Their new stores make me question their competitive online-only approach. But I’m yet to meet even one fashion brand that does absolutely everything right.
The one thing I really like about Everlane is their commitment – once they’ve set a goal, they fulfil it 100%. Their 2021 ban on virgin plastic covers plastic packaging and plastic at their offices. Their denim is some of the cleanest made in the world. I’m excited to see what they are planning next.
Everlane is moving towards being a sustainable fashion brand. Their ReNew collection and recycled Denim are obviously their showstopper ranges when it comes to sustainability, but they also use a lot of natural materials that have the potential to be recycled. And not just that – they’re wearable, loveable, and high quality. That in itself increases the number of times you want to wear that garment, and I can honestly say my pieces from Everlane are some of my most cherished.
Everlane is a hybrid slow fashion brand. Everlane is seemingly uninterested in producing slow fashion, although they do have a slower level of production compared to the 52 weekly seasons of fast fashion. This may be to do with their careful design process, or their high quality creation, so while they’re not invested in this area they do play into it.
Will I still shop with Everlane?
Yes. There’s still room for improvement, but I like their values, approach, and style. They also seem open to feedback – from their press kit:
“We use the feedback they collect to better plan our products. This research can inform any aspect of production: from before we even design a garment to after you’ve worn it.”
…so if you do want them to work on something, be vocal about it.
One thing’s for sure – Everlane has its heart in the right place. These words from their press kit sum up their attitude perfectly, and I tend to agree:
“It’s our hope—and it’s been our personal experience—that the more people understand about how their products are made and priced, the more thoughtful they will be about what they buy.”
This post contains gifted products (denoted with 'gifted') and affiliate links (denoted with '*').