How Everlane Challenged Convention and Brought Ethics Back to Fashion

    In 2016, when a fashion brand wants to introduce an idea to the world, it leans on its social media presence. Sneak peeks and teaser shots are broadcast to the company’s millions of followers, intending to connect with fans through the networks they love. Social media marketing within fashion is safe, but trite; precisely why Everlane, an innovative online apparel brand, is choosing otherwise.

    At press time, the company’s ‘”main” account (@Everlane) has just over 200,000 Instagram followers. It’s a public account—anyone can see what is posted just by seeking it out. But now, the company’s social media presence looks to go private.

    Well, sort of. Earlier this year, Everlane launched @Everlanestudio, a private Instagram account that will accept a mere 100 follow requests per day. Unlike the public account, users can’t see the content on @Everlanestudio simply by searching – access, it appears, is a privilege. Everlane’s new privacy approach is not only unprecedented within fashion, but also borderline contradictory given the company’s commitment to transparency. However, there’s method behind the Private Account madness: in capping growth at 100 selected followers per day, Everlane seeks to create a group of dedicated users free from “spam” and phishing accounts. The privacy of the account will enable Everlane to communicate with its best customers and respond to detailed criticism of concept “studio” pieces before each is widely produced. Red Gaskell, head of social media at Everlane, said that @Everlanestudio went private “in order to have a curated, high value experience. [Our fans] will feel like they’re in on something.”

Everlane's corporate office in SF

    In addition to sneak peeks and interaction with designers, Studio’s followers will also be able to purchase new releases before they hit Everlane’s online shop. This isn’t the first time a brand has leveraged privacy to lock in their most faithful buyers; private sales have existed for as long as the store itself. In the case of Everlane, however, the difference is that not everyone who seeks exclusivity can have it. Everlane’s goal is not “isolation” —quite the opposite actually. The Studio is more focus group than VIP lounge. Eventually, their entire customer base reaps the benefits by getting products designed for them, and tweaked by them. In an industry dominated by singular creative visions, Everlane’s approach is revolutionary.

    That’s not to suggest this is Everlane’s first disruption of the contemporary fashion industry. Since the company was founded in 2010, Everlane has built its reputation on reengineering fashion business tactics with an eye towards transparency. For example, in 2015 Everlane debuted a “Choose Your Price” model for its post-Christmas sale. When customers selected a sale item, they were presented with 3 dollar amounts. Under each choice: a full description of where each dollar spent would go.

    A sweater originally sold for $75 was marked down to $32, $39, or $68. If you decided to buy it at $32, you would be covering Everlane’s production and shipping costs; at $39, you would be covering those costs plus “overhead for our 70 person team”; and at $68, you would be covering all of that in addition to some capital that Everlane would use to invest in its growth.

Everlane's "Street Fleece" collection

Everlane's "Street Fleece" collection

    Even for a company whose tagline is “Radical Transparency,” Everlane’s variable sale strategy was bold. Everlane CEO Michael Preysman said he had thought of the idea based on Radiohead, who in 2007 let listeners choose the price they pay for their new album In Rainbows. At a glance, the sale is ludicrous (after all, only 10% of customers chose to pay a higher price than the lowest option); however, the philosophy behind the sale was strength more than weakness.

    Everlane’s radically-transparent business model may seem nonsensical, but in reality, it’s a thoughtful response to ethical dilemmas that have long plagued the fashion industry. Insane markups, unlivable wages, dangerous working conditions, child labor, and more were long seen as a cost of doing business. Customers (you and I) desired cheap clothes, and shifted habits to only support low prices; brands could either respond or risk bankruptcy.

The price breakdown for a men's wool sweater

    Instead, Everlane chose a third way: work alongside existing customer habits to make ethics trendy. Look no further than Everlane’s 2015 Black Friday Sale: Everlane participated in the retail holiday, sure, but had more than quarterly profits in mind. The company took all profits from the day and started the “Black Friday Fund,” a program raising money to create a $110,000 wellness program at their LA tee factory. The wellness program includes free on-site medical visits, grocery delivery, kitchen upgrades, and on-site English classes. Past Black Friday, Everlane has even promised to donate 35% of all purchases to the fund until the fundraising goal is met.

    Everlane’s commitment to fair and equal treatment of everyone, from customers to workers, is inspiring in today’s fashion world. Their continuous message of ethical production and honorable objectives serve as a means of communicating their integrity to the public. Perhaps inspired by the farm-to-table movement, today’s consumers want to know where their goods came from, who made them, and how much the process costs. Beautiful products may attract discerning customers, but open information policies and positive social initiatives keep them around. Everlane is leading the charge towards a fashion business renaissance by promoting transparent and ethical production in an industry long shrouded by secrecy. Clothes you look good in and feel good about: if Everlane’s goals make it “radical”, then we all are.