Everlane: Fashion, Ethics & Economics29 March, 2015
Bringing customers in on the manufacturing process is only part of the equation for Everlane.
Everlane’s products won’t go on sale. Ever. That’s part of the promise of this San Francisco based clothing company (launched in 2010) that’s revolutionising retail with its limited line of products, all characterised by clean, minimalist design. While most clothing companies partner with other retailers to sell their products, Everlane sidesteps the middleman and shuns bricks and mortar by selling directly to their customers online. Their products, from high quality cotton and silk shirts, to cashmere jumpers and elegant leather bags, sell for a fraction of their competitors’ prices. Just as importantly to Michael Preysman, the company’s founder, customers also know exactly what they’re getting for their money. Much as food enthusiasts flock to local organic produce, so ever greater numbers of people are drawn to Everlane for ethically sourced high quality textiles, a focus on craftsmanship, and a commitment to demystifying the origins and pricing of its products.
On a visit to Everlane’s online store, you can learn about the factory in Dongguan, China, where the company’s cashmere pieces are made. You can browse photos of the factory floor, read about the factory owner, and even find out what the workers like to do in their spare time. The same details are available for every one of Everlane’s partners including a scarf factory in Hawick, Scotland, a sandal factory in Brescia, Italy, and a tee and sweatshirt factory in Los Angeles, California. Publishing this information alongside the products themselves is all part of Preysman’s push for what he calls ‘radical transparency.’ Given high profile news stories of the calamitous state of workers’ welfare in the apparel industry, savvy consumers are increasingly interested to know that their clothing has been ethically sourced.
Bringing customers in on the manufacturing process is only part of the equation for Everlane. There is also the question of letting the buyer know exactly what they are paying for. While the answer to this question tends to be opaque at best in traditional retail, for every product they sell, Everlane breaks down the cost profile with a simple infographic. Preysman has no qualms telling you that his cotton heather V-neck tees cost 4.28 USD in materials, 4.65 USD in labour, and 0.20 USD cents in transport, adding up to a total of 9.13 USD. He also points out that while Everlane sells the finished product for 18 USD, just under twice the total cost of production, traditional retail markups might take the same garment up to a much pricier 50 USD. “Consumers tend to think if it’s high in price, it must be high in quality,” Preysman explains, “but that’s not always the case. When we were getting started, even we didn’t know what the production costs would be. So we decided to find out, and then we shared our findings with our customers.”
So far, it’s an approach that’s paying off. Everlane has a loyal following in the San Francisco Bay Area and in New York, where urban young professionals have developed a taste for the company’s candid tone and crisp aesthetic. To build on this base, the launch of new products are marked with open house events, where hundreds of customers can gather to eat and drink, try on new designs, meet the staff, and give product feedback. Last June, their pop-up shop in New York attracted more than 800 people, and sales have continued to grow. As testament to their success, Everlane’s initial staff of six has swelled to 40.
While Everlane’s meteoric rise and the buzz surrounding it has brought the inevitable swathe of copycats, Preysman is undeterred, preferring to focus on the future of his own company with forays into wool outerwear and women’s footwear. He’s also as clear as ever about Everlane’s mission to help customers make more informed buying choices. “What really energises me,” he says, “is that we can change the way people think.”