A little more than five years ago, a new challenger to J. Crew emerged promising radical transparency. A San Francisco startup, Everlane burst onto the scene with it's direct-to-consumer prices and promises of being able to trace your products. Such claims garnered a spot on Fast Co.’s 20146 “50 Most Innovative Companies” and the coveted exponential growth (Everlane earned $12M in 2013 and doubled that in 2014).
The marketing was brilliant. Buzzy slogans such as the aforementioned "Radical Transparency" and "ethical fashion," its clever infographics that showed the cost of everything and its effortless Cali cool style, made it the go-to brand for millennials. So much so that mainstay brands watched with grave concern.
But something seems amiss. For a company that promises such openness in an industry long know for its opaqueness, Everlane is rather secretive. Everlane won its adoring fan base through promises it had 'disrupted' the dark side of the fashion industry by shortened simplified supply chains and the ability to show exactly how and why each piece was priced as it was. Everlane's two main claims were its "world-class factories" and the fact it had cut out the middlemen.
It is the first point however which is increasingly under scrutiny. According to the brand, the "world-class factories" are “the very same ones that produce your favorite designer labels.”
Yet somehow, as retail-focused website Racked noted in an article last year, “For all its talk of transparency, Everlane is extremely tightlipped about internal goings-on. Preysman was the only Everlane employee offered up for this story, and no one from the design or creative teams was made available to be interviewed. Repeated requests to visit the brand’s New York office were declined.”
As eco-fashion pioneer, author and founder of the website Magnifeco points out, "A closer look at Everlane’s website and marketing materials – complete with enormously vague language in place of definitive facts to support its claims of transparency and ethical production – reveals that there is almost certainly more at play in the Everlane model than meets the eye."
Which is to say, Everlane lists all the locations of the factories and what cities they are in, but doesn't list the name of the factories because of "trade secrets." Send up the red flag.
As a distraction, Everlane lists the weather in the cities as well as smiling employees at each factory. Instead of listing the factories by name they tell you what each factory produces such as "The Specialty Knits Factory" or "The Casual Wovens Factory." It's hard to believe a brand that proclaims radical transparency when they hide the most important piece. That's like
Somehow H&M is more transparent than Everlane. It identifies 98.5% of its first tier factories/suppliers by name and address, and even lists some of these factories’ suppliers. Freaking H&M! The largest fast fashion conglomerate in the world...!
According to Everlane's founder Michael Preysman, Everlane has a relatively straightforward reason why the company can't release it's factories telling the Wall Street Journal in 2013 that the company withholds their names in order to prevent competitors from utilizing the factories that he and his team have “spent months finding.” Preysman says he simply “doesn’t want competitors moving in on his turf.” We're not sure if we are buying it. It didn't work out so well for the most recent SF CEO to promise radical disruption while still maintaining company secrets.
Ultimately, we are huge fans of the concept and the idea. The fashion industry needs disrupting. Supply chains need to be simplified and we all have a right to know where our clothing came from. But to promise radical transparency, something no one insisted Everlane do, and yet be so evasive and opaque about where things are actually produced isn't right and goes against the company ethos of “Know your factories. Know your costs. Always ask why.” Which is what we intend to do. We've reached out to Everlane to learn more and will update this article when we hear back.