Along with authenticity, inclusivity and sustainability, transparency was a top buzzword among fashion brand marketers in 2018. Everlane can be credited with putting it on the map. With its notorious “radical transparency” promise, the direct-to-consumer fashion brand has offered transparent pricing since its launch in 2011. At the time of Rana Plaza, it extended its promise to its factories — which has since come under scrutiny for falling short (“Where we’re not transparent is that we don’t share our Italian factory names, because if someone came in and took those factories, they could completely wipe us out,” said founder Michael Preysman) — and, soon after, it tacked on its environmental impact.
Everlane continued to evolve this year, opening two stores — in NYC’s Soho neighborhood last December and in San Francisco’s Mission District in early March — launching underwear and making a commitment to remove all virgin plastic from its supply chain.
Preysman discussed with Glossy what he was most proud of in 2018, why he decided to enter the physical retail space and how he plans to evolve the brand.
What were you most proud of this year?
For sure, the launch of retail. It’s been a huge success point for us. We’re really trying to rethink retail, to build service at the forefront of retail and maintain a beautiful experience. I think retail was always driven around experience and discovery, but the way customers discover now has completely shifted, and retail didn’t adapt. We have a long way to go, but I dream of a world where you can log in to our store from 30 miles away, reserve some things, come into the store an hour later, try what you like, keep what you like, don’t take what you don’t, maybe return an item and walk out the door, with barely having to talk to anyone. That’s such an ideal experience for the customer.
And you thought you’d never go there.
It turns out the world is going to be omnichannel. People experience the world through physical, through digital, through social — whatever it is. And that’s not going to change. What’s going to change is the way you build the brand, what your main communication platform for it is. And that, no doubt, has turned out to be digital. What digital has allowed, which is very different than what has existed in the past, is one central customer viewpoint. Not every brand can do this, because the second you go to wholesale, you lose it. But at Everlane, whether you buy online or offline, it’s the same account system. It’s a seamless experience. Today’s customer is like, “I know the product I want. Get it to me as seamlessly as possible.” And that’s what we have to offer.
What’s your current take on fundraising?
A great company and a great brand has a product that can … not that it can sell itself, but it can make a profit. I think what we’ve seen is that the venture industry has created an environment that lets retail companies get away without profit and get away without having a solid business model. That is dangerous. And I think, for the most part, many of these people haven’t been involved in retail, so you have these two sets of investors: One who have been in retail before, and one who haven’t. And the ones who haven’t think they’re smarter and think that they can reinvent it, and it’s turning out to be not so much the case. Lots of money does not fuel growth in this business. A great product fuels growth.
You’ve been slowly rolling out new product categories. What’s the strategy there?
In terms of actual apparel categories, there’s nothing we will say no to in the end, but we’re really regimented and really, really careful about how we evolve. What we’re trying to do is create ethical basics for everyone around the world, and so we try to figure out: How do we maintain quality while being affordable? And that might mean we’re going into more casual shoes, versus leather shoes. It might mean we’re thinking about how to source a product more vertically, so finding one really great supplier and putting as much there as possible. We’ll probably do one category a year, from here on out, and then really focus on building out our existing assortment and getting it better and better.
Any plans to move beyond apparel to become a lifestyle brand? Everyone’s doing it…
Everlane as a brand is built on a set of values and principles that allows it to expand itself beyond apparel. We choose not to at this point. What I mean by that is that it’s a brand rooted in design, a brand rooted in thinking about how you can do the right thing by people — it stands for more than just apparel. We play in the world of apparel, because I think it’s one of the most broken industries in terms of creating waste, in terms of obfuscating customers.
I’ve heard some shade thrown at the many DTC brands that aren’t “designer-led.” Unfair?
When you look at the CFDA or fashion houses, in general, the way they approach the world mostly is: “We have a creative direction, and this is the creative direction we believe in. And, hey, customers, this is what we offer as a result.” And it is highly dependent on having an amazing creative director, and you could end up in a place where the wrong person can take [the company] in the wrong direction. What we’re trying to do here is develop more of a studio-like environment, where you have a design director for a single product or an idea — they own the initial concept, but marketing, creative, merchandising and production all sit together and decide: Is this right for her or him? Is it the right price? Is it a fit in the market? What’s the story? It’s really a design collective; everybody participates in design. It’s not that dissimilar from the way we approach sustainability: Everybody has to be educated and thinking about it. There’s not a director of sustainability right now, because everybody plays a role in making that happen.
To what extent will sustainability be a focus for you, moving forward?
I have my personal passions, which center largely around climate, and the administration and the rejection of it is toxic. Climate change and extinction is a path that is not reversible, and the further we go down it, the bigger the issue is. And so, from our perspective, we sit at this world where we are making product, and the best solution is actually for everybody to stop making product. We know we can’t do that. But what we can do is offer a better alternative. It’s always with an eye toward that: How do we set a standard and then next year push that standard forward? And the year after that, push that standard forward? Because there’s new technology, and there’s new ways to do things, and consumers get smarter — so consumers catch up, and then you pull them forward. And the they catch up, and you pull them forward. We can have great product, but the footprint of that product can be much smaller than it was 10 years ago. It’s hard, I will tell you. It stands at odds, sometimes, with the business — not all of these initiatives drive sales, but they’re so important.