- For the past decade, fashion brand Reformation has aimed to redefine sustainability by building a company with eco-friendly principles at its core.
- Business Insider talked with Kathleen Talbot, Reformation’s vice president of operations and sustainability, to learn more about how the “cool girl” brand maintains its sustainable edge.
- Fast-fashion brands like Forever 21 and H&M continue to take heat for wasteful practices, including in a 2018 report that found H&M had an estimated $US4.3 billion worth of unsold inventory.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
In 2009, Reformation hit the scene not by using sustainability in a marketing campaign like some competitors, but instead by incorporating it as a core tenet of the company.
As Reformation took off, drawing in fans like Rihanna, Taylor Swift, and Karlie Kloss, the company proved that sustainability could not only be cool, but also good for business. Reformation’s estimated revenue in 2017 was more than $US100 million, and it raised a $US25 million Series B funding round in December of the same year.
While traditional fast-fashion players like Forever 21 and H&M continue to receive criticism for acting as a catalyst to the 26 billion pounds of textiles that end up in landfill each year, Reformation has looked for ways to turn the process on its head. Part of the company’s success has been in using a quick production process to make changes that prevent waste in real time, Kathleen Talbot, Reformation’s vice president of operations and sustainability, told Business Insider.
“We are a fast-fashion brand. That might seem like an oxymoron, but we’ve actually taken the things that are really innovative and help further sustainability from the fast-fashion model [such as] making limited collection runs and making more of something only after it performs,” Talbot said.
Still, sustainable fashion comes at a cost to the consumer, and Reformation’s price point is significantly higher than its peers. While a shopper can snag a stylish dress at H&M for as low as $US9, Reformation dresses range between $US98 and $US248.
We took a look at how Reformation has become a leader in sustainability, all while maintaining its cult-like following:
While Reformation does most of its business online — an estimated 80% of its revenue comes from e-commerce — the brand has worked to ensure its physical stores are as eco-friendly as possible.
Reformation starting as an online-only direct-to-consumer brand. Currently, its headquarters and Los Angeles store locations are green business certified.
Reformation has 14 physical retail store locations, which expanded from its first locations in Los Angeles and New York City to include shops in Miami, Austin, Boston, and Washington, DC, among others.
Additional locations are slated to open in Chicago and Toronto this year. Reformation incorporates features like LED fixtures, recycled fabric insulation, and secondhand furniture into its stores.
Reformation offers public tours of its sustainable Los Angeles factory on the first Friday of every month. It also works with a variety of sustainable factory partners in the US, according to Talbot.
“We want to understand what our impact is as a brand and our products, everything from materials to manufacturing, packaging to garment care, and ultimately to what customers do with it when they’re done wearing it,” Talbot told Business Insider. “Within each of those life cycle stages, there’s tremendous impact and there’s also tremendous opportunity to make a difference.”
Reformation’s current goal is to recycle 100,000 garments in 2019. According to Talbot, when Reformation first started it exclusively made its clothing using deadstock material, an industry term for discarded or leftover fabrics.
The company has already recycled 66,119 garments in the first quarter of 2019 alone, a Reformation spokesperson told Business Insider.
Inside Reformation stores, shoppers can find signs dedicated to the company’s sustainability efforts.
Pretty much everything in the store, from the hangers to adhesive tape, is sourced using bio-based, non-toxic adhesives. The hangers are made from recycled paper.
Reformation’s packaging is made from 100% recycled paper products and compostable bio-based materials, so “it will disintegrate and completely return to the Earth just like organic waste, leaving no toxic chemicals behind,” Talbot said.
Its garment bags are made from 30% recycled plastic and are always reused when possible.
“It’s the best we could find, but we want it to be better,”the Reformation site states.
In February 2019, Reformation launched its “Carbon Is Canceled” campaign. The program incentivizes shoppers with gift cards and discounts for showing proof of reducing their carbon footprints.
The campaign includes a partnership with Arcadia Power, allowing consumers to switch their electric bill to wind energy for a $US100 credit to Reformation.
As part of the campaign, Reformation also added a section on its website where shoppers can purchase “climate credits.”
The climate credits, or carbon assets, fund NativeEnergy’s efforts projects to reduce carbon emissions.
Moving into the next decade, Talbot said the company has been especially mindful to avoid any efforts that could be misconstrued as gimmicks.
“Unfortunately it does feel like sustainability and some of these fuzzy programs can be used more as a marketing initiative and it’s something that we’re really sensitive to,” she said.
“Greenwashing is definitely a thing, and we’re seeing it more and more in fashion. We encourage and challenge customers to scratch below the surface and make sure that a brand is really aligned with their values and what they’re looking for.”
Talbot said improving material sourcing remains one of Reformation’s top priorities.
“Across the industry, we have a lot of work to do in materials and answering questions like, ‘How do we develop lower impact fibres?’ ‘How do we make sure that our dyeing and finishing practices are really focused on both environmental and human health?'” Talbot said.
Sourcing will continue to be top of mind as Reformation continues to expand into new product areas like shoes, which hit stores in May 2019 …
… as well as extended sizes, which Reformation debuted permanently in March, after first testing a limited-edition size-inclusive capsule collection in 2018.
Select products are now available in sizes 1X to 3X and 14 to 24.
Reformation has also strategically sought out like-minded partners such as outdoor clothing company Patagonia. Here, a small selection of Patagonia products are featured at the store in the Soho neighbourhood of New York City.
“Patagonia is the Holy Grail, started-it-all sustainability guru … Bow down,” the Reformation site reads.
Moving forward, Talbot urged a “diversity of solutions” when it comes to industrywide sustainability. She said this includes rental programs, noting that Reformation currently lends occasion dresses to Rent the Runway.
As the business continues to grow, Talbot said the brand’s next challenge will be to ensure Reformation can scale its business model to maintain its status as a leader in sustainable fashion.
Reformation sources from vetted suppliers that adhere to specific standards on environmental impact and fair labour.
Though Reformation states a majority of its knit fabric is purchased in the US, the remaining is sourced from overseas.
“Our goal is to one day bring this know-how back – both internally and domestically,” Talbot said.
Looking to the future, Talbot encourages fashion brands to work together to stop particularly egregious practices like burning excess inventory.
“There are opportunities to rethink and reimagine the business model to support some of these bigger industry issues,” she said. “A lot of clothing that gets made never even makes it to a consumer, and it’s either incinerated or scrapped.”
As Reformation looks to lure new consumers, its next challenge will be in maintaining its reduced carbon footprint while it expands its physical retail locations, works with retail partners like Nordstrom, moves into plus-size apparel, and launches new product categories like footwear.
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