If you try to learn more about the sweater you’re wearing, you might not find much more than a label that says "Made in Bangladesh." But when you order items from Everlane, you get a virtual factory tour, including information about the cost of labor and materials.
It's part of a corporate trend called radical transparency, and Everlane is a leading practitioner. But it didn't start out as a self-conscious sales pitch to customers; according to Chief Creative Officer Alexandra Spunt, that narrative grew more out of nature than strategy.
“It’s not like we set out with a super, super clear plan. I think it just felt sort of inevitable to us,” she said in a conversation with ABC7 News reporter Kate Larsen at the From Day One Conference in San Francisco earlier this month.
Spunt went on to say that Everlane’s founder and CEO, Michael Preysman, went into business searching for better ways to do just about everything. Spunt had a journalism background, “so that sort of truth-seeking was always in my way of thinking,” she said.
Everlane started in 2010, arguably ahead of sustainable and transparent fashion trends. Larsen asked Spunt if she and Preysman were concerned that consumers would not be interested in what the company was doing behind the scenes; Spunt said that while they didn’t worry, they also didn’t realize just how big an impact they would make.
“When we started the manufacturing process, we were like, ‘This is crazy, you make a T-shirt like this for $5, a very high-quality T-shirt, made in America’—and we looked around and there were some boutique brands selling the same shirt for 50 bucks, 60 bucks,” she said.
In response to the markups they saw, they started with radical transparency around pricing. Right on launch day, they showed the cost of making the T-shirt. Spunt said it resonated with people immediately.
“We were like, ‘Oh, OK, this is a thing, people care about this.’ And that was our first indicator, and of course that gives you more confidence to keep pushing.”
And keep pushing they did. The company expanded, from high-quality T-shirts made in downtown Los Angeles to ethically made products crafted throughout the world, all in meticulously selected factories.
The company’s website offers a look inside all of its factories, with photo galleries and information on materials, ethical standards, factory owners, and more. For example, Everlane works with a factory in Southern China that donates a percentage of profits to primary schools in rural parts of the country. The factory, which has about 500 workers, has an average employee retention period of 10 years, four times the local average.
Everlane sets standards for factory safety and working conditions, but is development-minded as well, so it’s willing to work with factory owners and managers to get them up to speed. “On a real human-to-human level, really getting to know the people who run the factory is probably still one of the best ways to make that kind of judgment call,” Spunt said.
Everlane is transparent about environmental sustainability as well. The company has launched products made from 100% recycled plastic and partnered with a sustainable denim factory in Vietnam that recycles 98% of its water, relies on alternative energy sources, and repurposes denim-production byproducts.
The commitment to transparency and sustainability is not limited to the manufacturing process. According to Spunt, in order for the company’s values to work, they have to extend into its own corporate culture.
“We’re transparent. We present all of our board decks to the whole company and let everyone ask questions, because we have to be transparent, because this is what we talk about,” she said.
The green initiatives are woven into the fabric of Everlane’s internal culture as well. The company aims to eliminate all virgin plastic from its supply chain, including their offices, by 2021. It’s challenging, since everything from snacks to office supplies comes packaged in plastic, but for Spunt it’s a matter of practicing what you preach—and doing so consistency.
Larsen asked what advice Spunt had for companies trying to pivot toward making social causes part of their brand. Spunt had two key pieces of advice.
“If you’re a founder or you’re a part of the leadership team, make sure that the thing you’re choosing to espouse is actually very meaningful to you. Make sure you and your leadership team genuinely care about it.”
Then, once you’ve found something meaningful to pursue, Spunt said it was equally important to make sure that it connects with your business and corporate culture. “Figure out how it connects from a storytelling perspective, because you’re going to have to tell that story to your employees and you’re going to have to tell it to the world. So make sure it connects. Building on that, think about ways to bring it into your own culture within the company.”
Carina Livoti is a New York-based writer. She earned a degree in English at Harvard and spends a lot of time wondering whether strangers wearing earbuds on the subway are actually listening to anything