The Cost of Cheap
Here’s my predicament; I want to do my part for the environment, and I don’t do too bad a job of it. I always turn the lights off when I leave a room, switch the tap off when I’m brushing my teeth and try to keep as much as I possibly can out of landfill. I also strive to support companies that are ethical and fair. But when it comes to buying clothes, a whole lot of environmental baggage comes with it.
I’m a recent grad within the last five years, at the early stages of my career. I don’t have bags of cash to spend on my wardrobe. Right now, my options feel limited: either I shell out on an ethical clothing brand, spend an age trawling social to research a select number of independent retailers, or spend within my means on a high street brand which too often comes with environmental consequences.
We all want to cut down on plastic but let’s look past the single-use plastic water bottle. According to Greenpeace, 60% of today’s clothes contain polyester. The average lifespan of a garment from the high street is seven wears. You do the math.
I have a BIG problem when it comes to high street fashion. Clothes are poor quality – jeans wear through in months, shirts can barely make it through two cycles in the wash, seams fray and the likelihood is that the 100% polyester pompom sweater you bought last year will be a major faux pas this winter. Fast fashion is designed to be short term.
I want something stylish, sustainable, affordable and accessible. Is that too much to ask?
I come to you with a shining ray of hope.
Everlane is an American company from San Francisco established in 2011 with the idea of “radical transparency” at the core. Not only are all of their products made from ethically sourced materials, but on every product page you can find a link to the factory it was made in (and you can bet the workers are paid a fair wage). Radical, I know! You can walk down the street knowing the person who made your sweater was paid a fair wage and you can smile knowing you won’t have to replace your jeans for a very, very long time. Everlane products are made to last – in your wardrobe, not in the ground.
This is a very new way of shopping for a high street vet like me. It feels good and empowering to know where your clothes come from. Customers are smarter now, “Made in Italy” isn’t the bar for a “good” buy anymore and Everlane is catering to that.
They’re breaking the cycle. No brand that I’ve ever shopped at before has ever broken down their costs for me and shown me where the sweater I’m buying is coming from. It’s an interesting feeling browsing their site, no closed doors or dark corners, but rather a clear breakdown of costs, materials and sources.
The key word is ‘sustainable’. Not only is working in this way environmentally sustainable; it’s also sustainable for their bottom line. Whilst many high street and e-commerce brands value aggressive pricing and questionable manufacturing processes, Everlane are taking a measured approach to future-proofing. And it’s working.
For example, they delayed the release of their denim line until they found the materials and factory that met their exacting ethical standards. For several weeks before the collection was released online, Everlane shared images and stories from the factory. 44,000 people joined their waiting list.
They hit $100 million in revenue back in 2016 according to Privco, a private analyst. Since then, sales have doubled annually for the past three years.
Everlane measures demand through waiting lists and real-time data and customer feedback to make inventory decisions. When in doubt, they stock less. And when items sell out—which they often do—they can restock quickly, thanks to its close relationships with its more than two dozen factories worldwide.
It matters to me that I can buy sustainably within my means. People care. Young people really care. This is not something only a select number of shoppers can act on, nor something only environmentalists are willing to invest in. As pioneers of this model, Everlane will inevitably prosper above their competition when the plastic backlash really takes its roots in the industry. It goes to show that if a fashion brand opts to take on a more sustainable approach, they can drive business and reach the masses whilst doing good for the planet and society.