Los Angeles-based fashion brand Reformation is helping to challenge the paradigm of wasteful “fast fashion.” Designed and produced in its factory in downtown LA, Reformation’s limited-edition collections of everything from ready-to-wear staples to bridesmaids dresses, all made with a cheeky attitude and sustainable or reclaimed textiles, are filling the wardrobes of celebrities and fashionistas across the country.
After launching her first clothing line, Ya-Ya, in 1999, founder and CEO Yael Aflalo became frustrated with the wasteful and polluting practices of the fashion industry. Working with factories and experiencing firsthand the destructive impacts of fashion production on the environment and community, she decided to break the cycle and create Reformation – with a mission to provide responsibly produced clothes that don't compromise on style and quality.
Reformation recently collaborated with the Red Carpet Green Dress (#RCGD) campaign, founded by Suzy Amis Cameron, to design a collection of dresses for last month’s Academy Awards, titled No Red Carpet Needed.
We recently spoke with Senior Sustainability & Business Operations Manager Kathleen Talbot about Reformation’s role in the growing sustainable fashion landscape.
What is the ultimate mission for Reformation and how are you achieving it?
Kathleen Talbot: Our mission is to lead and inspire a sustainable way to be fashionable, by making compelling, sustainable, accessible clothing for mass market that heightens demand and inspires a movement for more sustainable manufacturing. We seek to change the way that people think about fashion by demonstrating that it can be eco-friendly without sacrificing style. We want to lead a movement towards a world where sustainable manufacturing is the status quo.
We are making progress toward our mission by designing and manufacturing limited-edition collections in our own sewing factory located in downtown Los Angeles. We source sustainable fabrics and vintage garments, and incorporate sustainable practices throughout our supply chain to make beautiful styles at a fraction of the environmental impact generated by most fashion brands. We also actively engage our customers about problems in the fashion industry, and more eco-friendly solutions.
Which materials do you use and what makes them sustainable?
KT: We use three sources of materials for all of our clothing: repurposed vintage pieces, recycled deadstock fabric and sustainable materials like Tencel. We work closely with mills to develop fabrics made from fibers that have a much lighter environmental footprint when compared with conventional cotton or polyester. About a third of our materials are vintage or deadstock, which means we give fabric that may be destined for the landfill a second life. As we grow, our goal is to push to create more sustainable textile options, as well as make our current fabrics more environmentally conscious. We design, manufacture, and photograph all of our clothes locally in Los Angeles to ensure we're doing right by the environment each step of the way. We closely monitor what is selling well in order to meet demand and limit our waste.
How driven is your customer base to seek out sustainable fashion options — i.e. how much of your success do you owe to sustainability v. fashion/wearability?
KT: Our top priority at Reformation is design and making beautiful clothing, which is ultimately what draws people to our brand in the first place. The idea for Reformation came from the difficult time we were having finding clothes that we would want to wear that were also sustainably produced. Every item we make is something that we would want to wear — it’s basically our dream closet produced in our dream way. That said, we hope that our customers have the opportunity to learn about the environmental and social issues of the fashion industry and how their purchase is making a difference through everything from our product descriptions online, our social media posts, and our hang-tags.
What was the intention behind the ‘Story’, ‘Green’, ‘Fit’ tabs for each product? Why was it important to incorporate the ‘Green’ specs with every item?
KT: We value transparency and educating our customers about our sustainability practices, so we have done our best to tell our story as a brand but also of each of our products. Since all of our products must meet our sourcing guidelines, we want to share how each product is helping address environmental issues in the fashion industry. Our brand was built on sustainability and we want our customers to become educated and take steps in leading a more sustainable lifestyle.
What are your larger sustainability goals?
KT: We have a number of core sustainability commitments at Reformation:
- ZERO WASTE: Source-reduce waste, “close the loop” for our products, and keep fabric and plastic out of the landfill
- CARBON NEUTRALITY: Reduce and offset the carbon footprint of Reformation’s product and business operations
- ZERO TOXICITY & WATER: Source-reduce synthetic chemicals and toxins from our products’ life cycle, and use fibers and manufacturing processes with low water footprints
- GOOD BUSINESS: Transform thinking about sustainability and business — no trade offs — and ensure Reformation’s values are reflected in its supply chain
- AWARENESS: Engage and educate the masses about the impacts of fashion, and more sustainable solutions
What challenges have you faced (finding reliable sources of materials? Maintaining integrity/quality while scaling?) How have/will you overcome them?
KT: Our first priority is developing more relationships with fiber and fabric suppliers that can help build our library and meet more rigorous environmental criteria — especially for our woven fabrics. We are investing a lot of attention to this now, and are seeking partners to help us. In order to maintain our sales throughout the year, we need to diversify product categories. We will pursue new marketing channels, as well as expanding our retail outlets.
What do you do with your leftover stock?
KT: Because we can make limited runs and recut styles based on their sales performance, we have very little finished goods waste. What we do generate over the year is sold as samples or donated. We aim for zero waste and maximize fabric on hand to make our beautiful designs. We recycle our small cutting scraps, and donate any larger pieces (1-2 yards) to local sewing schools for student projects.
There is a lot of momentum right now behind cleaning up the fashion industry — do you see Reformation’s role in the movement as providing consumers with a sustainable option, or helping to bring about widespread change?
KT: We’re excited to be at the forefront of sustainable fashion. We believe in transparency and share every bit of our process with our customers and educate them about the environmental impact of traditional fashion and our solutions. That said, we aim to educate our customers on living a more sustainable lifestyle on a daily basis through our social media channels and our website. We hope that as we expand to a wider customer base, so does our message of sustainability.
Do you work mostly independently or are you reliant on partnerships to maintain the integrity of your product (reclaiming textiles, more sustainable materials, etc)? What do you think of industry-wide collaborations such as Cradle to Cradle’s Fashion Positive, Canopy’s Fashion Loved by Forests, etc?
KT: We do work with third parties to conduct social and environmental compliance assessments, and we are a certified B Corp. We share best practices with campaigns like Cradle to Cradle’s Fashion Positive or the NRDC’s Clean by Design, and are very excited to see what advances this type of collaboration can produce. A widespread change in the industry is going to require a lot of brands — big and small — to commit to R&D and new practices together.
What’s next for Reformation?
We’re really excited about the future of sustainability and the technology that comes along with it. Our long-view is that we will be a go-to fashionable lifestyle brand for all things sustainable. We’re always releasing new, limited-edition collections and look forward to continuing to offer great products.