Everlane is one of the first major companies in the sustainable fashion sphere, having been founded in 2010. Often touted by fashion influencers, the company is probably the most popular and mainstream “ethical” clothing brand.
When it comes to marketing, Everlane seems to do everything right: they feature diverse models (in age, size, and ethnicity), show photos and locations of their factories, and break down the production cost and markup of each item. The clothing itself is also drool-worthy, featuring timeless and minimalistic silhouettes that somehow also feel trendy (I’m about to share some not-so-great things about Everlane, but I’m still tempted to buy their clothes because they’re so aesthetic).
Everlane claims to be “radically transparent,” ethical, and high-quality—which are some pretty big claims. In the era of greenwashing though, is Everlane actually as ethical and sustainable as they say? Here’s what you should know.
If you’re a more visual or auditory learner, here’s a YouTube video version of this post!
Let’s break this down by sustainability, ethics, and diversity and inclusion.
First, Everlane’s pieces are timeless styles that are generally said to be good quality, which helps consumers view their purchases as long-term wardrobe staples.
100% of Everlane’s Black Friday profits are donated to environmental initiatives. In 2019, the chosen organization was Oceana, which is dedicated to protecting the ocean from environmental threats, like plastic pollution. Oceana is currently working to end single-use plastic through lobbying lawmakers and educating voters.
Everlane’s denim factory recycles 98% of its water, uses alternative energy, and repurposes its byproducts. Jeans are air-dried, the washing system reuses its water, and the factory is powered by solar panels. Their denim is manufactured through Saitex, a factory that is a certified B corp, and is Bluesign and Fair Trade certified. Other companies such as J.Crew, Madewell, Target, and Ralph Lauren also have denim lines manufactured at Saitex.
The company has carbon-neutral sneakers made with recycled plastics and leather made in a tannery audited by the Leather Working Group. One may argue that truly ethical and sustainable companies wouldn’t use animal products at all, which is fair. So, this could be seen as a good and bad thing—good that the leather is third-party certified, bad that they’re using leather in the first place.
Everlane also recently came out with The Forever Sneaker, which is made from partially recycled materials, and is said to be fully recyclable. You can just send them back to Everlane for free when you’re done with them. They’re also only $58, which is expensive, but relatively cheap for a fully recyclable sneaker.
These are some pretty cool measures, but there’s more to this story. Let’s get into the things Everlane can improve.
An example of Everlane’s website messaging—they claim to be “radically transparent,” but are they really?
A price breakdown found on the Everlane website.
As Levi Hildebrand pointed out in his video on Everlane, most of Everlane’s products don’t have third-party certifications for their fabrics and dyes, and they don’t have any company-wide certifications either. This is extremely important, as without third-party verification, you can make whatever claims you want, and no one will know any better.
A handful of products and lines have some sort of certification, as I mentioned, but their main collections don’t. Certification can be prohibitively expensive for smaller brands, but for a well-established one like Everlane, this does seem fishy.
Everlane also doesn’t use sustainable fabrics very extensively either, such as organic cotton, tencel, or hemp. They do have an organic cotton line and a recycled plastic line, but most of their clothes are conventional cotton, or even virgin synthetic materials, like triacetate or nylon.
That said, Everlane pledges to eliminate new plastic in their supply chain by 2021, and they also have committed to moving all their cotton to certified organic cotton by 2023. It’s great that they’re working towards this, but as it stands, most of their materials aren’t great sustainability-wise.
And finally, according to Good On You, there’s no evidence that Everlane minimizes textile and water waste in the production process. Their denim factory does do this, but to be fair, major retailers that don’t claim to be totally sustainable brands also have denim lines manufactured at Saitex.
Basically, as it stands, most of Everlane’s products aren’t very sustainable. I’m glad to see their plans to eliminate virgin plastic and switch to certified cotton, but we need to see more extensive textile and dye certifications, like Oeko-Tex and Bluesign. We also need to see company-wide certification, like B Corp, which is what their competitors have.
Now, let’s take a look at ethics, or how Everlane treats its workers. There’s actually not a whole lot of good to say in this segment, so let’s just dive into it.
According to Good On You, Everlane’s labor measures are “not good enough.” There’s no evidence it pays a living wage in its supply chain, and it also sources labor from countries at high risk of labor abuse.
While Everlane does list factories and photos on its website, none of them are verified. It’s unclear if there are more factories than the ones listed, and the ones listed also often have very vague names, like “The Loafer Factory.” They might not be able to reveal actual names for competition reasons, but having more info about the factory conditions, wages, and benefits would be much more transparent.
A list of Everlane’s factories on their website; while some are named, others have very generic names like “The Leather Bag Factory.”
Everlane has also been the subject of labor and union controversies in the US. For several years, the company capped the hours of the customer service team so they didn’t need to provide health insurance and benefits. The team was hoping to unionize in December 2019 to better negotiate pay (they earn $16/hour) and schedules. Management discouraged the team from doing so, claiming that joining a union could “forfeit your right to deal directly with us to resolve issues. This will reduce transparency and we won’t be able to work with each of you individually as we do now to improve your experience.” These claims were misleading, as union contracts allow employees to decide how much they want the union involved, and bargaining committees are made up of both union reps and employees.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the large majority of the same customer service team was laid off (the remaining employees were made full-time). According to an anonymous union committee member, they had reached out asking management to recognize their union, as 60% of the team was in favor of it. Then, four days later, most of them were laid off.
It looked so suspiciously like union-busting that even Bernie Sanders got involved on Twitter, calling on Everlane to bring the workers back and recognize the union. The Everlane founder responded, saying that the decision was brought due to loss in profits, and not union-busting.
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) March 28, 2020
Many Everlane employees object to this reasoning, as they’d received internal emails about how online sales were up 32%. They also say that the company had constantly reassured them there wouldn’t be layoffs (outside of the furloughed retail team). On top of that, there was no advance notice—members of the team tried logging into their accounts, and found that they could no longer get in.
Everlane founder Michael Preysman later issued a statement, saying that the company had suffered loss in profits, and needed to make cuts. He eliminated his own salary, and executives also took 25% pay cuts, but they still needed to reduce expenses. It’s normal for companies to have to make tough decisions during the pandemic. That said, the lack of empathy and transparency towards the laid off employees is really upsetting, especially for a company that prides itself on being “ethical” and “transparent.”
To make things even worse, the laid off customer experience reps were encouraged to reapply for their jobs in Fall 2020, but most were rejected, and the company instead hired from the Philippines.
If Everlane treats its American employees in a shady manner, we have to ask ourselves: how do they treat their overseas workers?
Diversity and Inclusion
Now let’s talk diversity and inclusion, which technically falls under ethics, but deserves its own section.
Everlane does feature diverse models, but their clothing isn’t the most size-inclusive. Most pieces only go up to the equivalent of XL. This is a pretty widespread issue in sustainable fashion, so there’s definitely room for improvement there.
Since June, a new wave of criticism has also been leveled at Everlane for its treatment of Black and other employees of color. There’s a Google Doc created by former employees (the “Everlane Ex-Wives Club”) that shares instances of inequitable pay, discrimination against darker-skinned Black models, and stolen ideas from Black employees by white managers. They’ve also suggested actions Everlane should take to address these issues.
This is all more evidence that Everlane is not as transparent as it claims.
The Bottom Line
All of the not-so-good things make me incredibly uneasy about Everlane. They claim radical transparency, but have no evidence to back up their claims. Having no third-party verification is especially concerning, as a lot of the info on their website is hand-wavy, such as the list of factories that often aren’t explicitly named.
They also are quick to flaunt specific products that sound incredibly sustainable, such as their denim and carbon-neutral sneakers. But beyond these items, there isn’t a lot of info about how eco-friendly their pieces are. It seems like they’re using the denim and sneakers as “token” ethical products and trying to pawn off that image for the rest of their items (kind of like getting the only person of color in a company image and claiming that your workspace is “diverse”).
Everlane’s labor union controversy also illustrates that they aren’t honest with their employees, and willing to implement policies to help their margins at the expense of their workers’ livelihoods. The newly-surfaced racist experiences of former employees further corroborates the company’s unethical business practices.
For these reasons, I dislike Everlane a lot. They’re basically guilty of greenwashing, which is marketing yourself as ethical and eco-friendly when you actually aren’t. Of course, they probably are still better environmentally than fast fashion, but it’s misleading and unethical to make such extravagant claims of “radical transparency” only to fall incredibly short of them.
An example of the kinds of clothes sold at Everlane.
What Now? + Everlane Alternatives
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If you love Everlane and feel disappointed now, that’s totally understandable. If you still think that Everlane is doing the best they can, I respectfully disagree. Yes—sustainable fashion is incredibly complex from both a business and consumer perspective (I readily admit I’m not perfect), but I believe Everlane can do much, much better, and they should be open about that and stop misleading customers with hand-wavy claims. They should also treat their employees with the radical transparency they plaster all over their marketing materials.
If you’re wondering where to get eco-friendly clothing now that Everlane isn’t as ethical as you thought, here are my tips:
- Always ask yourself first if you really need what you’re looking at. If you do need an item of clothing, ask yourself if you can buy what you’re looking for secondhand or borrow from a friend.
- If you can’t get it used, look for companies that back up their claims with real initiatives. To learn telltale signs of greenwashing, see my tips for evaluating a brand’s sustainability. Everlane is a prime example of why it’s super important to do extra research to verify sustainability claims, beyond a company’s website.
If you’re looking for alternatives, here are some options:
- Eileen Fisher has similar aesthetic to Everlane, but it’s a certified B Corp.
- Pact has lovely silhouettes, uses GOTS-certified organic cotton, and is a member of Fair Trade USA.
- Kotn is is a Canadian brand that’s a certified B Corp, and they invest in the local Egyptian community where they source their cotton.
None of these brands is perfect, but I consider their measures better overall, and they’re more transparent. If you want more recs, I have an ethical and sustainable brand directory of companies I’ve personally vetted.
Regardless of what you buy, do your best to make that clothing last. Sustainable fashion does often have a barrier to entry, and if you can’t afford it, treating your clothing well and only buying what you need are ways to still live sustainably.
I hope this post was helpful in explaining why Everlane is not as ethical and sustainable as most people believe. To be clear, I’m not judging people who buy Everlane; I’m judging Everlane for being misleading. If you want to continue buying Everlane, that’s your call. I understand that the world is a complicated place, and it’s hard to be 100% ethical (and sometimes you just really, really want that jumpsuit).
The point of this post is just to provide the resources to help you make as informed a decision as possible. I don’t believe in “cancel culture,” but until Everlane addresses its greenwashing and unethical labor practices, I don’t feel comfortable supporting them.
If you want to help the Everlane employees that were laid off without warning during the pandemic, there’s a Gofundme to support their living expenses, as some of them are having trouble making ends meet. I personally have donated $50 to this fundraiser and hope you’ll consider contributing if you have the means.
If you want to learn more about sustainable fashion, see my post on 7 Common Misconceptions About Sustainable Fashion.