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! Keep in mind that it’s not as updated as the blog post, however.
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. I purchased a pair of Everlane pants secondhand on Poshmark, and they were sturdy and well-made. Their price point is also on the more affordable side for conscious brands.
Everlane has made significant improvements in their materials, having eliminated 90% of new plastic in their supply chain as of December 2021. They also have committed to moving all their cotton to certified organic by 2023; as of now, 54% of their conventional cotton has been transitioned to organic.
They have added science-based targets to reduce their carbon emissions in line with the Paris Agreement. They not only have targets, but also specific steps to achieve them.
Everlane donates a portion of Black Friday profits to environmental initiatives (100% profits in 2019, up to $200k in 2021). In 2019, the chosen organization was Oceana, which is dedicated to protecting the ocean from environmental threats, like plastic pollution. In 2021, the organization was the Rodale Institute, which is committed to regenerative organic agriculture.
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 certified Gold 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 for using less resources, 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 fair labor and sustainable practices, 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.
On their sustainability page, they do list several certifications and explain what they mean, but they don’t specify what perentage of products actually have those certifications. Certification can be prohibitively expensive for smaller brands, but for a well-established one like Everlane, it does seem fishy that their main collections aren’t certified (only a handful of products and lines have certifications).
While it’s great that Everlane has transitioned 54% conventional cotton to organic cotton, there remains 46% conventional cotton, and cotton makes up 70% of the company’s fiber use. So, there’s still a lot of improvement to be made here.
They also still use virgin leather, wool, cashmere, and alpaca wool. Oddly enough, they don’t even list the virgin wool and cashmere on their sustainability page, and only talk about their recycled wool and cashmere. This is pretty shady, as the majority of their cashmere and wool products are still using virgin fibers (and there is no info about the animal welfare).
According to Good On You, there’s no also 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.
Finally, Everlane doesn’t seem to be invested in circularity, beyond its Forever Sneaker. It would be great to see a recycling program or resale platform integrated into the site.
Basically, as it stands, a lot 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. Company-wide certification, like B Corp, would also be further reassurance of their social responsibility.
Now, let’s take a look at ethics, or how Everlane treats its workers.
Everlane does have a Code of Conduct that covers:
- no forced or child labor
- fair working hours
- payment of at least minimum wage
- no discrimination
- freedom to unionize
They state that factories are audited annually by a third party, but they don’t disclose how the factories have performed in the audits. Even if the factories were in complete alignment with the Code of Conduct, a minimum wage is not necessarily a living wage; Everlane should provide more pay transparency like its competitor ABLE, which shares the lowest employee wage at their suppliers.
All that said, Everlane has improved factory transparency. Prior to 2021, they listed factories with very vague names, such as “The Loafer Factory,” and didn’t provide information beyond some photos. They now provide factory names, number of employees, products manufactured, and how long the factory has been working with them.
If you click on each tile, there will be a blurb about the production process, employee benefits, or story behind the factory. Unfortunately, only around 8 out of 20 of the blurbs mention worker welfare or performance on social audits, and sometimes the descriptions are extremely superficial.
See these as examples:
“[Factory manager] emphasizes a culture of acceptance and respect, aiming to avoid discrimination.” (Geodis distribution center).
“On our last visit we toured the local cafeteria and discussed what many workers do for fun. On the weekends, they often run into town for movies or play mahjong in the courtyard.” (Dongguan Leroy Far East Knitwears Ltd).
This is really just fluff and distracts from the real question about concrete factory conditions. In a few blurbs, they mention the factory having a perfect or high compliance score, and that’s more helpful. Everlane could improve their transparency by including exact compliance scores, what the factories are doing well, and what they’re working to improve (in both ethics and sustainability). Currently, they focus mostly on describing the production process/craftsmenship, which is fine, but not enough.
Many of the factories also don’t have any certifications. That is not necessarily problematic in itself, as some may not have the resources to be certified. The issue is again Everlane’s sustainability page; in the “Factory Partner Programs and Certifications” section, they list a bunch of certifications (mostly related to materials and environmental management), but they don’t explain which factories have these certifications, or even what they mean. It seems like they’re trying to seem more impressive than they actually are.
Everlane’s factory page prior to 2021
An example of the updated factory blurb, which continues past the screenshotted area
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 earned $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?
As of December 2021, there has been no update on this controversy; it seems like Everlane is hoping everyone will move on and forget about it.
Since then, Everlane also did not support the passage of the Garment Worker Protection Act in California, which would hold brands accountable for their suppliers and mandate payment of at least the minimum wage (the bare minimum). In fact, it was part of a coalition that opposed the Act; it luckily was signed into law anyways!
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, but Everlane doesn’t have any stated plans to expand sizing.
Since June 2020, 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.
Since then, Everlane has established DEI programs, including:
- anonymous reports that are reviewed at least quarterly
- employee community groups centered around specific identities
- working with third-party firms to improve hiring and retention
- company-wide anti-racism training
- pay grades for more transparent and equitable pay
They report that Everlane management is 9% Black and 41% POC, while headquarters is 6% Black and 37% POC.
This does seem to be a decent start, but I’ll defer to actual employees to report on the execution.
The Bottom Line
A lot has changed since my initial review of Everlane, written in March 2020 and updated in May 2021. I’ll include my previous analysis for posterity, plus an updated version.
My opinion of Everlane prior to December 2021
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.
My opinion of Everlane (December 2021 update)
Everlane does seem to be making decent strides, especially with its near-elimination of virgin synthetics, transition to 54% organic cotton, science-based carbon targets, and DEI programs.
That said, they still are using hand-wavy marketing on their sustainability pages. It is misleading to list a bunch of certifications without specifying the percentage of products or factories that have them. It’s also misleading to exclude virgin wool and cashmere in the materials section, especially since they’re the primary fiber for 250+ products. (They were likely omitted because they don’t have much information about the treatment of animals).
And while there is increased factory transparency, the information shared isn’t focused on employee welfare, which is the primary concern.
I also find it unfortunate that there are no plans to expand sizing, especially given how popular Everlane is, and that the average American woman is a size 16-18 (about the equivalent of an XL, which is the largest size Everlane offers).
All this said, I still am not comfortable supporting Everlane myself. It is possible that could change in the future, but I’d need to see more garment worker guarantees, honest marketing, and less reliance on virgin animal-based fibers (especially those without certifications on animal welfare). I would also want to know if/how they’re improving the corporate culture that led to the mass-firing and eventual outsourcing of the customer experience team that wanted to unionize.
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 learn more about sustainable fashion, see my post on 9 Common Misconceptions About Sustainable Fashion.