Is Everlane *Actually* Ethical and Sustainable?

May 3, 2021

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!

 

Everlane’s Sustainability

Let’s break this down by sustainability, ethics, and diversity and inclusion.

The Good

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.

Screenshot of Everlane's website and that shows that they mark their products up 3x less than traditional retailers
An example of Everlane’s website messaging—they claim to be “radically transparent,” but are they really?

Screenshot of Everlane's website and the cost breakdown of a pair of pants
A price breakdown found on the Everlane website.

The Bad

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. 

Everlane’s Ethics

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.

Screenshot of Everlane's website and their factories; some are named, but others just have generic names like "Leather Accessories Factory"
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. 

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.

Screenshot of Everlane's website in the Women's section
An example of the kinds of clothes sold at Everlane.

What Now? + Everlane Alternatives

This section contains affiliate links, meaning I may earn a small commission on any purchases made through those links. This doesn’t cost you any extra, and it’s a great way to support my blog if you found this post helpful. If you don’t want to buy more stuff (cheers to that!), but still want to support my blog, you’re always welcome to buy me a ko-fi 🙂

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.

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14 Comments

  • Nina | Lemons and Luggage May 17, 2020 at 11:34 am

    Excellent post! I have to say I had never heard of Everlane, but my style isn’t really something most sustainable brands cater to anyway. But you’re so right, if they treat their US workers that way then who knows what people in their factories have to endure?

    • Lily May 17, 2020 at 2:37 pm

      Thanks so much for reading, Nina! And that’s one of the reasons I wrote the post – people are so convinced by their marketing that they don’t know about these controversies. It’s important to be informed, especially if a company is using their sustainable image in a dishonest way.

  • Seun May 29, 2020 at 3:20 am

    This is an amazing post! I always had my reservations about Everlane and had also noticed that no other items in their range were made of sustainable materials! For example I noticed a slip dress made out of “100% triacetate” which I’ve recently learned is a man-made fibre that requires extensive chemical processing and uses up a lot of resources like water… Definitely won’t be shopping with Everlane and defo will be sharing your blogpost!

    • Lily May 29, 2020 at 9:06 am

      Thanks so much for reading and sharing, Seun! I also learned something new about triacetate, so I’m glad you left a comment so that we can all be aware of this!

  • Noa July 27, 2020 at 12:24 pm

    Thanks. I’m happy I read it. I’m pretty disappointed with myself for not reading all the way up before shopping with them. I hadn’t bought anything in two years or so before that partly because I was concerned with cheap fashion and labor abuse and couldn’t find a brand that I could get behind. Their brabding had me bamboozled and I feel kinda silly. But I’m doing my best. Thanks for doing the research.

    • Lily July 27, 2020 at 1:03 pm

      I’m glad you found the post helpful! You’re certainly not alone in assuming that Everlane was truly ethical – many people were also misled by their marketing. I can resonate with your struggle to find brands to get behind – I mentioned Good On You in the post, which is a great directory of brands that are rated on their sustainability measures (or lack thereof). Of course, no brand is perfect, but I believe the ones who are actually transparent and trying to improve are worth supporting. If possible, buying secondhand is always better environmentally though. Thanks for reading!

  • Rebecca August 14, 2020 at 1:10 am

    Hi Lily, thank you so much for the incredible post. There is so much information and so many resources in here and it’s presented so well. I am so glad that I picked up on the fact that they didn’t have any third-party certifications when I was looking at their website a few years ago, but I had no idea about the way they treat their US-based employees, and I am shocked about the direct fabrication of the truth. It’s disappointing that it is one of the most popular ‘sustainable’ / ‘ethical’ brands because of its claims and let’s face it, affordability. Your post is so incredible. Thank you for your work!

    • Lily August 15, 2020 at 1:27 pm

      Hi Rebecca! Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts. I share your disappointment, and that’s the main reason I wrote the post. I’m glad you found it helpful!

  • Caitlyn C October 17, 2020 at 4:58 am

    Thanks for the great article! I’ve been on the fence about ordering from them for a long time because I was so confused as to why the Good On You app rated them worse than brands like H&M! This article really clears it up for me. Not buying from them since I don’t like the way they treated their employees and they sound shady.

    • Lily October 17, 2020 at 1:57 pm

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Caitlyn! The ratings are pretty confusing sometimes, so I’m glad this post cleared things up!

  • Ki October 21, 2020 at 11:05 pm

    This is kind of frustrating. Why can’t brands just do the right thing, especially when they say they are? I was going to start trying to be more ethical and sustainable with my wardrobe and everlane seemed like a good start, especially with my very small fixed income. I’ve bought pretty much all my shirts from duluth trading company for the past few years, because they were simple and I like the longer fit, but they’re not ethical or sustainable unfortunately. Now I’m confused and overwhelmed and feeling guilty that I buy stuff that isn’t ethical and sustainable. Any tips for people just starting out (with tiny budgets?)

    • Lily October 22, 2020 at 12:01 pm

      Hi Ki, I totally understand that frustration! I also understand the limitations of shopping on a smaller budget. I would recommend Pact, as their prices are comparable to Everlane’s, and their styles as well (they’re linked in the last section of the post). I also always recommend buying secondhand before buying new, if possible. That can save you a ton of money, and help you find more unique pieces. If there aren’t thrift stores around you, apps like ThredUp, Depop, and Poshmark are ways to thrift online.

  • Ruth November 15, 2020 at 10:24 am

    Wow. Thanks for this post. I had a feeling something wasn’t quite right with Everlane and I’m glad I found this article to show me my hunch was correct. I have gotten some things from them recently but now with this new info, yikes, I probably won’t. I try to stay informed about these types of issues but hadn’t heard about their union busting until now. Thanks again.

    • Lily November 15, 2020 at 5:53 pm

      Hi Ruth, thanks for reading and commenting! There’s a lot of news, and this was happening during an especially tumultuous time, so it slipped under the radar for a lot of people. Glad this article could be helpful!

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    I'm Lily, and I run races and go places (& blog about it). I also try to advocate for the planet & its people.
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