The volunteer committee, which oversees
environmental efforts across the company’s
offices and stores, takes its responsibilities
seriously. Everlane, after all, has a reputation to uphold. The startup clothing brand,
which was founded in 2011, waited a full six
years before introducing its first pair of jeans,
holding out for an ethical manufacturer that
recycles 98% of the water used. Last summer,
Everlane launched a “clean silk” line of shirts,
made in an energy-efficient factory using
chemical-free dyes. The year-old committee,
which recently conducted a company-wide
waste audit, is now focused on educating
shoppers, both online and through an in-store
speaker series, about environmental issues.
But first, Raimondi has a pressing mat-
ter to address. She reminds the committee
that Everlane’s office manager will soon
stop stocking the kitchen with mini bags
of Pirate’s Booty and Boom Chicka Pop pop-
corn. Raimondi is anticipating an employee
revolt. “I would just ask everybody here to
take ownership for what’s in the kitchen,”
she tells the group, solemnly. “When people
are like, ‘Where are the chips?’ you can re-
mind them that they come in virgin plastics.”
Everywhere you go at Everlane’s 150-person headquarters, you
find employees wrestling with the plastic problem. In one corner of
the airy, white-walled office, Alison Melville, head of footwear, has
located a tiny sliver of plastic foam in the sole of the brand’s popular
leather Day Heel. How can she persuade the factory in Italy to swap it
out for nonplastic foam? She adds it to her list, which also includes
retrofitting the company’s rain boots and walking shoes with recycled
plastic. Kimberley Smith, who has been general manager of apparel for
the past five years and oversees the company’s supply chain, recently
spearheaded Everlane’s six-month-old ReNew outerwear line, which
uses polyester made from used water bottles. But the coats’ buttons and
zippers are driving her crazy: They’re still made from new, or virgin,
plastic, and she’s scouring suppliers for an alternative.
If employees are spending their days delving into this minutiae,
it’s because Michael Preysman, Everlane’s founder and CEO, has made
it their top priority. In November 2018, he publicly committed to
eradicating all virgin plastic from the company’s supply chain, stores,
company’s products—which are
largely made of natural materi-
als such as cotton, silk, cash-
mere, and leather—are only 10%
synthetic, plastics have woven
their way into everything from
outerwear and stretchy pants
to zipper linings and bra straps.
And then there’s the packaging.
“It’s so hard,” Preysman admits. “Every fucking thing comes in plastic.”
2019 may well be remembered as the year the world began turning against plastic. Thanks to the advocacy of environmental groups
such as Surfrider and Lonely Whale, which spread images and videos
of sea animals choking on single-use plastic straws, cities including
Oakland, California; Seattle; and Washington, D.C., began passing ordinances banning them, and a handful of states, including Hawaii and
California, have introduced similar legislation. The European Union,
meanwhile, is phasing out numerous forms of single-use plastic.
Spurred by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a U.K. nonprofit
that studies plastic pollution, 250 of the world’s biggest brands and
packaged-goods companies, including Danone, H&M, and L’Oréal,
signed a pledge last October to eliminate unnecessary plastic packaging and use recycled materials instead. A coalition of giant companies, including Procter & Gamble, PepsiCo, and Unilever, have started
working with recycling pioneer TerraCycle to sell products such as
Crest mouthwash and Pantene shampoo out of reusable containers
that can be shipped back to the brand to be refilled.
Fashion, too, is starting to reckon with its plastic addiction.
Every year, the industry swallows 98 million tons of nonrenewable resources and 93 billion cubic meters of water, while spewing
1. 2 billion tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. But the industry’s reliance on synthetic materials may be its biggest problem.
An estimated 60% of all textiles used in apparel are derived from
plastic, which equates to nearly 3 trillion plastic bottles every year.
Many of these clothes eventually end up in landfills or our oceans.
Often, clothing companies will burn their unsold stock. “Nature
has evolved to take care of organic waste,” says Roland Geyer, a
professor of industrial ecology at the University of California, Santa
Barbara, “but not plastics.”
Everlane is still a relatively small player in the $1.3 trillion fash-
ion industry, with an estimated annual revenue of $115 million in
2017 (up from $85 million the previous year)—according to PrivCo,
which provides financial intelligence on the U.S. private markets.
Even so, its efforts to eradicate virgin plastic are significant: The
ReNew line alone is on track to divert 100 million plastic bottles
from landfills over the next five years. But Preysman isn’t particularly concerned with absolute numbers. He’s more interested in
proving to the industry that running a plastic-free business is both
economically feasible and a competitive advantage. “Everlane’s
voice is way bigger than our impact,” he says.
Preysman has a knack for upending—and resetting—
fashion-industry norms. When he first introduced the company and its well-made basics to customers, he offered unprecedented insight into the
PHOTOGRAPHS BY MARÍA DEL RÍO
The Everlane Sustainability Committee gathers
in San Francisco on a bright Thursday morning for
its weekly meeting. Three dozen staffers take seats
around a white conference table in the middle
of the company’s open-plan headquarters. Dressed
in a white T-shirt, high-waisted jeans, and block-heeled sandals (a variation on the company’s
signature normcore-basics look), marketing head
Ayni Raimondi calls the meeting to order.