At the start of the season, Everlane
determines how many yards of ReNew
fabric it will need to make its
garments. Using an algorithm, the
company’s mills in China and Taiwan
calculate how many plastic bottles
will be required for the yarn.
Plastic bottles arrive at the
recycling facilities in Taiwan
and China, compressed into
Plastic bottles are collected
largely from Taiwan and Japan,
countries known for their
efficient recycling systems.
The material from these sources
tends to be cleaner and less
contaminated by trash, which is
important for creating higher-quality recycled plastic.
Bottles are sorted both by
machine and by hand, to make sure
there is no waste matter in the mix.
They are then washed thoroughly,
and their labels are removed.
A grinder shreds the bottles into
1 centimeter flakes.
Step 1 Step 3 Step 2 Step 4
The Phantom Thread
How Everlane turns plastic bottles into its
ReNew outerwear collection
jacket and cartoonishly shoved it full of apples and avocados. “I looked like such a buffoon,” he recalls.
Preysman came of age steeped in both the environmental ethos of the Bay Area—he went to the farmers
market every weekend in his hometown of Sunnyvale—
and the austerity of his parents, computer scientists
who emigrated from Soviet Russia in the late 1970s to
work in the then-nascent Silicon Valley. “They grew up
in a place where you didn’t have that much, so they were
never really [tempted by] overconsumption,” he says.
He remembers his mother carefully washing and drying ziplock bags. Even now, Preysman’s most expensive
possession is the bed in the apartment he shares with
his wife. They don’t own a car.
Preysman had a background in finance, not fashion,
when he launched Everlane at the age of 25. He didn’t
understand how dirty the business was until he started
visiting factories. “You see thousands of units a day com-
ing off the factory floor and every single one is wrapped
in plastic,” he recalls. “You see the wastage of materials,
water, and energy. Then, all of a sudden, you realize that
this is just one of hundreds of thousands of factories, and
one product of hundreds of thousands of products.”
The world’s dependence on plastic is a relatively new
phenomenon. In the late 1800s, scientists created the first
plastic polymers from oil, but it wasn’t until the middle
of the 20th century that humans started mass-producing
it. For a while, it seemed like a miraculous material, ca-
pable of morphing into almost anything we could imag-
ine, from car dashboards to soda bottles to furniture. It
cost very little to produce, which allowed companies to
make disposable items. In August 1955, Life magazine
featured a family blithely tossing plastic spoons, plates,
and wrappers in the air, with the headline, “Throwaway
Living.” Half a century later, our kitchens are still packed
with single-use containers, grocery bags, and Saran wrap.
In the fashion industry, plastics have been transfor-
mative. For much of history, humans fashioned garments
out of natural materials, like cotton, wool, and flax. But
in the 20th century, scientists invented cheap synthetic
fibers—nylon, rayon, polyester—that mimicked natural
ones but were imbued with new functionality. Athletic
brands in the ’80s made neon-colored aerobics outfits
out of stretchy, moisture-wicking Spandex and Lycra,
materials, and the company’s profit margin for each item. Today,
startups such as luggage-maker Away and online grocer Brandless
use similar graphics to illustrate the cost-saving benefits of their
A few years later, Preysman brought a similar transparency to
Everlane’s 35 factories across China, Vietnam, Italy, Spain, Sri Lanka,
Peru, and the United States. Shaken by the collapse of a Bangladesh
clothing factory in 2013, which killed 1,134 garment workers, he
began posting images and descriptions of his own facilities and
their workers on the brand’s website. (As head of supply chain,
Smith says she spends much of the year popping into the factories
unannounced to check on conditions.) At the time, this level of
insight into the supply chain was rare, but today even apparel giants are following suit. Gap began publishing an annual list of the
names and locations of its factories in 2016, and H&M’s two-year-old Arket brand has a Suppliers index on its website that is almost
identical to Everlane’s.
As he pulls back the curtain on what his clothes are made of,
Preysman is confident that his customers will respond. “Consumers
don’t understand where things come from, and until you educate
them, they don’t care,” he says. “If there was full transparency, everybody would know the impact of fashion, and they would make better
decisions.” It’s a mission, in other words, built on faith.
n a recent business trip, Preysman
found himself eating Mc Donald’s for breakfast
during an airport layover. The slim 33-year-old
is more of a kale-and-quinoa kind of guy, but
as he hungrily wandered the terminal, he realized that most of the food around him was
served in plastic. The Egg McMuffin, however,
came wrapped in paper. When I meet up with
him in San Francisco, Preysman tells me that he forgot to bring his
canvas bag to the grocery store a few days earlier. So he zipped up his