Radical Transparency? H&M and Zara Are Actually More Transparent Than Everlane
Everlane’s go-to is transparency. Pricing transparency – in particular – has garnered the San Francisco-based brand a lot attention since its launch in 2011, including a spot on Fast Co.’s 20146 “50 Most Innovative Companies” list. It also earned Everlane “$12 million in revenue in 2013, and double that in 2014,” according to Bloomberg. Buzzy company slogans, like “Radical Transparency” and easy-to-read infographics that chart the production cycle of its popular garments have made the e-commerce startup a go-to for hip millennials with money and a conscience when it comes to their clothes.
In an industry famous for shrouding the connection between what it costs to manufacture garments and accessories, and the price that consumers pay for those items, Everlane seemingly fills a void; hence, its success. Price transparency aside, on the heels an array of garment manufacturing-related tragedies in recent years and amongst a larger call – particularly from millennials – for more ethically sound garments, Everlane founder and CEO, Michael Preysman, a former Investment Associate, saw a business opportunity in ethically made clothing.
In addition to offering appealing basics – such as cashmere turtlenecks, cotton crewneck sweaters, striped t-shirts, and modern oxfords – Everlane has won over consumers with its openness. Appealing to consumers is its “disruption” of the fashion industry, which comes in the form of supply chain transparency. From the design phase to transport, Everlane shines a light on the costs of its business model, thereby highlighting the differences between its model and the “traditional retail” model, which includes middlemen and retail, which drive up the price. Additionally, the company boasts its utilization of world-class factories, “the very same ones that produce your favorite designer labels.”
However, despite such seemingly straightforward dealings, Everlane is cloaked in quite a bit of mystery, itself. As retail-focused website Racked noted in an article last year, “For all its talk of transparency, Everlane is extremely tightlipped about internal goings-on. Preysman was the only Everlane employee offered up for this story, and no one from the design or creative teams was made available to be interviewed. Repeated requests to visit the brand’s New York office were declined.”
So, just how transparent is Everlane really?
TRADE SECRETS OR JUST SECRETS?
A closer look at Everlane’s website and marketing materials – complete with enormously vague language in place of definitive facts to support its claims of transparency and ethical production – reveals that there is almost certainly more at play in the Everlane model than meets the eye. In accordance with Everlane’s motto – “Know your factories. Know your costs. Always ask why.” – one of its core missions is enabling consumers to know the factories in which their clothes are being made. With this in mind, there is a major red flag at issue when it comes to Everlane: Its factory list.
Everlane does a nice job of listing the location cities of its factories, how many individuals each factory employs, the year that each factory was established, what garments are produced there, and the weather in each of the given cities where these factories are located. All of this information is contained in a concise summary for each of Everlane’s supplier factories. The factory descriptions also include lovely photos of the factories’ interiors and their smiling laborers.
What Everlane fails to do, though, is list the names of its factories. Instead, it opts to label them according to the products they produce for the brand, such as “The Specialty Knits Factory,” “The Travel Bag Factory,” and “The Casual Wovens Factory.” In this way, H&M is more transparent than Everlane. As you may know, the Swedish fast fashion giant identifies 98.5% of its first tier factories/suppliers by name and address, and even lists some of these factories’ suppliers.
In accordance with Everlane’s motto, we ask: Why would a brand based on transparency not list its factories? Preysman has a seemingly rational answer, of course. He told the Wall Street Journal in 2013 that the company withholds the names of its factories for trade secret purposes. He says that Everlane does not name names in order to prevent competitors from utilizing the factories that he and his team have “spent months finding.” Preysman says he simply “doesn’t want competitors moving in on his turf.”
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