Reformation, the fastest-growing slow fashion brand, allows fans of the cult-label to peak behind the scenes of its sustainable factory.
If you peruse social media and fashion magazines on the regular, you may have noticed a shift in aesthetics in recent years. Where once women who touted flashy logos and perfectly polished outfits reigned supreme on the street style pages, in their place is a new wave of nonchalant it girls. Thanks to these belle fille, wicker picnic baskets have become the new must-have arm candy, and nonchalant printed sundresses, clogs, and vintage-inspired accessories have never seemed so lust-worthy.
This look is mainly thanks to one woman. Surprisingly, her name isn’t one that’s as common in the public sphere as she’s neither a model, a street style maven, nor one of the many Instagram-celebrities whose outfits you double tap with abandon.
Meet Yael Aflalo, the founder of Reformation, who albeit once was a model. A work trip to China impassioned Aflalo, already a seasoned fashion designer, to start Reformation. Witnessing first hand the devastating impact that the colossal-sized clothing factories were having on the environment compelled her to think about producing garments in a different way.
She launched her eco-friendly label in 2009, altering vintage finds and Levi’s 501s by jazzing them up and selling them on to a niche crowd in Los Angeles. The concept of what would eventually grow into one of the most popular brands in the city was already intact. Yet having found success with repurposing girly dresses sourced at flea markets, Aflalo was convinced there was still more to be done in order to guarantee a completely green, ethical brand.
Fast forward a decade, and that small store on La Brea Avenue has become a major player in the American apparel industry. As Reformation puts it, being naked is the most sustainable fashion option - but they are a close second. The brand is 100% committed to transparency, and, unlike almost every other clothing label in the world, they aren’t afraid to show every step of the process.
When many high-end and affordable brands keep the realities of their apparel factories as a closely guarded secret, Reformation does quite the opposite. On the first Friday of the month, they openly welcome the public to come check out where and how the garments that they buy en masse are made.
Yesterday, over 30 people gathered at the bright and airy reception of the Reformation factory located in Vernon, an industrial area just outside Los Angeles. Remarkably, you could tell the impact of Reformation’s signature e-commerce styling by observing the outfits of all those in attendance: high-waisted denim paired with shirred tops and pastel mules, flirty sundresses teamed with vintage mini Chanel bags, and scrunchies. Lots of scrunchies.
How often can you say that you know exactly where your garments come from? While I try to source pre-loved items from vintage and thrift shops, and buy from eco-friendly brands like Reformation, I’m still a sucker for ~throwaway bits~ from fast fashion giants like Penneys, ZARA, and H&M. Seeing first hand the effort, manpower, and care that goes into just one little slip dress was an experience that I feel will impact how I shop for clothes in the future.
Philippe Brzezinski, the brand’s Vice President of Manufacturing, led the tour. He highlighted how Reformation buys in dead stock fabric and denim; that is, rolls or scraps that will certainly be discarded by other, larger factories. Between 100 to 1,000 yards of certain fabrics will be ordered, but one thing you will never find in this warehouse is 100% cotton as it is too harmful for the environment.
While other fashion designers will conceptualise a garment and then select an appropriate fabric, Reformation looks at the raw materials and figures out what it can be turned into - taking into account current trends and existing popular sellers. This is smart for several reasons. Not only does this reduce waste and pollution, it allows Reformation to work quicker than other brands as they already have the fabric on hand, and it gives them the flexibility to have styles on the market in a mere week. Brzezinski explains, it’s not unusual for a garment to be cut, sewn, and packed for sale within seven days. That week in question, over 7,000 units were cut from the dead stock fabric by ten or so cutters (in general each week would see between 5,000-6,000 styles cut.) This also explains why the cutting line was empty - employees had been given the day off to watch the World Cup as a reward for smashing their targets, Brzezinski laughed.
As is to be expected, the cult-status that this brand has garnered means that one factory is no longer sufficient to keep up with demand. Brzezinski explained that they now work with several other sewing houses in LA for lines like Ref Swim and Ref Jeans. Regular audits and a strict compliance program are enforced to ensure quality across every area of production.
At the heart of the factory are its sewers. Brzezinski led us to an area where women and men of all ages worked on their assignments. Sleeves of wrap dresses dangled from some machines, while Bardot crop tops were finished in single needle work by others. These experienced sewers make above minimum wage, which is $14 in Vernon/Los Angeles, and those with upwards of ten year’s experience are paid a higher, comparable rate.
Every week, these sewers work diligently to produce up to 5,000 units a week (including regular replenishment of all-time best sellers like the Persimmon and Gavin dresses.) Yet, it’s still not enough. The brand now needs to produce up to 25,000 pieces a week - hence the need for other LA-based sewing houses, and manufacturing in compliant factories in Turkey and South Asia, all of which are inspected regularly and graded for quality assurance and employee standards.
As for the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory moment? Enter the Reformation styling studio. A major part of the label’s success has undoubtedly come from nailing its insouciant styling. With the help of in-house stylists and Alfalo, a look can start the week as dead stock fabric, and be photographed on a model against those instantly recognizable white wooden floors mere days later. As was to be expected, the props that lined the shelves of this styling studio - think vintage belts, sun hats, gold jewelry, and many, many baskets - are worthy of an article all of their own.
Out of the factory floor and into the office, Reformation’s team of marketing pros, sustainability coordinators, and e-commerce gurus look…well, exactly as you would imagine them to. The kind of cool-girls with iced coffees and understated California style that the brand targets. Even the dogs that freely roamed the office seemed to have quirky, silk scarves knotted around their necks in a way you or I could only dream of pulling off.
For more information on Reformation’s Sustainability Principles, visit here.