Is there a reason to be optimistic about Reformation’s latest sustainability announcement?

Reformation, the trendy California brand, has had a tough year. Now, the self-described sustainable company is looking to 2021 for a refresh. There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of its promises to change, but there are also reasons to be optimistic. Has Reformation reached its lowest low? Can it relive its glory days? Are its newest environmental initiatives to be trusted? Or is Reformation just going to let us down again?


Reformation started as a trendy, environmentally-friendly brand made for California cool girls.

Created in 2009, Reformation is the brainchild of founder Yael Aflalo, a designer who was interested in creating a brand that was better for the environment. Yael had previously launched another label, Ya-Ya, but after noticing wasteful practices in the fashion industry, she decided to take a step back and reimagine her role as a designer and brand owner. Over the past 11 years, Reformation has grown into a brand beloved by the Millennial and Gen Z crowd. Its timeless, but also modern, aesthetic has helped, but what really appeals to consumers is that the brand stands for something. Unlike other cool girl brands such as Brandy Melville and Urban Outfitters, Reformation considers the environmental and human toll of every item it makes. For the growing number of consumers concerned about the issues like climate change and worker exploitation, finding a brand with values is important.


As the brand has grown, it has struggled to maintain its good reputation.

Reformation's popularity is well deserved, but it has proven to be difficult to manage. Thanks to an extremely successful social media push, the brand has grown almost too rapidly, and as a result, Reformation has strayed from its original values a bit. The LA-based brand used to source materials and house its cut-and-sew operations in the city. Now, nearly half of Reformation's manufacturing takes place abroad in countries like China and Mexico. The supply chain had to be moved to locations that can handle bigger orders and faster turnaround times because that is what Reformation requires to continue its growth. At the beginning of December, the brand released about 70 new products, proof that Reformation follows a fast fashion model now. That has led some to question whether the brand can still claim to be environmentally sustainable. Then there's the drama that led to Yael Aflalo stepping down as CEO of the company over the summer this year. Accusations of racism in the workplace led to an independent investigation that revealed that it was not just people of color who were treated poorly, but all employees under top management that were victims of the clique-like behavior at Reformation offices. Yael has not resumed her role as CEO and it is unclear if she intends to come back to the brand in the future.

Now Reformation is looking to put the past in the past and prove that it can be a big, environmentally sustainable brand.

After quite a troubling year, this California brand is undoubtedly ready to be done with 2020. Reformation's new CEO, Hali Borenstein, has promised to change the workplace environment and invest in a better future for the brand. She also said that the workplace investigation provided a "clear path forward and direction on where we should go next." That path forward appears to include a return to environmental sustainability following the release of new commitments, including becoming carbon negative and sourcing 10% of material from regenerative farms. Reformation hopes to achieve its regenerative agriculture goals by 2025, but there is no date set for the carbon negative initiative. According to Business of Fashion, "The company will set an internal carbon price to help share the cost of investments required to directly reduce the impact of its manufacturing with suppliers, rather than offsetting." Reformation's determination to avoid offsetting is hopefully a good sign that this won't just turn out to be a buzzy marketing ploy.

Commentary:

Reformation's new goals are great news for the planet and should be celebrated. Even if the brand struggled in the past, there is reason to be optimistic about the future. Reformation can't continue down the road it was on; this year proved that. Hopefully, time will tell of a brand that is good for the environment and stylish. A brand that treats it's employees with respect and can still grow. Truth be told, Reformation has no choice but to change into that brand; there are only so many CEOs it can go through.

As for the success of these environmental initiatives, regenerative agriculture is the future for material sourcing and it is great to see Reformation investing in that. It is also relatively easy to implement, so the brand should have no issue meeting its 2025 goal. Carbon negativity, on the other hand, is a bit more complicated. It is necessary for Reformation to uncomplicate it, though, because the brand cannot continue to produce at the rate it currently is without some kind of operational offset. Ensuring that its 70 new products are one-day taking carbon emissions out of the atmosphere would certainly qualify the brand as an environmentally sustainable, fast fashion brand, which according to Hali Borenstein, is Reformation's end goal.