Is Ethical Fashion Actually Ethical?
By: Emma Rubino
Since its inception in 2009, Reformation has been at the forefront of America’s shift towards sustainable fashion. The brand’s trendy styles and simple silhouettes can be found throughout the social media feeds of influencers or in the closets of the millennials in downtown Manhattan and L.A. Founder Yael Aflalo created the company in the hopes of minimizing the endless waste she witnessed as a model in the fashion industry. Beginning with just a few employees and some customized vintage dresses, Aflalo’s vision has held Reformation on a steady ascension to the top of the industry. By 2019, Reformation had projected sales of $150 million and $37 million from investors. The idea of a whole brand centered around sustainable fashion makes customers feel morally centered and better about spending, say, three hundred dollars on a dress. Not only does the company preach ethical design, but they even have an entire section of their website dedicated to sustainability, explaining their clothing creation process and how each material they use is essential to reducing our carbon footprint. Seems pretty wholesome right? What else could one want from a company?
Ending 2019 with millions of dollars in sales and 500,000 Instagram followers, things looked up for Reformation entering 2020. For the rest of us, 2020 has been a huge let down for the brand. Not only did they face the implications of the Covid-19 pandemic affecting production and sales, but as the country erupted in protests and pushed for the eradication of racial injustices, allegations against Reformation sent a massive hit to their wholesome aesthetic and brand foundation. A former employee of the environmentally friendly powerhouse made a post on social media claiming that working at the store was an extremely toxic environment, rife with systemic racism. She stated that women of color were constantly overlooked when it came time to promote and when concerns were brought forward about possible prejudice, higher-ups in the company dismissed their claims. Aflalo’s name was spotlighted as treating employees with “disgust.” It was even reported that when asked about using a Black model in a campaign, the founder claimed “we’re not ready for that yet.”
A few days following the viral social media post, Yael Aflalo stepped forward on Instagram. She claimed to have ‘failed’ in bringing sustainability in terms of equality and in an effort to make a change Reformation donated $500,000 to various equality initiatives. After the continual backlash, Aflalo decided to step down from her position as CEO of the company.
How is it that a company that preaches a “do-good” attitude treated the hard working people supporting their business so poorly? Thoroughly promoting ethical fashion choices, but denying ethics when it comes to human rights, essentially negates any potential benefit. Millennials and style influencers everywhere were extremely put off by these allegations and are now on the hunt for a new ethical brand to keep their moral compass in line, while still maintaining their cool-girl aesthetic. Many even went as far as to pressure Nordstrom to withdraw their affiliation with the brand in an effort to remove the promotion of clothes woven with the fabric of racism.
With all the stress, anxiety, and unknown this year has brought, it is refreshing to see the people of our generation staying consistent with their beliefs and wholeheartedly abandoning brands that promote unethical behavior. The rise and fall of Reformation has been eye-opening. It highlights the importance of researching the brands you purchase from, and in more ways than one. Morals at the forefront of a brand’s message can be extremely dissonant from the morals embedded in their foundations. Ethical production doesn’t always equate to an ethical company.