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How Reformation Intends to Trailblaze Sustainable Fast Fashion

Los Angeles-based Reformation is writing its own story.

From changing perceptions of what it means to be “fast fashion,” to encouraging consumers to upcycle, recycle and shop consignment, the company is developing its own dynamic narrative as a sustainable  apparel brand with the majority of its production in the U.S.

And in 2017, the brand made noise in the denim industry when it launched Ref Jeans, a line of affordable jeans that meet the same sustainable material standards (i.e. deadstock and sustainable denim made with Tencel and Refibra) and manufacturing practices as its core collection.

That’s no easy feat for an industry that’s often described as the dirtiest.

At the Sustainable Fashion Forum  in Los Angeles Thursday, hosted by Fashiondex and LA Textile, Reformation’s director of sustainability Carrie Freiman and VP of operations and sustainability Kathleen Talbot, provided a look into the brand’s sustainable operations.

By developing an unique sourcing model and with a willingness to experiment, here’s a look at how Reformation aims to elevate the concept of fast fashion.

Breaking industry norms

Reformation produces new 15- to 20-piece collections on a weekly basis—a manufacturing move that Talbot says actually reduces waste. The company calls it “sustainable fast fashion.”

“I think a lot of people would think of that as an oxymoron,” she said, “But this is how our business model works and runs.

On average, 60 percent of Reformation’s collection is produced in the company’s 120,000-square-foot facility near Los Angeles, where roughly 250 factory employees build weekly collections. “It’s something that we’re really proud of, and has really been a part of it how we built the brand,” Talbot said.

It takes 40 to 45 days from products to go from design to Reformation’s stores.

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Working under quick cycles, Freiman said the company can boast a zero-waste rate because its designers have to design with the materials at hand—deadstock or sustainable materials—instead of designing for new materials and resources.

And the brand has a roster of sustainable fabrics to pull from. Reformation breaks fabrics down into five classifications, the top tier being fabrics (or All Stars) that are natural, come from renewable plant bases and have the potential for circularity, and the latter being materials that it won’t touch, like fur and mohair.

The benefits of control

By being a vertically integrated company with no minimums, Freiman said it has control of what it produces. “We can test products and do the limited runs that are really driving our business model. It also lets us have that speed to market,” she said.

That vertical integration also allows the brand to ensure it’s making responsible decisions for its facility.

“We have 100 percent renewable energy credits. We are supported by wind energy, both in our facility as well as our headquarters and all of our stores. We also have a pretty robust waste diversion program,” Freiman said.

Set sustainable goals

“Setting standards is one thing, but in order to drive change, we really need to push the dial a little bit more,” Talbot said.

One of Reformation’s goals is to have 75 percent of its range machine washable in cold water. And this is where a lot of collaboration between the brand’s fabric team, designers and the end user must take place.

“The most important stakeholder here is our customers, they play a critical role in the lifecycle of their garments,” Talbot said. “And we really try to work on educational customer engagement through our labels, hang tags newsletters, even in stores, to really educate them to wash that garment in cold water.”

The brand also aims to help customers think about recycling in a new way.

Nearly 6 percent of the annual trash load is textiles, Talbot said. “Ultimately, brands aren’t exactly on the hook for that. Consumers have more and more options for channels that they can divert that waste,” she added.

But Reformation believes it can do more to influence better waste disposal.

This year, the company committed to repurpose at least 75,000 garments. “We’re well on our way,” Freiman said, adding, “We’re engaging consumers in the conversation and influencing the right types of behaviors to address this problem at the root.

Experiment with retail

As consumers become more comfortable with the idea of resale, Reformation sought ways to be part of the conversation. The company launched a partnership last week with ThredUp, the world’s largest secondhand shopping destination. Through the collaboration, consumers can exchange unwanted apparel and accessories for credit to use in Reformation stores and e-commerce.

Diversifying how consumers can shop your brand, while instilling habits that are good for the environment, will be the future of retail. From buy-back programs, to rental marketplaces, Talbot said some of the most buzzed about retail concepts as of late rely on consignment or the sharing economy.

“We really encourage our customers, and everyone in the room, to just think about what works for you,” she added. “There might be a suite of solutions that you want to try out, test and review.”

For small- or mid-size brands like Reformation, Talbot said one of the ways a company can magnify its impact is partnering with the other companies that have already done the ground work. For Reformation, the partnership is a chance to plug into ThredUp’s robust apparel recycling and retail infrastructure.

“We’re really excited about this collaboration, not just because we think our customers will participate in this retail marketplace, but also because it’s the first-time ThredUp has collaborated with a brand and we hope other brands will follow,” Talbot said.