As the Black Lives Matter movement presses on and brands issue statements of varying impact, former employees of the sustainably-branded business have banded together to call for change.
A group of “former Black, POC, and white allied employees” who have dubbed themselves the Everlane Ex-Wives Club, are calling the brand out for its “toxic workplace culture” and imploring it to stop unduly benefiting from racial capitalism.
In a statement released on Instagram (@ex.wives.club) last week, the group used Everlane’s favored motto against it.
“What does ‘radical transparency’ truly mean? We understand for Everlane it means a transparent supply chain and cost structure. But capitalism and the means of production are inherently connected to systemic racism—aka racialized capitalism. We consider that Everlane has benefited from this not only across the supply chain, but within the corporate structure as well,” the statement noted.
What Everlane has relied on, according to the Ex-Wives, is what they call “convenient transparency” or only shedding light on certain parts of the supply chain. They’ve even started making commitments to fight racial inequalities in recent weeks, which may have prompted the former employees to bring attention to what they called an “inconvenient reality.”
“We, the former Black, POC, and white allied employees, have witnessed and experienced anti-Black behavior, prejudice in advancement of Black and POC employees, bullying, racial and heteronormative supremacy, manipulation and the intimidation of employees who have attempted to address these issues. Those who dare speak up about terrible management and frustrations with addressing issues like diversity and representation were subdued with excuses, questioned on their loyalty, and fell victim to retaliation,” the statement noted.
The group went on to say that Everlane leaned on the diversity it did have within the company only to its own benefit.
“Everlane broke us. Our spirit, our bodies, and our ideas were considered for their cache and cultural value. Our psyche was manipulated to fall in line with a greenwashed version of sustainability as we ourselves worked unsustainably just to be seen and acknowledged for our contributions while watching our white counterparts advance. We spoke up, we were silenced, and we are now passing on the burden of carrying these memories off to those who must take accountability,” the Ex-Wives wrote.
From there, the statement alleges account after account of racist, gender-biased and unethical behavior, including instances of pay imbalances and retaliation for standing in support of diversity and ethics. It was the group’s own commitment to “radical transparency.”
“Of the 32 black female model cards I presented to the CCO, Alexandra Spunt, for editorial and e-com work (because the company had only hired one half afro-latina/white model until then), she said no to 31, and a “maybe” to a half-black, half-Danish model for ecom. When asked to elaborate, she said, “their looks are a little too severe for Everlane,” “too edgy,” and that the Everlane girl should look “intellectual.” She referenced girls like Ana Kras as aspirational—someone recently called out for anti-black behavior,” one former employee wrote.
Another wrote, “I heard a table of people, including the CCO, Alexandra Spunt, and CEO, Michael Preysman, at a table discussing doing a future “all trans catalog” because “it’s trending” followed by really loud laughter.”
The claims are being taken “at face value” Everlane said in an apology last week addressing its failure to ensure a “diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace.” The company says it’s engaging independent third parties to investigate each issue and hold it accountable for its claims to build “an actively diverse” business in the future.
In an Instagram post on Everlane’s account early Monday, Preysman said he “has fallen short of addressing issues of institutional racism both inside the company and how we present ourselves to the world.”
“I take full responsibility for these shortcomings and I apologize to current and former employees who have experienced harm while working at Everlane. Such experiences must end and I take accountability for the actions necessary to end them,” he said, adding, “This work starts with me personally examining my own white privilege and how that impacts the culture of the company.”
Outlining actions he says the company is taking “immediately,” Preysman said Everlane will implement anti-racism training throughout the company this week, create inclusive spaces for employees to share their concerns, and move away from “a white-centered perspective toward a more inclusive perspective that centers on the BIPOC at Everlane and in our customer and affiliate communities.” The company also plans to review its pay equity between employee groups, rethink its recruiting strategy to build diverse pools of talent, “specifically Black talent,” and develop and publish benchmarks around the process annually.
Preysman’s post—which follows accusations by Everlane’s Customer Experience Union late in March that the company fired workers for trying to form a union—did not seem to sit well. One commenter called the statement “embarrassingly performative,” and others indicated they’d be pulling back on spending with the brand. One said, “I’m done with this company because of this and so many other reasons. Unfollowing and never buying from you again.”
It’s a saga that many brands may face if they can’t make actionable change to their policies on diversity and inclusion in a way that resonates with consumers who aren’t here for pandering and performance.
In response to the #pulluporshutup challenge that’s calling for brands to publicly release the number of Black employees they have at the corporate level in their organizations, Everlane shared the makeup of its team on Instagram.
Its leadership team includes 76 percent women, 29 percent people of color and 6 percent Black. Across the rest of the organization, Everlane said 40 percent of its staff are people of color and 6 percent are Black. “There is only one C-level executive POC and none on our board,” the company wrote. “We have to do better here.”