Green Is The New Black

In recent years, consumers have called for companies to focus more on sustainable fashion rather than fast-fashion. A study, administered by the International Association for Research and Testing in the Field of Textile Ecology, found that “60 percent of millennials are interested in certified sustainable clothing.” However, only 37 percent of millennials actually purchase sustainable goods.

Part of the reason for this inability to capitalize upon the sustainable fashion market may be a failure to connect elements of fast-fashion with eco-friendly fashion. Fast-fashion prides itself on cheap prices and an endless variety of styles to choose from, allowing consumers to buy more clothing at cheaper prices. However, eco-friendly companies such as Patagonia promote buying limited amounts of clothing at higher prices, but the steady increase in the amount of clothes bought every year shows that consumers still place a high value on fashion.

Sustainable fashion tends to be higher priced due to the additional cost it requires to grow organic materials, and provide proper working conditions and adequate wages. Yet, for Gen Z and millennial consumers, many of whom have not yet entered the workplace, these high prices put sustainable fashion out of their financial reach. In addition, eco-friendly clothing often tends to not be on trend, thus deterring people from buying it even more.

Sustainable fashion tends to be higher priced due to the additional cost it requires to grow organic materials, and provide proper working conditions and adequate wages

However, there are sustainable brands that seem to buck this trend. One such label is Reformation, a company that prides itself on its eco-conscious approach to fashion. Their website claims that they manufacture mostly out of their LA base to reduce their carbon footprint, and that the company proudly makes use of recyclable materials. In addition, their hangers are made out of recycled paper, and they publish a quarterly sustainability report. Like many eco-friendly brands, Reformation is not cheap. But despite the $80-300 price tags on their most popular items, Reformation is all the rage today with Gen Z and millennial consumers. In fact, regularly endorsed by Karlie Kloss and Rihanna, Reformation is perhaps the most trendy and well known eco-conscious fashion label. A large part of their success may be due to the way Reformation has integrated elements of both fast and eco-conscious fashion.

Unlike brands such as H&M and ZARA, which offer a limited selection of eco-friendly goods, Reformation brands itself as an eco-friendly fast fashion company in its huge variety of style, its emphasis on trends, and its sustainability. The seemingly unlimited selection on the Reformation website with its signature LA boho-chic aesthetic, makes one feel as if they are shopping at a trendy, fast-fashion store.  Instead of producing “authentic” vintage pieces, Reformation puts a modern twist on sustainable fashion. For instance, rather than the boxy, utility shirts many companies such as ZARA market as their sustainability line, Reformation has changed the game by making trendy pieces like crop tops and wrap dresses with eco-friendly materials. Reformation’s focus on catering specifically to young fashion trends allows their consumers to feel that they are buying eco-friendly and fashionable clothes, instead of being forced to sacrifice one for the other. Instead of producing “authentic” vintage pieces, Reformation puts a modern twist on sustainable fashion. Indeed, Kathleen Talbot, Reformation’s VP of Sustainability & Operations explains that their brand is founded on the “fundamentals of sustainable fast-fashion”.

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While Reformation has become iconic among summer fashion brands, having trendy designs does not wholly explain why so many people are willing to pay its high price tag. Numerous celebrities and consumers, such as Karlie Kloss, have stated that what keeps her coming back is the feel and cut of the clothes. “I have access to some of the most expensive, elaborate couture pieces” said Kloss to the New York Times. “And yet, in my daily life I wear Reformation.” Part of Reformation’s appeal may also be, paradoxically, its exorbitant prices. Gen Z and millennial consumers increasingly want clothing pieces that are unique: they do not want cookie cutter designs. Additionally, the high prices create a barrier to entry, making the brand feel more ‘exclusive’ and  limiting the likelihood of bumping into someone that is wearing the same piece of clothing. Many customers also assume that high prices are affirmative indicators of high quality.

In addition to emphasizing sustainability in its manufacturing, Reformation has also adopted aspects of the fast fashion industry in its production model. In an interview with Fast Company, Yael Aflalo, the CEO and founder of Reformation, said that she identifies what consumers buy and then produces more. She combines this with sustainability and ensures sure that during the process of creating her products, her workers are paid properly. Reformation, in her eyes, is changing the way fashion is made without changing its style.

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While Reformation’s price tag still keeps itself out of reach for many middle- and low-income consumers, it seems Reformation has been able to capitalize on a specific demographic that is willing to spend the amount of money necessary for eco-conscious fashion, so long as the pieces are stylish and trendy. Reformation’s success signals that instead of ditching the fast-fashion game completely, fashion companies need to incorporate elements of fast fashion in order to successfully bring eco-friendly fashion to the marketplace. The demand for sustainable fast-fashion is already here. It is up to brands to provide more reasonably priced and stylish goods. If companies are able to do so, sustainable practices could become a norm rather than an exception among clothing retailers.