Everlane was founded in 2010 on a vow to work with ethical, fair-wage factories and to sell clothing to consumers directly and transparently: Here's what producing this T-shirt costs, here's what we make off a purchase. Three years ago, founder Michael Preysman decided to cut Everlane's use of new plastic--a challenge for an apparel company with 160 staffers. --As told to Sheila Marikar
In 2016, we launched a line of puffer jackets. Pretty much all of the collection was made with virgin plastic. I wanted to figure out how to make them with nonvirgin plastic--either postconsumer, like when you throw out a used water bottle, or postindustrial, like, "We made a bunch of water bottles but they're defective, so they'll all be thrown out."
But using nonvirgin plastic adds three months to the delivery time, because it takes a lot more work to perfect a product before it goes out the door. It's also about 10 percent more expensive. Still, in 2017, we did a small run with nonvirgin plastic to see if it worked. In late 2018, we did our entire ReNew collection that way.
We've eliminated virgin plastic from elsewhere in our supply chain, too. As we've scaled, we've started working with factories in Asia and Europe, which wrapped all of our orders in big plastic bags. We got them to switch to recycled plastic. We have a low-tolerance policy with our factories. To make sure they're following our instructions, we do four audits a year, one of which is a surprise.
It goes further. Polyester, nylon, and spandex all come from virgin plastic. Here's the thing, though: The world produces billions of plastic water bottles a year, so there's plenty of supply to recycle into something that can be made into synthetic fabrics.
Last year, we started attacking virgin plastic in Everlane's offices and retail stores, too. We give every employee a heat-saving cup. If they go out to get coffee, they can take the cup. (Of course, the cups say "Everlane.") When I go to my local juice shop, I bring my own containers. We don't reward employees for this behavior. We want people to do it of their own volition.
Plastic has always been 10 to 15 percent of our supply chain, and that hasn't changed. But in 2010, all of that plastic was virgin. By 2021, it will all be nonvirgin.
If anyone wants to deplasticize their business, start with easy, big wins. (For us, it was our factories' big shipping bags.) Then, systematically chip away at other sources.
Making your office virgin-plastic-free will be harder than getting it out of your supply chain: Food, computers--they're not easy to control. Finding alternative sources isn't always easy. But, for us, it's part of our mission. We can't not do this.