“Being naked is the #1 most sustainable option. We're #2.”
Reformation's provocative tagline best encapsulates the principles of the brand - radical transparency and sustainability. It is a brand that goes the extra step to map out its practices in every stage of production. They invest in sustainable fabrics and encourage circular consumption through their eco-initiatives like RefRecycling. The brand's sustainability efforts seem to go beyond the regular run-of-the-mill corporate greenwashing. After spending hours and hours on their website, reading Op-eds about the brand and even scavenging on Reddit to try and understand the validity of their claims, I can say that Reformation gets a lot of things right but, at the same time, a lot of things wrong.
In its initial days, Reformation mainly worked with deadstock and surplus fabrics but as its capacity and demand for their products grew, they have incorporated fabrics like Lyocell, Tencel and recycled polyester. These fabrics are more sustainable because compared to cotton, they require less water in their production and due to their high breathability, require less washing. A majority of the fabrics used have an A or B rating on the Ref Fibre standard scales and some of its products are Bluesign and Oeko-Tex Standard 100 certified. Similarly, while the brand doesn't use angora, fur, down, or exotic animal skin and uses regenerative wool, they still use leather in a lot of their products. Instead of using real leather or faux leather which is made of PVC, Reformation can source and use recycled leather- a more eco-friendly alternative.
Reformation's business model incorporates sustainable practices within a fast fashion model. The brand produces new, limited edition collections every week and only restocks when the demand for specific clothes are higher by using pre-order and waitlist schemes. Compared to brands like ASOS and Zara, which drop about 100+ new items per week, Reformation's weekly drops are smaller in quantity and more calculated - encouraging thoughtful buying of 'investment' pieces rather than mindless trend following, limited use clothes. They are also carbon neutral and have a very good carbon offsetting scheme.
As a company, Reformation's carbon neutrality is an applaudable measure in the right direction. However, the truth is that their carbon offsetting calculations (explained as 'Kinda like Venmo, but for the Earth') are still vaguely defined and unreliable. The offsetting scheme itself isn't very effective at tackling the bigger picture environmental issues in the fashion industry, remedying only the guilt of the company and its consumers.
Similarly, the focus is on making their clothes last through their shoe-recycling program, special washing instructions and partnerships with thredUP. Their website does quarterly, easy to read sustainability reports where they are transparent about their goals and failures. Reformation takes sizeable steps to close the loop throughout their supply chain.
Transparency throughout their supply chain as well as a really strong code of conduct covering ILO's Four Fundamental Freedoms suggests that Reformation is vocal about paying their workers a living wage and has been successful in doing so. Along with this, there are partnerships established with industry groups like the Fair Labor Association who conduct on-site social responsibility audits.
However, their 2021 Q3 Sustainability report states that due to an increase in the living wage in the US they have been struggling to meet this goal for the year but are taking actionable steps to reach it. The brand's traceability in the final, tertiary and secondary stages are very high, to the point we can trace the factories and see when they were last audited.
The brand also aims to manufacture clothes closer to their stores to reduce transportation emissions and are a 'carbon neutral' brand through its successful offsetting program. According to their website, the final products are made in their factory in Los Angeles with workers from around the world. These majorly good labour and working conditions make Reformation perform well as an ethical brand. Despite this, the brand's report suggests that about 30% of the production takes place in China, which brings about a cloud of doubt about the extent of these practices specifically in those regions.
Overall, I give Reformation 2.5 planets. Reformation is doing more than your regular fashion company, but it still has room for improvement. By rectifying those small signs of greenwashing, delivering on their promises in their reports and incorporating recycling for their clothes as well, Reformation can truly help close the loop and be a champion ethically and sustainably!