Tomorrow, 10 years after it launched, the cult Los Angeles label Reformation opens its first UK store. You may not know the brand’s name but you’ve probably seen its signature style, which has saturated Instagram for the past few years. Much copied, it is a sort of digital native take of boho: a floral dress with a high leg split, a deep square neckline, a button-down front or spaghetti straps.
What makes Reformation the most 2019 of fashion brands, however, is its green credentials, claiming to operate as a “100% carbon, water and waste neutral company”. Its combination of sass and sustainability – “Being naked is the #1 most sustainable option. We’re #2” reads the brand’s Instagram bio – has won it an army of followers. “#RefBabes” include Bella Hadid, Emily Ratajkowski, Taylor Swift and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex.
Reformation dresses aren’t cheap compared with high street competitors – prices range from £80 to £435 – but they sell out quickly, on average within 38 days. Despite the higher prices, the brand describes itself as fast fashion – its website highlights the fact that “at Ref a sketch can become a dress in about a month” – whereas this process can often taken around 18 months for non-fast fashion labels.
Answering, and driving, consumer desire for newness while working hard to be sustainable is a very modern fashion contradiction – and a model most environmental campaigners would probably dismiss.
Overall, the brand’s sustainability policies seem sincere and comprehensive. CEO Yael Aflalo has often talked about founding the company after being shocked to discover the pollution caused by clothing manufacturing on a trip to China. As a result, Reformation tracks the environmental impact of the clothes it produces, while 2–5% of the products are made out of vintage clothing, repurposed into new pieces. They also use deadstock and eco-friendly fabrics, and recycle, compost or donate textile scraps, with the goal of becoming entirely zero waste. The brand doesn’t use polyester, nylon, virgin polyester, virgin nylon and conventional cotton, due to their excessive carbon footprint.
Even so, Reformation has on occasion failed to meet its own targets: when its 2018 Sustainability Report was published it was revealed that just 22% of the factory team were paid LA’s living wage. Meanwhile, just 26% of all fabric spend came with clean chemical certifications (the company’s goal was 75% for both). Despite these failings, the brand’s openness has been praised for being better than most. Even the carbon cost of the launch party for the brand’s British outpost has been carefully considered: among many initiatives, a tree will be planted for every guest in attendance.
The opening Notting Hill will be the first standalone store in the UK with the full Reformation range of products (following dedicated spaces at Selfridges and Browns East). Previously, British fans have been able to shop the collection online – where packaging is made from 100% recycled paper products and compostable bio-based materials – but faced high shipping charges on returns (not to mention the carbon footprint created by international shipping).
Imperfect as it may be, Reformation has certainly disproved the longstanding fashion truism that sustainability cannot be sexy. Sexy sustainability is what it does best.