Why I’m Quitting Everlane
Well, the time has come to say goodbye…to Everlane.
If you’ve been following me over the years, you’ll know that:
- I was a very early adopter of Everlane, purchasing my first items in late 2013.
- I have been a staunch supporter of Everlane’s “we’re working on it” strategy toward sustainability.
- I was mostly nonplussed by the news in December that part time workers were pissed off considering their comparatively high wages and company perks.
I wrote in my last Everlane think piece that I would be waiting to see how Everlane handled customer service workers’ (or “CX”) request to unionize. If they retaliated by firing those employees, there would be trouble.
Yesterday, that’s exactly what happened.
Update: Everlane finally responded with a press release from the founder, which you can read on their Instagram account. Additional FAQs available here. While this does not change my decision at this time, I do believe that this was complicated by serious cashflow and profitably issues, and sincerely hope that Everlane can get its act together before it sinks in the mire of global strife.
Everlane Lays Off Workers Trying to Unionize
On March 20, Everlane let go of 8 temporary workers, in a move they said corresponded to a contract period unrelated to the Coronavirus slump. I’m not here to discuss that – there are too many unknowns there to make a case. (I should also note that the Everlane Union team has decided to report updates almost exclusively through Vice, a “news” source I find to be intentionally inflammatory and smug, kind of like a white liberal bro who is only a socialist for “the economy” or something. I take their analysis with a grain of salt.)
Yesterday, however, while scrolling on Instagram, I noticed that several comments on Everlane’s recent post were suggesting that Everlane had fired even more workers. When I went over to the EverlaneU page, it was confirmed:
“Nearly every member of our team (40+ people) was just laid off en masse. Retail workers from Everlane stores are being trained to replace us to answer your support emails. We are devastated beyond measure.”
Keep in mind that, not more than a week ago, Everlane reassured customers that they were keeping on all retail staff with pay despite store closures and maintaining their largely-remote customer service team.
Yet, mere days after the now-unionized CX team asked management to recognize their union, they were let go, the decision conveniently shielded under the guise of pandemic-related financial stressors.
The full VICE article regarding this update can be found here.
Interestingly, in a positive move that other CEOs should note, founder Michael Preysman has stopped taking a salary at this time. Still, one wonders where that money is now freed up to go if it’s not supporting vulnerable workers.
It’s Not Just Everlane, but Everlane Doesn’t Get a Free Pass
As I mentioned earlier this week, dozens of brands are struggling to bear the weight of staff salaries in a stifled and uncertain economy.
I expect that fair trade and small, independent brands will struggle. After all, they’re running on very thin margins without access to investors like the bigger guys.
But when companies like Everlane – and even Eileen Fisher! – report that they “can’t” pay their workers when it’s been less than a month since Covid-19 fears have significantly dampered regular life, I wonder why there were no rainy day funds. I get that these organizations are likely losing millions of dollars in very short spans of time, but where have all the profits gone? Is it symptomatic of the high-risk demands of the Capitalist system or is it something else?
All I know is that part of the reason I continued to support Everlane was because, presumably, they had a business model that could support dips and whims in the marketplace. Because I thought, even if they were’t always as sustainable or forthcoming as they should be, at least they were strong as a rock.
Look, I think this whole thing is complicated. When I asked a friend what they thought, they said that they weren’t surprised that a company that was paying a living wage (based on where most remote CX employees were located) rejected demands to recognize a union.
They brought up an interesting point that we have no idea what the demands of the union were, and whether they occupied territory most of us would find reasonable. There is a clear differential in the way the parties involved are being represented in these articles.
But frankly, I’m not only frustrated that employees were laid off in a moment in which everyone is sinking in the quicksand of our broken health and financial systems, existentially worried about what their lives will look like, or if we’ll make it out of this. I’m frustrated that messaging to customers has been smiley and reassuring rather than forthcoming.
I’m frustrated, too, that affiliate partners and sustainability-minded customers like me, who are the reason Everlane took off in those early days, have been trampled over in favor of the cooler, less morally-concerned influencers and customers.
This reads to me as an f-you to the people who championed radical transparency from the beginning. After all, if I say goodbye to Everlane, they probably won’t even feel it.
The Financial Burden of Quitting Everlane
Everlane is how I make the bulk of affiliate income, with a few thousand dollars a year credited exclusively to Everlane commissions. Letting them go as part of my financial strategy will hurt, badly, especially as a student who cannot work full time in a traditional job.
To be honest, I cried last night when I heard the news about mass layoffs, knowing I could no longer sit comfortably in the gray area.
One of the big reasons I’ve continued to support Everlane is that they represent what people like me actually want to wear. I can’t live in block printed dresses or funky, recycled cotton patchwork tunics. I also don’t have a lot of money.
Part of my disappointment is really a type of grief, compounded on larger disappointments and uncertainties during this fragile time. I feel that I have now lost an option that fills a badly-needed niche. While I know alternatives exist, it makes me skeptical about the whole enterprise of advocating for ethical fashion when there are still so many gaps, so many reasons to criticize a brand.
What Quitting Everlane Looks Like
While what Everlane did puts a nail in the coffin on calling them an “ethical” brand, they are still no worse than many of the conventional brands those of us in the sustainable/ethical fashion community continue to patronize. With that in mind:
- I’m not going to make them my sworn enemy.
- I am going to take them off of shopping guides that are oriented around a higher ethical standard than Everlane.
- I will stop headlining them in clothing reviews.
- I will still wear Everlane because I own a lot of it.
- I ask you to help me figure out who to replace them with.
- I will start posting a Ko-Fi donation button on non-sponsored posts.
I also ask for your suggestions regarding sustainable and ethical brands I can directly partner with once we’re all ready to work on our marketing strategies again.
Well, there’s no easy way to end this post, but I invite your comments, thoughts, and questions.
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Leah Wise is the founder of StyleWise Blog. She has been writing, speaking, and consulting on sustainable fashion, the fair trade and secondhand supply chain, and digital marketing for over ten years. An Episcopal priest, Leah holds a B.A. in Religion from Florida State University and an M.Div. from Yale Divinity School. When not working, you can find her looking for treasures at the thrift store.
Thursday 2nd of April 2020
Thanks for this post Leah - I've been keeping up with this situation but your post really clarifies the issue, and from the point of view of an affiliate and supporter of Everlane, which I am also. I'm going to have to edit my own review of Everlane's ethics and follow suit by reducing my coverage of them too.
A few places that may fill the gap: Organic Basics, Sézane (although I don't know if they have an affiliate scheme), Ninety Percent, Saint + Sofia, People Tree...
Thursday 2nd of April 2020
I appreciate you chiming in. It's really complicated and I do hope that they can come out on the other side of this and make some positive changes. I keep seeing Sezane marketed as ethical, but it has always seemed iffy. I see they've made lots of improvements to their fabrics in the last year or so, but do you know anything about their factories? Thanks for the others recs, too!
Tuesday 31st of March 2020
I’m really happy I found this post and to see how you chose to approach the situation. I’ve seen a lot of inflammatory comments directed at Everlane and also at people who work with the brand, representing those affiliates as greedy for example... Quite the statement considering the partnership may form the bulk of someone's income (as is in your case). I imagine there are contracts in place and if those influencers wouldn’t deliver a contracted post it would probably further hurt them financially. I also read your last year’s post in response to the December Vice article and couldn't agree more! I’m not saying it’s great to treat customer service representatives as expendable, but as a former remote customer support employee for American company I couldn’t help but shrug at that particular “scandal”. There’s a reason why me and my (also remote) colleagues used to refer to each other as “bottom feeders”...
I myself am torn as to what to do with the store credit I accumulated recently by accident—whether to try reaching the CX team (who are probably struggling massively) and have them issue a cash refund (which they might refuse), to just use up the store credit now and stop shopping at Everlane from then on, or to let the money go. A lot of people talk about how disappointed they are in the brand, and so am I, but it’s not as straightforward as some would like it to be.
Tuesday 31st of March 2020
Thank you for your feedback. I am glad you mentioned that influencers are being targeted only because I feared that would happen and, like you, I think it's complicated. Many people don't realize that the majority of influencers are not making a living wage and might have more in common with the hourly CX workers than anyone else, and that's what makes this particularly hard to parse. We are all victims of a system, but we also have some measure of agency, and deciding how to navigate that can feel insurmountable.
If I were you, I would probably go ahead and spend the store credit. It's your money and in essence, you're just trying to "cash out" of their system. I am also very mindful of the fact that, while Everlane's "dirty laundry" is on display right now, there are hundreds of companies I haven't looked into regarding how they're handling the financial downturn. I don't want to be more critical of them just because I know more about their inner workings.
Monday 30th of March 2020
Feeling very much the same about Everlane. I feel like I can't in good conscience continue supporting/recommending them - I'd become increasingly frustrated with their unsustainable, fast-fashion-lite product release schedule, and this is the nail in the coffin. Still, I'm disappointed to lose a favorite brand. (The vast majority of my workwear is Everlane. In fact, I'd just gotten their silk wrap top for my birthday earlier this month before the news broke.) Given that most ethical workwear is not the broadest market, I'm not sure what I'll replace them with..
Monday 30th of March 2020
Yes, sigh. I authentically love their products and consider some of their items irreplaceable. With that in mind, I am going to be keeping a close eye on how they proceed (it's not looking good so far - their PR person is making some wrong moves!) and will reevaluate if possible. I'm also reminding myself that if I absolutely *must* make a personal purchase from them, that is no worse than supporting any number of unethical companies I still purchase from. But as a marketer, I obviously can't promote them according to a set of ethical standards they no longer adhere to.
Saturday 28th of March 2020
The whole thing is really hard. Unpaid leave lets workers keep their health insurance, which is vital right now, and letting workers go lets them file for unemployment and look for immediate jobs. I don't know what's better or right. It is frightening that large businesses and corporations don't have more savings.