How Everlane failed on race and environment

What employees call a culture of “convenient transparency” is no surprise

Kayli Kunkel
Jun 24, 2020 · 4 min read

As someone who has long made environmentally friendly fashion the mainstay of my closet—which is to say, I don’t spend much money or time on fashion whatsoever—I was sold easily on Everlane. The online brand practiced “radical transparency,” a commitment to sharing their production process for high-quality clothing that was crafted ethically and sustainably. (Or, so we were told.)

For the past six years, I would routinely buy items for my capsule wardrobe and wear them out for years, then bring them to be tailored or cobbled for a few more years. My friends joked, “What are you not wearing from Everlane today?” and at times I’d have a head-to-toe outfit from their collection.

When I moved to New York City I found the brand’s small try-on popup in the second floor of a SoHo walkup. I frequented it. When Everlane opened up their first official storefront, I waited an hour in a line that snaked around the block of Prince Street.

I wasn’t a massive fan because of anything Everlane did. I was a fan because of what other brands wouldn’t do. “Radical transparency,” to me, meant seeing exactly what went into my clothing. The simplicity of their selection—from black flats, to grey sneakers, and monotone cashmere sweaters—meant I could keep clothes in rotation for ages before wearing them down. As someone who’s only bought one piece of clothing (a protest tee) in the last four months, this was a committed relationship for me.

But I first smelled problems in their 100% Human campaign years ago. When I looked deeper at the items, I expected more “eco” or “friendliness” in the materials or ethos, but it seemed like a giant marketing ploy, with only a small portion of proceeds going to the ACLU.

Then, last summer, a media friend whispered of a “tell all” article that was going to drop soon, warning that I should prepare to be let down by the brand.

In recent months, buzz about Everlane silencing a union (many members of whom were fired during the pandemic) turned me off the brand for good.

And now, after a group of current and former employees banded together to call out systemic racism and a culture of silence and intimidation, I’m angry, betrayed, and also unsurprised. A racist workplace culture goes hand-in-hand with an elitist brand of “environmentalism” that is not intersectional, and can in fact be racist itself. This is an Everlane issue, but it is much more than that.

Let’s backtrack: Intersectional environmentalism is the idea that sustainability goes hand-in-hand with social and racial justice issues. Land seizure from Indigenous groups is an environmental issue as much as a human rights violation. The water crisis in Flint, Michigan is another example, which affected Black families and children most of all. Air and water pollution harm communities predictably along racial lines, with Black and brown people most at risk.

In the tell-all document from former employees, there are two major themes at play: That Everlane is abysmal in their treatment of employees, and that Everlane has a problematic sustainability record. But these two themes cannot be separated into distinct narratives. That’s because true sustainability is intersectional.

In other words: If Everlane can’t treat its employees, creatives, and contractors with respect, how could we ever expect them to do the same with its manufacturers, vendors, and natural resources? Anti-racism must extend all up and down the supply chain, from the selection of natural resources to the opportunities extended to management.

So what comes now? It can be hard to look at a “do good” company from the outside and critique them for complacency or coercion. After all, how many brands are there that embody sustainable practices? We may ask, what are our better options? Back to wasteful fast fashion? Back to spending 5x more for the same high-quality essentials?

The good thing to come out of this — the frankly noble and utterly respectable thing—is the diligence of these current and former employees, the self-described “Ex-Wives Club,” to put together a plan of action for Everlane to create a more anti-racist culture. (It must be said that the labor, time, and mental energy spent crafting this document is a testament to the character of these people, who should never have been expected to do such a thing for a company that didn’t value or pay them fairly in the first place.)

These things include a public apology, an objective research project into their “sustainable” practices, a substantial donation to the ACLU, and most critically, the hiring and promotion of Black people in leadership positions. (You can read the document in full here.) If the company was willing to truly commit, they would make a meaningful change.

But a bigger question is what can we do, as people who care about sustainability and have a big role in shaping the expectations for brands and consumer products? First and foremost, we must become anti-racists. We believe and stand by people doing anti-racist work, and seek to do that work ourselves. Second, we must expect our brands to do the same. We can ask corporations and CEOs to do better, or we can invest directly in makers and creators.

After all, a safe and healthy environment is a human right. And we can’t take the first steps effectively without human rights for all.

Earth & Me

How we can all live sustainably, with justice and joy

Kayli Kunkel

Written by

Queens, NY. Sometimes traveler. Creating new narratives on mental health and sustainability. Founder of Earth & Me, a zero-waste small business and publication.

Earth & Me

A small brand that inspires us to be zero-waste, support sustainable entrepreneurs, educate ourselves in environmental justice, live creatively, and find joy. Visit earthandme.co. Interested in writing? Email hello@earthandme.co.

Kayli Kunkel

Written by

Queens, NY. Sometimes traveler. Creating new narratives on mental health and sustainability. Founder of Earth & Me, a zero-waste small business and publication.

Earth & Me

A small brand that inspires us to be zero-waste, support sustainable entrepreneurs, educate ourselves in environmental justice, live creatively, and find joy. Visit earthandme.co. Interested in writing? Email hello@earthandme.co.

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