Everlane Founder & CEO Michael Preysman on the Concept of Radical Transparency
Once upon a time, a young Michael Preysman graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with a dual degree in computer engineering and economics, trying to reimagine a viable clothing-business model despite having little fashion knowledge. Three years later, at the age of 25, the self-starter launched Everlane with a disrupter’s desire to circumvent the traditional wholesale retail system. His vision was of a brand that would sell well-made, minimalist T-shirts at a fraction of the normal cost—all direct to consumers via a low-overhead digital platform. That was back in 2010, and it was a radical concept at the time.
Today, Everlane sells hundreds of high-quality wearable goods for men and women—from jeans to cashmere sweaters to leather shoes and accessories. (The brand has even partnered with Pop-In@Nordstrom to showcase its products on our site and in several IRL Nordstrom stores.) And it’s embraced an even more radical concept—one Everlane has termed “radical transparency,” which promotes an unconventional openness about almost everything that goes into the production of their products. From fabric sources to factory conditions to transportation and import duty costs—it’s all readily available to the Everlane customer on the company’s site.
We recently caught up with Michael to discuss the brand’s evolution, its recent denim launch and what term is absolutely not in the CEO’s lexicon.
Nordstrom: Can you describe Everlane’s evolution from a high-quality direct retailer to this bigger concept of “radical transparency”?
Michael Preysman: Everlane is a values-driven brand. So when we first started out, actual transparency, while not explicitly written out, was—and has always been—a core tenet for why we exist. We felt that the retail industry, and brands in particular, weren’t educating consumers in the way that we felt consumers want to be educated. Consumers want to know where their product comes from. Consumers want to know where their clothes are made. They want to know the factory. There’s more and more interest and desire to understand where the product is coming from and what impact it has.
So Everlane was really born out of an identity to educate customers and create the best possible quality at the lowest possible price for customers. And when we [make a] product, you know that the product is very clean, it’s minimal, we invest in the fabric. And we want to put products first.
And when did the conscious shift to radical transparency happen? Was there a certain moment when you realized, we should talk about the factories and the costs involved?
You know, you’ve got to choose a message at a certain point in time. We started in Los Angeles—producing there. And as we started producing in China, we felt that we wanted customers to know that the factories we were choosing were good, quality factories. And that’s how transparency was born. It’s really always been a way for us to communicate to customers about the decisions we make. When we make a decision, we want people to understand the context behind that decision.
And I’m guessing that’s part of where the Transparent Tuesdays social project on Instagram came from? Where Everlane employees answer customer questions….
Yep. Transparency Tuesday was an extension of that and a possibility for people to ask us questions and just get informed. The team does a great job. I have nothing to do with those. It’s always been the marketing and social teams; they came up with the idea and ran with it. But it’s been a lot of fun to watch.
Congratulations on the recent denim launch. Can you speak to why clean, sustainable denim is so important to the Everlane brand?
We started with a T-shirt, and the honest truth is that there are many great T-shirts out there. [But] how are we different? We make them in L.A. and we sell them for $16. And that was really an important part of the mission—to create that great quality product and offer it at a great price.
With denim, we did those same things but we realized the denim industry also has a different aspect to it. Denim is one of those unique products where you actually dye the fabric and then undye the fabric to get the look you want. And that’s not very normal; most of the time you just dye the fabric and sell it as it is. And in that process of undyeing the fabric, you create a lot of [water] waste in the system.
Most facilities just use the minimum necessary filtering [to meet] regulation by that country. We managed to find a partner that moved well beyond what was required by law and actually uses a reverse osmosis purifier to make all of the water drinkable; then we refilter it back into the system. So, in the end, each pair of denim uses almost negligible amounts of water because it’s a closed loop. And then whatever byproduct comes out, they actually turn it into concrete that they use to help build houses in the area.
How many years did it take you to launch Everlane denim? And did you ever get to a point where you thought, “This is just getting too hard”?
No. “Too hard” is not in my lexicon. We’ve been thinking about denim since we launched Everlane. But we really took the effort to go in and find the right partner and find the right fabric about 20 months ago.
And what about your choice to use Japanese denim?
It was always between Japanese denim and [American] Cone denim. And ultimately, we found that the Cone denim had a bit more heritage feel to it, which was not what we were looking for, so we ended up on the Japanese side of things. Japanese denim has a very authentic feel without being heritage, and the washes that we can get out of Vietnam just sort of felt right for that product. And, to be honest, it also felt a bit—and this sounds silly—but it felt a little odd to be buying denim in the U.S., shipping it to Vietnam, and then shipping it back to the U.S. That sounds a little, I wouldn’t say irresponsible, but at odds with the notion of trying to do things a better way.
Can you explain a little bit about why Everlane decided to partner with Pop-In@Nordstrom?
I think there are a couple of things. When we asked our customers where they shopped and what other brands aligned with their values, Nordstrom was top of mind for our customers. We really care about our customers and being aligned with what they do. On that same front, a lot of them don’t have access to touch the product. People know about Everlane [the brand], but they can’t touch it at all. So Nordstrom felt like both an alignment on a customer level and alignment on a brand level in terms of the values and also being socially forward, being forward from a design perspective, taking risks and then ultimately providing a service for people that’s different.
Finally, which three words or terms best describe Everlane’s brand DNA?
“Radical transparency” as the core brand value. And then in terms of aesthetics: confident, natural and minimalist.