Everlane is the brainchild of Michael Preysman, who left his job in venture capital in 2010 to start a business that he wished already existed. He had grown frustrated with the retail system and how – by the time it reached the consumer – even the most basic of items would cost up to eight times the price it cost to make. Preysman never expected to work in fashion but with an aim to disrupt the system, offering something that would “cut out the middle man” and offer high quality goods at a fraction of the standard retail cost, he launched Everlane in 2011 with a range of minimalistic, well-made and reasonably priced T-shirts.
Preysman, who studied engineering and economics, describes himself as a “fashion outsider” and that might just be what has been the key to Everlane’s success. “I like fixing things. I’m a big fixer,” he told Business of Fashion in an interview earlier this year. It was his belief that the fashion retail industry was broken, understanding why a T-shirt that costs $7.50 to make ends up retailing in a department store at $50, but knowing that by selling direct to the customer online that T-shirt could cost $15 and still be profitable.
Having now grown to offering a full assortment of men’s and women’s fashion – with childrenswear recently introduced too – and becoming renowned for their cashmere, which comes in everything from sweatpants to dresses as well as sweaters, Everlane’s business model is working. Its overarching promise of “radical transparency” is a big draw for consumers who are becoming more and more concerned with where their clothes come from. You can see inside the factory where your new trousers or backpack was made. Each item online has the details of what each element of its manufacture cost, even down to Everlane’s retail mark-up. This year, their best-selling classic cashmere sweater is $100 because worldwide cashmere costs have fallen. Last year it was $125. This is the honesty and transparency that the brand is being built on, that customers appreciate, and that is ultimately pushing the business forward.
The brand doesn’t work on traditional seasons; the collections of “modern basics” are designed to transcend them and this is something that Rebekka Bay – the Danish Head of Product and Design who was brought in last year – is well-versed in, having conceived and developed cult Scandi minimalist brand Cos a decade ago before a stint at Gap. There seems to be no gaps in experience left by other members of the young team – who are split between offices in New York and San Francisco – having cut their teeth at the likes of Google, J.Crew, American Apparel, Marc Jacobs and Goldman Sachs. There was a no discounts, no advertising and no stores policy but that has been reconsidered as the business grows, although it is still being done in a way that shakes things up: a one-off sale before Christmas last year; a push to get the conversation started in the form of an industry-shaming NY billboard; and latterly a SoHo pop-up which then led to more category-focused pop-up stores in New York.
The ‘Shoe Park’ project was their biggest foray into physical retail and has just closed the doors to its second pop-up in New York’s SoHo. Renowned English set designer Robert Storey – who already counts Hermès, Nike, Uniqlo and Adidas by Stella McCartney among his roster of clients – designed both the most recent and the first Sho Parks. The space offered a rare glimpse for customers to experience the brand outside of their online home, browsing the full footwear selection and being immersed in the brand’s vision of real-life retail. Three months of planning, seven days of building and 577 plants later, Shoe Park II opened its doors for a month-long pop-up.
Visitors were asked to “check their shoes at the door” before entering the lush urban oasis – whether for comfort or as a smart selling technique, both were the result – which featured light wood, jute rugs, tonnes of foliage and white surfaces. The interiors contrasted against the industrial space’s steel and concrete to form a unique platform for Everlane’s Italian leather footwear.
The current incarnation of the brand’s physical retail takes the form of the Cashmere Cabin, open until December 23rd at 293 Bleecker Street in New York’s charming West Village. For this winter-themed pop-up, the brand commissioned design firm Charlap Hyman & Herrero to deliver their promise of ‘Unlimited Cozy’. The predominantly wooden surroundings house Everlane’s extensive collection of Mongolian cashmere products, with Merino wool and leather accessories thrown into the mix to create the ultimate haven for luxury festive shopping. The warm environment acts like a cocoon that envelops visitors into Everlane’s winter world, with the scent of the on-tap mulled wine and cocoa adding to the unadulterated sense of serenity. Throughout its opening, guest are invited to gatherings in the Cabin, where cocktails, gift-wrapping, personalisation and seasonal confections are aplenty.
The next step for Everlane is to launch new products – something that Bay’s design skills are already having a positive effect on – and reach new people. They know the power of positive word-of-mouth and are doing the right things to get it. Preysman told Business of Fashion that he doesn’t think about a three- or five-year plan, but about the long-term. “I think we want to create a mission-driven designer brand that’s relevant to the entrepreneurial-spirited person who wants to make the world a better place and is looking for a place to specifically go and buy good quality and well-fitted designer basics. I think we’ve achieved this for a few hundred thousand people, but this is a 20- to 40-year journey and we’re only five years in. Where we could we be in 30 years? I hope we can be somewhere meaningful. That’s definitely our plan.”
In the meantime, you’ll find us with a mulled wine in one hand, and bags laden with cashmere in the other one.