ARE THEY GREENWASHING OR NOT?
REVIEWING BRANDS' SUSTAINABILITY CLAIMS
We use our expertise and digital sleuthing to analyze brands' sustainability claims and determine if they are greenwashing.
SUMMARY OF OUR OPINION ON REFORMATION
Reformation has one of the most impressive sustainability programs of any digitally-native apparel brand I have reviewed to date. They have strong commitments and specific four-year goals, and existing practices that address everything from as big as their product and material impacts, to as (relatively) small as their store construction, packaging, and employee commuting impacts.
I was glad to see they are engaging several third-parties to review elements of their practices. They also publish substantial information on their website, and even more in their annual sustainability reports. In addition, they publish a list of their factories in the U.S. and abroad, their Restricted Substance List, their goals, and other documents to raise their transparency and keep them accountable.
I am excited to see them continue to grow and fulfill their four-year commitments, especially in relation to new innovations for circularity.
WHAT TO ASK OF TRADLANDS
We know that brands respond when they hear from their customers. So, we always recommend you contact brands' sales or support lines to share your interest in their sustainability practices.
I typically suggest several questions you can ask each brand to spur their sustainability programs. However, Reformation’s efforts are so strong, I do not have specific questions for you to send to them. Instead, I suggest you email or call them to thank them for their efforts, and join their newsletters so you can stay updated on their progress.
Do you know something I didn’t find? Tell me and I’ll update this.
Details of Reformation's sustainability efforts
I focus on five elements of a leading sustainability program: (1) Sustainable leadership, (2), Sustainable materials, (3) Sustainable production, (4) Sustainable quality, and (5) Sustainable transparency. In each category, I post their claims, as well as the substantiation (proof) if any is provided. In some cases, I also include a brief analysis of my own.
01 SUSTAINABLE LEADERSHIP
Certified B Corporation: Reformation does not seem to be a Certified B Corporation, even though I saw some websites that claim it is.
Sustainability executives: At least three full time employees at Reformation have a specific focus on sustainability.
Reformation has set company goals for the five years from 2019 to 2023 and published them online (https://thereformation-weblinc.netdna-ssl.com/media/W1siZiIsIjIwMjAvMDIvMjEvMTcvMTQvMzEvNDM0NTU1OWYtY2I1OS00ZmVhLTliNzQtNWU2NzFhYWY3Zjg3L1N1c3RhaW5hYmlsaXR5LWF0LVJlZm9ybWF0aW9uLnBkZiJdXQ/Sustainability-at-Reformation.pdf?sha=905cc2c3915c1356). The goals broadly address most of the company’s impacts, from product design, to raw material sourcing, to production, traceability, chemicals, social responsibility, and carbon & other environmental impacts.
RefScale: “RefScale tracks our environmental footprint by adding up the pounds of carbon dioxide emitted and gallons of water we use, and pounds of waste we generate. Then we calculate how Reformation’s products help reduce these impacts compared with most clothes bought in the US. We share this information on every product page of our website and tell you exactly what impact each garment has on the environment… The whole equation follows the lifecycle of clothes—everything from growing textile fibers and making fabric, dyeing, moving materials, manufacturing, packaging, shipping, garment care, and even recycling clothes when you’re done with them.” // Substantiation: Reformation provides a detailed methodology for measuring their products’ lifecycle impacts (https://thereformation-weblinc.netdna-ssl.com/media/W1siZiIsIjIwMTkvMDYvMTcvMTkvMDMvMjQvZWU5ZjJiZDUtZWZkZS00MTRmLWJkODYtNDU0MWVlMTA0YzFiL1JlZlNjYWxlLU1ldGhvZG9sb2d5LnBkZiJdXQ/RefScale-Methodology.pdf?sha=58f76967cecda9cc) // Analysis: This is one of the most comprehensive analyses I have seen across many brands. It’s commendable that they have a thorough methodology that takes the full lifecycle impacts into consideration, and makes that information publicly available.
Water neutral: “We've partnered with the Brazilian Rosewood Amazon Conservation Project and the Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF) Water Restoration Program to help put back some of the resources we used. Basically, in exchange for the emissions, water and waste our clothes used last quarter, we protected 1,000 acres of the Amazon Rainforest from deforestation, contributed 27 million gallons of freshwater to critically dewatered rivers and wetlands in California, and purchased landfill gas offsets.” // Analysis: While carbon offsets are more common among leading brands, water offsets are considered a leadership characteristic.
Certification: “We’ve been 100% carbon-neutral since 2015, but now we’re working with Climate Neutral, a non-profit organization, to make it official. Through their rigorous certification program, Climate Neutral verifies a company like us has achieved net-zero carbon emissions.” // Analysis: Seeing a third-party certification for carbon offsets is critical for validating the legitimacy of the offsets.
Data centers: “We also calculate the carbon footprint of our web server and your screen’s energy demand while browsing the Ref website. And yes, we offset that too!” // Analysis: I have not seen any other brand do this, so I consider this a leading program.
Store construction/build-out and building energy use: “We also calculate the construction footprint [of stores], and offset our store builds 100%” and “We source electricity offsets from 100% wind power suppliers and use LED lighting and Energy Star-rated appliances in our offices.” // Analysis: While these elements are more common with larger brands, I have not seen many newer, direct-to-consumer brands take these thorough steps to reduce their impacts.
Goal: “We recycle, compost organic wastes, and recycle or donate our textile scraps whenever possible. Zero waste is our goal. Right now, we recycle about 75% of all our garbage. Our goal is to reach over 85%.” // Analysis: This is an ambitious goal; it would be helpful to see more detail on the break-down of their recycling and wastes.
Hangers: “We use recycled paper hangers to lessen the demand for new materials and to keep junk from landfills.” // Analysis: Hanger waste is a serious problem in the industry and few companies are actively addressing it. I think recycled paper hangers are likely one of the best solutions. It is unclear if they are recycling the hangers, though I assume they are.
Totes: “We opt for reusable totes because they lighten the load.” // Analysis: Plastic bags (even if they are not reusable) are often considered more environmentally-friendly because they take less resources to produce. However, they can become environmental litter, entering waterways and eventually the ocean. Reusable totes made of cotton have relatively high environmental impacts, but their lifecycle impacts decrease if they are reused many times.
Building construction: “It’s our mission to design innovative and eco stores. We incorporate materials like LED fixtures, rammed earth, recycled fabric insulation, and other stuff to make our stores as sustainable as possible.” // Analysis: Again, while this is more common amongst the largest brands, it’s rare to see a younger brand like Reformation take these impacts into full consideration.
Certification: “All our California retail stores and HQ West are now green business certified, which basically means we’re operating using strategies that improve energy savings, water efficiency, resource stewardship, and reducing CO2 emissions… We’re super proud and happy to be part of the green business community of Los Angeles and San Francisco, as well as the California Green Business Network.”
Office supplies: “To manage our impact, we adopted Environmentally Preferred Purchasing policies across all our operations for things like office and cleaning supplies, shipping materials, and manufacturing equipment. We prioritize products with recycled-content, and opt for solutions that are recyclable or biodegradable… We purchase 100% recycled-content paper and pens made from recycled tires.” // Analysis: This is another leading practice among the apparel industry.
Alternative commuting: “We’ve even made getting to work part of our mission by offering Metro passes to our entire HQ team to encourage more use of public transportation.” // Analysis: This is also a leading practice among the apparel industry.
Charity: “We also give back through sustainability-focused collaborations like our Earth Day sweatshirts whose sales went to support TreePeople, and our No Red Carpet Needed Collection of which 25% of the revenue went to support sustainable education at the MUSE School, CA. In 2017, we created Action Tees—for each tee purchased, we donated $30 to the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, or EDF.” // Analysis: While we do not like cause merchandising – where product sales support nonprofits – in isolation, it is useful to see that these promotions promote Reformation’s broader mission and holistic strategy.
Product design: “We joined the Jeans Redesign project by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation's Make Fashion Circular initiative. This means our teams are designing with circularity in mind when it comes to durability, material health, recyclability, and traceability. By 2021, the majority of our jeans will meet high durability criteria, be made from regenerative or organic materials, and use zero toxic chemical processes.” // Analysis: It is important to design products from the very beginning with their future lives in mind. It will be valuable to see updates on how this program progresses.
Take-back: Reformation partners with ThredUp to resell your used items – from any brand. // Analysis: I’m glad to see that Reformation is actively experimenting with methods to get used clothing back into circulation. While some brands have such programs in place, it is still rare across the industry.
02 SUSTAINABLE MATERIALS
Tencel Lyocell and Refibra. Analysis: This is typically considered more sustainable when from a certified source, which is described in the Traceability section below.
Organic cotton. Analysis: Yes, organic cotton is generally better than conventional cotton. The specific water and chemical use reductions depend on the growing region and methods, so additional information would still be valuable.
Conventional linen. Analysis: Linen requires few fertilizers and pesticides, and significantly less irrigated water than cotton.
Alpaca. Analysis: Alpaca fleece is generally considered to be more environmentally-friendly than goat or sheep wool. This article describes the benefits and possible downsides: https://cfda.com/resources/materials/detail/alpaca
Yak. Analysis: I have not found any definitive and trustworthy sources about the impacts and benefits of yak wool; however, some sources claim it has a lower impact than goat (cashmere), which I can believe.
Silk. Analysis: Silk is harvested by boiling the silkworm's cocoon, then unwinding it. Alternatively, peace silk is made without killing the silkworm. Recently, there has been scrutiny about the potential for child labor in silk production, as well as uncertainty about its environmental performance.
Sourcing regions: “Right now, the majority of our knit fabric comes from the US. The remaining is purchased from overseas suppliers. This happens when we’re unable to find anybody to make these fabrics domestically because fabric-weaving equipment for delicate wovens left the U.S. a few decades ago.” // Analysis: Reformation publicizes detailed information about their factories and supply chain, which promotes transparency and accountability.
Forest products: “In 2019, we started working with the environmental non-profit group Canopy to ensure all our forest products, such as viscose, are Ancient and Endangered Forest free. We’re committed to only sourcing from forests that are conserved, protected, and restored.” // Analysis: I have not seen many companies go through these lengths to verify the source of their raw materials.
Goal: “Our goal for 2019 was to reach 100% traceability into our Tier 1 & 2 suppliers. We made it!” // Analysis: Reformation knows all their garment manufacturers, mills, dyers, and printers, and most of their raw material processors and producers. It is looking into getting traceability into the farms and forests that produce its raw materials. Very few apparel companies can trace their products back that far, so it is a leading effort.
Packaging: “Our packaging is plastic-free and made from 100% recycled paper products and compostable bio-based films. Plus our tape and hangers use bio-based, non-toxic adhesives. Our garment bags are made from 30% recycled plastic and always get reused. It’s the best we could find, but we want it to be better… The vegetable bag that your cute clothes came in is 100% compostable.” // Analysis: Reformation has thought about many of the elements necessary to ensure more sustainable packaging.
03 SUSTAINABLE PRODUCTION
Worker benefits: “We provide health benefits to all full-time employees including our manufacturing team.”
Regions of production: “Over 65% of our cutting and sewing is done in Los Angeles and we manufacture the majority of our products in our own factory (depending on the season and the styles we're making that week). All other garments are produced by responsible manufacturing partners here in the U.S. or abroad using our same sustainable standards and materials.”
Reformation publishes its list of factories online at https://thereformation-weblinc.netdna-ssl.com/media/W1siZiIsIjIwMjAvMDEvMjMvMTgvMDIvMTAvYzViZTZlNTktNWNjYi00NjdlLWI3NTAtZDc1MDcwM2QzZmQxL2ZhY3Rvcnktc3VwcGxpZXItbGlzdC5wZGYiXV0/factory-supplier-list.pdf?sha=ea81280f03a58320
Supplier standards: “We currently require all our direct cut, sew & finish manufacturing partners to adhere to our Code of Conduct and additional policies (basically our requirements for ethical operations), and be monitored for compliance and continuous improvement. Our Code of Conduct references the Global Social Compliance Programme’s (GSCP) Code of Conduct which represents international standards for fair labor conditions and fundamental labor rights.” // Analysis: The GSCP is one of the strongest supplier standards, so it is commendable that Reformation is taking these steps.
Migrant workers: “We signed the AAFA/FLA Apparel & Footwear Industry Commitment to Responsible Recruitment to proactively address potential forced labor risks for migrant workers in the global supply chain.” // Analysis: Some factories in South and Southeast Asia recruit workers using unethical techniques, which can lead to forced labor conditions. Apparel brands are beginning to address these by promoting responsible recruitment. This is also a commendable effort.
Living wages: “Our goal for 2019 was to have 100% of our team meet or exceed LA’s living wage (as defined by MIT). We ended the year with 96% of our Factory and DC teams earning a living wage. We’re on track to get to 100% in early 2020 for all Reformation teams—including retail—and will continue to do annual increases to keep up with the standard.” // Analysis: Most brands focus on a “fair wage,” which is not always a “living wage.” So that Reformation is aiming for 100% of its factory workers to achieve a living wage is a strong practice. However, this does not describe its living wage efforts for its factories outside of LA.
Supplier audits: “We require our suppliers to participate in independent, third-party social assessments to ensure fair, safe and healthy working conditions throughout our supply chain. The goal of our assessments is not only to help evaluate our supplier’s overall compliance but to also identify progress and stimulate improvement. All substandard audit findings must be remediated in a timely manner.” // Analysis: Third-party audits are critical in order to ensure that factories are complying with the company’s standards. Without this third-party validation, Reformation’s efforts would not be substantiated.
Factory tours: “We host tours of our factory so you can see it IRL and meet the people who make your clothes. They take place on the first Friday of every month at 10:30am. To save your spot, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.” // Analysis: I love that they offer tours to the public so you can see the working conditions. This adds a layer of transparency and accountability to the company’s efforts. But again, this is only in their LA factory.
Restricted Substance List (RSL): “The dyeing stage in textile manufacturing not only uses a lot of energy and water, but it also introduces the fabric to chemicals found in inks and pigments. We test all of our stuff against our Restricted Substance List (RSL) to confirm there are no hazardous substances in our products and to ensure our products are safe, and comply with international laws.” // Substantiation: “Our RSL is based on the AFIRM Group industry level standards. This list applies to raw materials, finished goods and its concentrations.” (See the full RSL at https://thereformation-weblinc.netdna-ssl.com/media/W1siZiIsIjIwMTkvMDMvMDEvMTgvMDIvMDIvMjk1MjE1MmMtNmNlOS00ZDE4LTgzMjItNjA0NTJiMjhhZjczLzIwMTkgRnVsbCBSZXN0cmljdGVkIFN1YnN0YW5jZSBMaXN0LnBkZiJdXQ/2019%20Full%20Restricted%20Substance%20List.pdf?sha=d57b261870707ce3). // Analysis: Few new brands have an RSL that they require of their suppliers.
Dyeing: “Our goal for 2019 was to have 75% of our wet-processing facilities clean chemistry certified. We still have some work to do on this one. 56% of our dyers, printers and tanneries have a clean chemical certification for our materials…In addition to testing all of our stuff against our RSL we currently try and work with dye houses and printers that have the following certified dying systems… As of 2017, all of Reformation solid silk and velvet is Bluesign certified… OEKO-TEX® Standard 100.” // Analysis: Bluesign and OEK-TEX are two of the leading standards, and are considered to be best in class.
04 SUSTAINABLE QUALITY
Analysis: Share any information you know about the quality of Reformation’s products. We need to understand how long their products last – the higher-quality and longer-lasting, the better its sustainability profile.
05 SUSTAINABLE TRANSPARENCY
Sustainability report: Reports provided for 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019.
Website: Comprehensive and thorough information and data is shared on Reformation’s website.
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