How do you create a clothing brand that’s socially conscious and stylish all at once? What about a brand that’s coveted by the world’s fashion elite, yet won’t set regular gals back an entire paycheck? On top of all this, how do you keep it relevant in a digital world?
Just ask Yael Aflalo, creative director of Reformation. What started as an eco-conscious side project nearly seven years ago has since attracted a serious following of supermodels and urban sophisticates, positioning Reformation to make the leap from cult-favorite to one of the season’s most sought-after brands. “There’s no secret to the success,” Yael tells Verizon. “I think we make great clothes that women actually want to wear.”
For the uninitiated, Reformation is beloved for its farm-to-table approach to fashion, creating entire collections of limited-edition pieces. All of the items in the brand’s New York and Los Angeles stores and e-commerce shop are made from repurposed vintage garments, surplus fabrics and sustainable materials like TENCEL® sourced by an in-house team. “We treat our materials as if they were any other typical source of fabric, producing beautifully made styles that any woman would want to wear,” said Yael, referring to the brand’s throwback denim, crop tops and breezy summer dresses, all of which exude Reformation’s signature retro, easy-to-wear vibe.
Additionally, by eliminating the middleman and selling directly through its own online and bi-coastal boutiques, the brand is able to control costs and pass savings on to fans, who, thanks to new technology, are all over the globe.
“An online presence is vital to Reformation as it allows us to reach customers worldwide,” says Yael. “Our website is our virtual hub that shows our full product assortment and serves as an important landing place for women to learn more about us, whether they hear about Ref through a friend or see it on a street style blog and want to know more.”
The Internet has helped in another way, too. Thanks to the Reformation’s savvy social media presence, it’s able to connect with fans on an intimate level that you don’t find with larger retailers. The brand’s Instagram account boasts bold messages and edgy images and its email newsletter speaks directly to Reformation’s ideal consumer: edgy women who think it’s cool to be environmentally conscious. With mobile, these women can look for eco-friendly information from anywhere.
“We like to think of our customers as our friends and communicate with them as such through our brand voice,” explains Yael. “We earn their trust by being personable, relatable, funny and honest in every message we post.”
Frequently engaging with fans through digital channels including Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook and Pinterest, Reformation has, in many ways, become more of a lifestyle than just a clothing company. Referring to fans as #refbabes, the brand has spawned a hashtag that simultaneously spotlights celebrity devotees and directs new customers to get to know Reformation, bringing like-minded people together, not just women who wear the same clothing brand.
Behind the Name
“On a trip to China I saw first-hand the level of pollution there from manufacturing,” explains Yael. “You could hardly see in front of you because the smog was so thick. I realized that I had to make a change.” Yael returned home determined to take her next project in a new direction. “I wanted to create a brand where ‘green’ fashion didn't mean sacrificing your style.”
Five years ago, the thought of environmentally-conscious outfits conjured up images of unflattering peasant tops, chunky sandals or baggy potato-sack pants. Reformation, however, sought to reverse that stigma, changing the face of eco-friendly fashion by creating clothes that are as stylish and structured as they are ethical. “When I started this company I was to downplay the fact that we were an eco-friendly brand,” says Yael. “Instead, we pursued our goal of becoming one of the first clothing brands to master fast, sustainable designs.”
With operations underway in Reformation’s Los Angeles factory, Yael and her team were tasked with building brand awareness. In contrast to other buzzy brands like Warby Parker and Everlane, who got their start with an online-only presence, Reformation started with one store in Los Angeles before opening two in Manhattan, then had to retrofit the e-commerce portion. Speaking to The Debrief last year, Reformation’s head designer Brianna Lance admitted that the label initially relied on word-of-mouth recommendations. “When we were tiny, the Victoria’s Secret Angels used to come in and get little dresses and they spread the word amongst them,” she explained. But word-of-mouth can easily translate to social media once the seed, or “buzz,” has been planted, as Reformation quickly experienced with its devoted following.
“We always did well in the stores, but we didn’t know how to present ourselves online,” Yael once told The New York Times, adding that the stiff model portraits didn’t seem to work for them. It was only after experimenting with poses presented in Reformation’s photography that the sales picked up steam.
“We didn’t want our photography to be boring and plain, so we started showing movement in the pieces, styling them the way they’d actually be worn so that our customers could see every detail,” Yael tells Verizon. By November 2014, Reformation saw $1.6 million in sales online, which now represents about 65 percent of all Reformation’s revenue.
At the end of the day, Reformation attributes its success to its online niche in attracting a wide range of women. “There really isn’t just one #refbabe,” Yael says. “Our customers are multifaceted, confident and cool. We love seeing women with different styles in our clothes, and that diversity continues to grow with the brand.”