“The genesis of it was that men often have a uniform. Most men tend to wear the same sorts of things, whether to work or on the weekend, so we wanted to create a solution to that,” he says.
The result is a curated collection of streetwear – denim, chinos, T-shirts and pullovers. So far, not exactly revolutionary. The difference for Everlane is that this particular capsule of clothes has been tested to uniform standards – washed, stretched, worn and, as a result, given a 365-day guarantee.
Though the brand is focused on the basic elements of a wardrobe, it has grown over the years, responding to customer feedback but only when it could do so in a sustainable manner. Denim, a notably hazardous material for the environment, given not only that it is made of thirsty cotton but is dyed and then undyed, was high on customers’ wishlists but a difficult proposition for the company.
I didn’t understand how T-shirts could be made for $7 and sold for $50.
— Michael Preysman
“It’s a pretty dirty business,” says Preysman. “Dyeing a product then taking the dye out is wasteful and can be toxic to waterways around factories.”
Nevertheless, it was a challenge he was ready to take on – on his terms. “We found the world’s leading factory for denim. They clean the water used so that it actually becomes drinkable, and the leftover sludge material is made into concrete.” And yes, before you ask, he’s tasted the water himself.
Sneakers, too, are tricky to produce sustainably because they’re made of many components, some of them plastic. As part of the company’s commitment to end virgin plastic use by 2021, Preysman worked to find factories that would create soles from existing plastic and, eventually, settled on a design that uses 94 per cent recycled plastic.
Both decisions paid off handsomely. There was a 50,000-person waitlist for the sneakers, and 44,000 waiting on the denim drop.
Though Preysman did not have a fashion pedigree when he founded Everlane in 2010 – he studied economics and computer science at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh – he knew great design can change lives.
“From growing up in the Bay Area [of San Francisco], I had this sense that people should be treated fairly, economically speaking. I didn’t understand how T-shirts could be made for $7 and sold for $50.”
Here, Preysman saw an opportunity to be radically transparent about pricing. On the Everlane website, customers can see how much an item is made for, and the (relatively small) mark-up the company applies to cover shipping and allow for profit. It’s made Everlane hugely popular, not just in the United States, but all over the world. In fact, Australia is the company’s third-biggest customer base, after the US and Canada.
While opening stores is still relatively new territory for the brand, Preysman says he is looking at being on the ground in Australia. “We use data to assess all our inventory and much of our decision-making. So if customers demand space in Australia, that could be a path for us.”
Though he says Everlane still has “a long way to go” in terms of sustainability goals – high on his priority list is “solving landfill” – he concedes that it has exceeded his wildest expectations.
“You never really think about success, and not on this level,” he says, of the company’s recent valuation at $US250 million ($364 million). “You think maybe one, two, three years ahead; can you still be viable then?
“But we always knew, I think, that we had a special idea, and that we could make an impact. And that always felt good.”