As a fashion designer, Yael Aflalo started to grow tired of the rigamarole and waste she saw all around her within the industry. She started Reformation as her side project–a way to create exactly what she wanted without excess. As her passion for environmental sustainability grew, so did Reformation. Before long, the label had a cult following, and Aflalo was working on it full time. In early September, a new Soho flagship store will join the Lower East Side and Los Angeles locations.
The garments are all made locally in the label’s two home cities, LA and NYC, using vintage garments and surplus materials to create limited edition collections that go straight into store. A quick scan of Reformation’s blog or Twitter reveals a fan-base of gorgeous It girls like Erin Heatherton, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Zoe Kravitz and Alexa Chung, but the low price points (mostly under $300) keeps it accessible to the rest of us. Accessibility is key to Aflalo, who designs more for herself and co-workers than for celebrity muses. We chatted with the LA-native-turned-New-Yorker in Reformation’s Chinatown HQ, a gorgeous space filled with recycled and found furniture, to learn more about how she does it.
What were you doing prior to starting Reformation?
Yael Aflalo: Before launching Reformation I had a brand called Ya-Ya for about ten years. I started it when I was 21. I had gone to fashion school for a year, but didn’t really have a design background beyond that. The label sort of grew up as I did. It was a contemporary label that had a lot of different identities throughout the ten years. I was at such a formative age when I started it, so it really matured with me.
So when and why did that end and Reformation begin?
Towards the end of Ya-Ya, I really started to hate it. For one thing, I really don’t like the fashion calendar. I don’t like selling people coats in July. The whole thing is ridiculous. I also didn’t like how much the fashion industry is set up for waste. When I would order lookbooks the minimum would be like 5,000, but I would only need 400. There was so much paper and extra samples that by the time I closed Ya-Ya my warehouse was filled with ten years of waste.
What was your inspiration in starting the new label?
At the beginning of Reformation, there was an ethos of wanting to avoid waste. I wasn’t sure of how much it had connected to an environmental perspective on my part, but it was more just not wanting to create waste. I don’t want to make things I don’t need or that other people don’t need. I was feeling bad about being this fashion industrialist. It was really just a side project for a while.
There was a series of a few events that really impacted me. First, I got a Netlfix account and happened onto all these documentaries like Food Inc. and ones about the oil industries. Being from Los Angeles, I was already aware of environmental issues, but it hadn’t really connected with me yet. So I started watching all these movies and thinking, ‘how can I help?’ Then, I had a dinner party and there was a guest from the UN who started asking me how I felt about my contribution to negative environmental impact from what I’m doing, and I didn’t know what to say. Lastly, I went to China to work on another project, and became acquainted with the of pollution. It was on another level; it’s hard to even explain. You couldn’t see things in front of you because of the fog. I really love China and Chinese people, and a lot of the working conditions were great, but I couldn’t ignore the pollution anymore my connection to it any longer. At that point something shifted in my head, and I realized my part in all of it. All of those events connected and changed something in me.
So how did it go from a hobby to what it is now?
At first, it was just fun, like, ‘Hey, let’s make clothes out of vintage!’ I liked what I was making. It felt very organic, and helped me with the whole calendar, waste issues I was having. I didn’t want to create collections, just garments. I didn’t want things to fit into a grid creating looks that go together, real girls know how to put a look together.
What were some of the early obstacles?