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.
Tell us about about how that environmental awareness developed. 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?
What were some of the early obstacles? After China, I decided I wanted to dedicate 100% of my time to the label. It was really hard at first. I think there are a lot of companies that try to do sustainable fashion out of vintage, but it is very difficult to create quality and consistency. Plus there is the issue of displaying it in a store in a way that is attractive to the consumer. So we really spent the last two years really working out those kinks.
So when did you open your LA and New York locations? I had already opened them before that trip to China, but they were just for fun at that point. It was like a lab for me to make whatever I felt like. I could literally go in the back and make things myself, which was fun because I had gotten away from making clothes myself.
Was there a moment when you felt the label had become something big? The second I opened the store in LA I was like, “holy shit, this is awesome.” I knew I had to open one in New York, since I was living there. I knew I needed that energy around me. It felt amazing. So then I opened the New York location and people bought everything the first day it was open.
How do you keep up with the demand for clothes? That was one of the hard things to figure out. It wouldn’t work to have me and a few girls making the pieces one at a time. So now we have our own factory in LA, and we have a total of fifty people working for the company.
How do you source the vintage pieces and materials? Our number one material is vintage garments, where we take vintage pieces and take them apart and use the materials. Our second is surplus materials and our third is developing sustainable fabrics, which we are trying to do now. So they will be virgin materials, but made by environmentally sustainable factories out of closed loop yarns. Closed loop means they don’t use any extra water, but reuse it instead.
Are you influenced by being bi-coastal? I find that LA and New York are becoming so similar in terms of what people wear. I feel like the label really has both identities. Back when we started, LA wanted brighter things and New York wanted black, but now there isn’t really a differentiation.
Do you have any specific muses or girls that inspire you? We actually are inspired by ourselves. All the girls that work here are friends. It’s always like, “That top is so Brianna, or that’s so Alana.” For me, the most important thing is the value for the clothes. I want my clothes to reach a broad spectrum of people, not just one specific person. When I’m designing something, if I can’t picture three of the girls that work here wearing it then I won’t make it.
You don’t create collections, but you must have mood boards at different times. What’s on yours now? Right now we are doing fall. So we always make clothes for the next month. We are obsessed with ‘90s Alaia at the moment-- lots of off the shoulder and square necks.
What’s your average workday like? I'm actually really nerdy. I structure my time. I don’t want to waste time on projects that aren’t worth it. My days and weeks are very regimented. I always have design meetings at certain times, fittings at certain times. Very regimented! I never need to worry about what to do next, I just do it.
What’s next? The new Soho flagship opens in two weeks, which is exciting. We are always planning new things, like relaunching our website and blog. We have a lot of energy and forward momentum. We want to keep pushing design and sustainability. We are also working on an environmental impact report to quantify what our environmental impact is. So when you buy a dress from us you saved the equivalent of a thousand showers. Apparently the fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world after oil.