"We have a quote in the New York Times that says we'll shut the company down before we open up a retail store," said Everlane CEO Michael Preysman on Thursday at the Fashion Tech Forum in Brooklyn, New York. The founder was joined on stage by designer Rebekka Bay to discuss their partnership and the future of Everlane — the online-only, direct-to-consumer brand known for its sleek, minimalist style and "radical transparency" approach to pricing.
And while Preysman said the brand has successfully built a community through offline events while avoiding brick-and-mortar "with all its limitations," he also cited Warby Parker's stores and Amazon's plans to open grocery stores as just a few examples of how the e-commerce world is evolving. "There is a set of customers that wants to touch product before they buy it, and that's not something that we can change, no matter how much social media we do," he said. "So we are thinking about it. We’re looking at it, and that’s all we can say at the moment."
Perhaps not coincidentally, Everlane launched its first-ever retail partnership with Opening Ceremony on Thursday. The brand's core cashmere collection and two limited-edition sweaters are available at the boutique's New York and London locations. A holiday capsule is also planned with a November 15 launch. Everlane also currently has a "Shoe Park" open in Soho through October 23. It's one of several temporary and experimental pop-up shops and fit studios the brand has opened over the past three years.
Meanwhile, Bay has marked a year since joining Everlane as head of product and design — a time which she described as very "heads down and practical." Preysman called her "the adult at Everlane." (Bay had most recently served as the creative director at Gap until January 2015.)
"It's really hard to find designers that can think about business and be reasonable at times, and Rebekka is both a great designer and very reasonable and understands numbers, so that's why we work really well [together]," he said. While Presyman and Bay are usually on opposite sides of the country — he at Everlane's headquarters in San Francisco, she at the design studio in New York — they try to see each other two weeks per month and are often in contact via text and phone.
They do, however, sometimes have disagreements about specific products. "Neither of us are very passive aggressive," said Preysman. "Some products matter a lot more to Everlane than others. We focus all of our energy on products we really care about and are going to be big ideas that sit online for a long time. And those we have very intense debates about," he said, citing the decision to add a fishtail to a men's coat as an example. Preysman was against it ("I really fucking hate the fishtail") and Bay was for it. "We went out and asked our customer and we showed them. And then we said, 'Hey, who wants a fishtail and who doesn’t?' And as much as I hate the fishtail, the fishtail won," he said. Even when they don't poll customers, Bay said design decisions at Everlane are quite democratic. "It's about what we, as a group, want to solve. It's an open discussion, an open conversation," she said.
Bay's focus since joining Everlane has been filling the gaps in the brand's offering, which is built product by product instead of collection by collection. "I think what has happened over the last about a year is that we started to develop more product strategy, fill in some holes, build a foundation for what’s coming next," she said, adding that she sought "consistency and aesthetic in creating more of a total lifestyle." And now, for the first time since her arrival, Bay has a chance to think more conceptually about the pieces coming in the second half of 2017: she's thinking about color palettes, 1930s modernism and more decorative, masculine design.
Meanwhile, Preysman is thinking about a longer term future. "I just get inspired by products that I think have a very strong value to the customer, but can live for 50 years: things that shape the way people live their lives," he said. "I don't think Everlane has made anything like that yet, but one day. As we get bigger, it's easier because you can invest dollars into [research and development] and start to think about those things. We’re not quite there yet but that's our aspiration, at least for me."