Everlane piqued the interest of sustainability fans this summer with the announcement of its Clean Silk initiative, and this week, it gave those environmentally-conscious customers another reason to rejoice. On Monday, the brand launched its ReNew collection, a line of parkas, fleeces and puffers made from recycled plastic. Using anywhere from 15 to 60 bottles per garment, the entire collection turned 3 million plastic bottles into clothing.
The launch of the ReNew collection comes just after the brand announced its ambitious goal to completely eliminate virgin plastic from its supply chain, packaging, offices and stores by 2021.
"Plastic is destroying our planet and there is only one solution: Stop creating virgin plastic and renew what's already here," Everlane founder and CEO Michael Preysman said in a statement. "Companies have to take the lead and any company that hasn't made this commitment is actively choosing to not improve our environment."
Though there's been a lot of buzz and heightened consumer awareness about plastic in the past six months, Everlane head of product Kim Smith told Fashionista over the phone that the brand started working on a recycled option for synthetic fabrics behind the scenes about two years ago. A key element in bringing the fruit of that labor to the public has been finding mills that are "pushing the envelope" in the realm of recycling, which are often identified by following the lead of labels like Patagonia that are transparent about their own partners and sources.
For Smith, it's the power brands have when they come together to push for change in this arena that's more exciting than anything.
"The more people get involved in this globally, the more demand there'll be and the more prices will be lowered [for recycled materials]," she explained. "So this is where pushing other brands to get on this with us will help in the long run."
Despite her optimism, Smith admits that there are plenty of challenges to overcome before Everlane as an individual company, or the industry as a whole, can transition away from virgin synthetics completely. For instance, it's hard to come by recycled versions of materials like Spandex and elastane, which give your jeans a little bit of stretch or your leggings the ability to do downward dog without splitting. And as powerful as sustainability-minded brand collectives can be, the truth remains that recycled materials are often 10- to 15-percent more expensive to work with than virgin materials, at least for now.
Everlane's way around those problems has so far involved looking for ways to cut other costs — i.e. adjusting a design a bit so it's cheaper to produce — in order to let the brand use more expensive and more sustainable raw material options without passing those costs on to the customer. It also means that Everlane is banking on even more textile innovation in the next few years in order to meet its own sustainability goals.
"The outdoor performance world is way ahead of the 'fashion' world," Smith explained. "These beautiful drape-y feminine fabrics that people wear, whether they're in dresses or skirts or suiting... those aren't as cutting-edge or they're not as affordable in recycled materials as the outdoor market."
For a brand that makes some outerwear, but also plenty of other kinds of clothing, that's a real hurdle. And sometimes, the brand's new commitment just flat out means that it has to be willing to impose limitations on itself in terms of what fabric types can be used, if there's no good option available. But for Smith — and for many of the consumers who have been pouring out support for the brand on social media since it announced the ReNew collection last week — those limitations are worth it for the sake of a clearer conscience.
"It's this layer of complexity that is pushing us," Smith said.
Everlane's ReNew collection will be shoppable on Everlane.com and in Everlane stores starting on Oct. 24. See every piece in the collection below.