This week, a look at Everlane’s high fashion ambitions.
Under Andrea O’Donnell, who took over as CEO from founder Michael Preysman last year, Everlane is working to build its style credibility. One goal: to win over the “fashion elite,” O’Donnell said.
Everlane is already bringing more color to his clothes. And by spring, perfect wedding dresses, formal suits and even sexy styles will be added to the range. (That’s “intellectually sexy” as opposed to “sexy-sexy,” O’Donnell said.) In marketing, the focus is shifting to outfit inspiration, as well as storytelling that draws on emotion and human connections. It will soon introduce a new, cleaner logo, which has become a common move for brands looking to improve through a relaunch. And indeed, it increases its prices.
“We’re going where the luxury craft houses are going,” O’Donnell said, referring to Hermès. “was [establishing] the right design material story and giving us permission to play with higher prices.”
O’Donnell counted American designers Calvin Klein, Donna Karan and Claire McCardell among her inspirations. And she recently cast the role of the brand’s creative director alongside Mathilde Mader, who has worked with Kim Jones and at Marni. O’Donnell, a 20-year UK retail veteran, was most recently at Deckers Brands, where she is credited with transforming Ugg with lively campaigns and brand collaborations.
As many brands implement new playbooks conceived in the reflective pandemic era, Everlane, 12, struggles to strike a balance between what O’Donnell calls “fashion versus planet.” After launching 12 years ago, introducing the concept of “radical transparency” and fueling the rise of the direct-to-consumer model, the brand became known for fundamental things that could make consumers feel good about their purchase – though its ethics have come under scrutiny in 2020. Now it’s taking steps to raise its fashion profile at a time when high fashion brands are setting goals to achieve Everlane-level sustainability. Timeless styles and sustainability remain at the core of the brand, but creativity will become more important.
“It’s contradictory,” O’Donnell said of Everlane’s positioning in the marketplace, as new and fast fashion continues to be what sells. But by building its product and brand strategies hand-in-hand within a newly implemented corporate structure, she is confident that the company can retain its values and current customers while evolving and growing. Along with Mader, O’Donnell hired Shu Hung, formerly of Nike and Uniqlo, who owns the brand’s marketing, from notoriety to voice. Her title is also creative director.
The brand’s marketing will aim to highlight the brand’s sustainable practices and high-quality materials, while strategically avoiding “academic and boring” messages,” said O’Donnell. In addition, “people-centric,” “ambitious” marketing will be employed, allowing people with brand-related values to tell the Everlane story, she said. Everlane now features a different “conscious” influencer on its channels each month, lets them choose and style an Everlane product and have their photo taken in their own home. The latest was Stephanie Liu Hjelmeseth, a Chinese-American mom and fashion influencer who mentions her love of the outdoors in her blog’s bio.
Everlane also introduces new logos for various product lines. One icon being considered for his backpack collection is the Golden Gate Bridge. Along with the reference to the company’s San Francisco headquarters, it conveys a “sense of place,” O’Donnell said. She added all of that Marketing will deny any mention of trends.
Giving the brand’s products a clearer angle will also work to the advantage of their marketing efforts, O’Donnell said. “One of the challenges we had was that timeless style wasn’t showcased,” she said, noting that the brand often doesn’t get “approved” when influencers wear their black pants and cashmere sweaters. Like previous collections, Everlane’s The Power of 10 capsule, released earlier this month, is made up of basic elements that are meant to be worn over and over again. But the Oxford shirt has a unique, boxy silhouette, and the suit features updates like a check print and an oversized cut.
Going forward, Everlane plans to invest in sustainability-focused brand activations at times that historically are “more fad than planet,” O’Donnell said. This includes Christmas shopping and the biennial New York Fashion Weeks. It is also considering hosting a major education and experience event around Earth Month.
Recently, other brands specializing in apparel have brought new creative talent to their ranks and refocused their marketing efforts to be more compelling. Since 2020, J.Crew has hired creative director duo Brendon Babenzien, founder of streetwear brand Noah, and Olympia Gayot. A recent Instagram post featured Diane Keaton wearing the brand and garnering 18,000 likes. And in 2020, Gap notoriously signed a 10-year deal with Kanye West to sell Yeezy Gap. The brand collaborated with Balenciaga this year.
There is a lot of room for growth for Everlane. Today, the US accounts for 95% of its business, and 80% of its sales come from its e-commerce site. O’Donnell sees opportunities in Europe, which is more advanced from a sustainability perspective; it combats greenwashing more effectively, which works to the brand’s advantage, she said. At the same time, Everlane is exploring partnerships with retailers who share its values, shy away from discounts and open the door to new customer acquisition. Finally, O’Donnell said she wants to breathe new life into Everlane’s footwear and accessories categories. And she’ll be tackling the men’s side of the business in 2024.
“The healthiest brands are the ones that have the most diversity,” she said.
The rise to luxury status will not be quick for the brand; From O’Donnell’s point of view, Everlane has recently moved into the “good” segment of the fashion landscape, where it plans to remain for the next 18 months. And as she elevates and expands the brand, she plans to provide value and earn customers’ trust to dress them for more aspects of their lives.
Becoming the next Gucci is far from the goal. Instead, Everlane follows the lead of iconic American designers. O’Donnell said she and her team are “students” of the year-long exhibition, In America: A Lexicon of Fashion, which ran through earlier this month at NYC’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. It showcased local brands’ focus on “function, utility, comfort” and people, which has proved more inspiring for the Everlane team compared to European fashion and its focus on designers.
With that in mind, Summer 2023 sees Everlane planning to celebrate the “iconic” styles of American fashion. These include, for example, “the perfect T-shirt” and “the perfect denim”. Inspiration for the capsule included Carolyn Jeanne Bessette-Kennedy, Johnny Depp and Steve McQueen.
As for Everlane sexy, O’Donnell said it will be some time before the brand gets permission to go there. The new focus on dresses is a step in the right direction. O’Donnell compared the look of the brand’s upgraded dresses to those worn by Rene Russo in 1999’s The Thomas Crown Affair. Some feature animal prints. Finally, she would like to be more directly inspired by Giorgio di Sant’Angelo, who designed supple, body-hugging models in the 70s. “Why can’t we do that?” She asked.
The company has the money to try things. Earlier this month, Glossy sister site Modern Retail broke the news that Everlane had raised $90 million in debt. It plans to use the funds to open more stores – building on its 10 – while developing new products. In 2016, the company was valued at around $250 million. The last funding was closed on August 26th.
“What we’ve already achieved is nothing short of miraculous,” said O’Donnell, citing recent product changes. “Now we must learn to express that; that’s a whole new muscle for us.”
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