Each week at the Sustainable Shopper, Stylist talks to the people focused on creating a more conscious shopping space for all. This time, Kathleen Talbot – chief sustainability officer and vice president of operations at Reformation – talks to fashion editor Harriet Davey about how the brand is part of the big (necessary) change within the fashion industry.
If you’re already in spring mode, you’ll most likely be transfixed on new season pieces that will uplift any outfit. But that doesn’t mean you need to shop the lot. LA-born label Reformation is a destination for endless hero items that’ll become staple items during the warmer months, each and every year. So you can imagine the joy when the collections became available to shop in the UK a couple of years ago. With over 1.6 million followers on Instagram, the brand has a huge influence on the fashion world. And keeping track of the brand’s environmental impact is chief of sustainability, Kathleen Talbot.
With planet-friendly options being at the core of the brand, Reformation checks the impact of every single style made; aiming to reduce the amount of water, materials, and energy used. And that’s not it. The hero summer brand leads the way when it comes to being able to invest in new pieces that not only follow trends, but are also sustainably made to last longer in your wardrobe.
Not only conscious but also inclusive, Kathleen tells the Sustainable Shopper all about Reformation’s big plans for the future (including its new, and first, activewear collection). And how the brand is the closest thing – aside from being naked – to being sustainable.
What is your earliest memory of sustainability?
Kathleen: I’m a stereotypical Seattleite, I have been interested in sustainability my whole life, and knew early on that our future was dependent on changing how we view our relationship with people and the planet.
I was determined to work in the field, gaining my master’s degree in sustainability before going into academia for a bit. A chance meeting with the team behind Reformation made me really inspired to work for a company that genuinely cared about transforming an industry, and was willing to set new rules for how we did business.
Fashion is one of the most polluting industries in the world, and I knew I wanted to be involved in changing this.
Is there such a thing as truly sustainable fashion?
We joke at Reformation that being naked is the number one most sustainable option, and we’re number two. Honestly, sustainable fashion is still really an aspirational goal and I don’t think we can claim we’ve met it until we’re 100% climate positive and circular. Reformation announced this year that by 2025 we will become climate positive, becoming one of the first brands to make this commitment.
As a leading sustainable fashion brand, Reformation has been carbon, waste, and water neutral since 2015, but we believe that neutral isn’t good enough. With this commitment, we will go further to actively reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and invest in solutions that have a net positive impact.
We’ve taken the time to look at the issue of sustainability holistically and it is truly at the core of everything we do; including efforts to reduce our impact on water, materials, and energy systems across our supply chain and business practices. At Reformation we are constantly looking for ways to keep improving and innovating in this space, and it is important to us that we are as transparent as possible about our practices while we do it. That shift will hopefully keep disrupting the industry and expand the solutions needed to achieve true sustainability.
What makes Reformation stand out when it comes to eco-conscious fashion?
We’re much more fashion-forward. Reformation combines stylish, vintage-inspired designs with sustainable practices. Also our approach to sustainability is geeky – we go really deep into the issues and take a very holistic, data-driven strategy to drive climate action and sustainability solutions.
We infuse green measures into every aspect of the business. All of our products are made from lower-impact fabrics in responsible factories, and we track the environmental impact of every style, and offset 100% of product carbon, water, and waste.
Investment pieces vs fast fashion: how do you get customers to care?
Conscious consumerism is definitely on the rise, and I think more and more people are recognizing the true costs of fashion on people and the planet, and adjusting their buying habits. Especially when you read about Gen Z’s willingness to shop their values, it makes the future seem bright! We know we can’t change consumer behavior overnight, but if we can make it easy for people to make more informed purchases, then we’re moving in the right direction.
Many people think that “sustainable fast fashion” is an oxymoron, but sustainability and some key elements of fast fashion can go hand-in-hand. At Reformation we create high-quality, sustainably made limited collections weekly , based on customer demand. This enables us to be responsive to what our customer wants to wear now, and it also means that our stock almost always sells out. By releasing weekly limited collections and only producing items once there is enough demand, we are able to avoid the typical excess and waste.
Ultimately we acknowledge that it’s often the product that gets customers in the door and the sustainability mission that gets them to stay. We believe fashion and sustainability can coexist and that “green” fashion doesn’t mean sacrificing your style. That’s why product and design come first and foremost, and sustainability is infused throughout the production process. The result is more sustainable clothes that people want to wear – they are on trend without being trendy – they are sexy, but at the same time easy and chic.
What changes would you like to see happen in the fashion industry?
While Reformation has made significant strides in finding new and better ways to offer more sustainable product choices to consumers, there is still progress to be made, and we’re doing our best to be fully transparent about where we still have work to do. The industry as a whole is in need of some serious systemic change. We want to be a part of solutions to clean up the industry, whether that’s helping to develop new closed-loop fibres, ensuring living wages for our factories, or innovating more-efficient dye practices.
The move towards circular business models is critical for the future of sustainable fashion. We’re focused on sourcing recycled materials, recycling our manufacturing waste, selling vintage, and supporting resale. All in all, the goal is to reuse or recycle 500,000 garments a year. We’re working hard to offer more direct take-back and upcycling of our stuff, but the industry needs to really scale up the technologies and infrastructure for these programmes.
Three sustainable shopping hacks
- Buy vintage – we always say there’s nothing more sustainable than buying vintage. That’s why we release vintage collections online and run one-of-a-kind Reformation vintage shops in Los Angeles and NYC. We’re also big fans of resale platforms like thredUP.
- Rent – we love programs like Rent the Runway, where you can opt to rent clothing instead of buying new.
- Know your stuff – do your research on the companies you plan to buy from, make sure they are using best practices to create clothing that isn’t harmful to the planet. There are platforms out there enabling you to easily check the impact of your favourite fashion brands on the issues you care about, like Good on You. It’s really important to think about how much things cost – not just to your wallet, but to the environment.
Sustainable Shopper edit by Kathleen:
Reformation Nikita dress
The perfect dress for every day. The Nikita dress is made from 100% viscose, a man-made fibre using wood pulp. At Reformation we work with Canopy, a non-profit group to ensure all our forest products come from sustainably-managed forests.
Reformation Hyland dress
The smocked bodice and double puffed sleeves on the Hyland dress make this the perfect wedding guest dress. 100% linen which is made from flax, it basically uses no water and emits 1/4 the carbon dioxide emissions as cotton does per pound of fibre.
The first ever active line from Reformation, made from EcoMove and EcoStrect fabrics using 100% post-consumer recycled plastic bottles. Producing the fabric uses 45% less energy, 20% less water, and 30% less GHG Emissions than virgin polyester.
Reformation Cort short set
I am living in this organic cotton knit set and feeling extra good about it saving over 30,000 gallons of water.
Reformation Guppyfriend wash bag
This is hands down the best thing you can buy if you want to reduce the impact of how you care for your clothes. It is a patented solution that filters out microfibres released from synthetic materials (so the fabrics used in swim, workout gear, or anything with nylon, polyester on the label) during washing.
Reformation Cynthia jeans
High rise straight jeans are my favourite pair of Reformation denim. Rigid and slim fit, they’re super flattering on your butt and relaxed in the leg. This pair also features a blend of recycled cotton and TENCEL Lyocell fabric, so great alternatives to conventional cotton.
Images: courtesy of Reformation