As such, one could argue that there is the very real possibility that Everlane’s supplier factories simply are not as ethical or sustainable as Everlane is portraying them to be, and that is why the brand relies on citing trade secret concerns as a means of avoiding disclosing them.
Consider that Level Style, Inc. – which, according to U.S. import records, provides Everlane with an array of shirt styles, including its Slim Fit Oxford and Slim Fit Denim shirt – has come under fire within the past year or so for labor-related issues. A Hong Kong-based company that owns the Shenzhen Artigas Clothing and Leather factory, among many other sub-suppliers, Lever Style, Inc. was accused by the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (“HKCTU”), a pro-democracy labor and political group in the Hong Kong, of retaliating against garment workers who were seeking severance payments and the payment of social insurance in arrears following the abrupt and unannounced closure of at least one Lever Style-owned factory in Hong Kong.
According to HKCTU, Everlane was an existing client of Shenzhen Artigas Clothing and Leather factory at the time of the factory closure and subsequent striking (Around 900 employees began striking in June 2015 at the company’s Shenzhen Artigas Clothing & Leather factory over severance pay and relocation of the factory. This follows a strike by almost 1,000 workers in 2014 over unpaid social insurance and housing contributions at the same factory). Maybe instances like this are why Everlane opts to shield the names of its factories from consumers.
VAGUE CLAIMS, NOT FACTS
Speaking to Racked last year, Preysman said: “Retail isn’t a space where there’s a lot of information. It’s very obfuscated.” It is unclear how, exactly, though, Everlane is any different in this respect. While Everlane makes praising claims about its factory partners and the working conditions upon which they operate – which certainly sound impressive to a consumer quickly skimming its site – the company does not actually provide any substantive information in support of its claims … at all.
For instance, in discussing how it decided to partner with Level Style, Inc., Everlane claims it selected the Chinese company “[a]fter a rigorous vetting process to find the best tailored shirting vendor.” Yet, Everlane neglects to provide information for the consumer about what its “rigorous vetting process” consists of and how Lever Style, Inc. met it.
Moreover, in providing information on its website about one of its suppliers, Everlane asserts: “We assess every potential factory through a stringent ‘compliance audit’ —which helps us evaluate the work environment.” It similarly does not elaborate on what its “stringent compliance audit” looks like.
Making vague and unsubstantiated claims in lieu of providing cold hard facts is a common trend that runs through the Everlane model. When asked about wages paid to laborers within its supply chain , Everlane told Project Just, a New York-based non-profit organization devoted to helping consumers shop in a more informed manner: “The workers at each of our factories are paid, on average, a higher wage than their peers. Having said that, we can’t explicitly state how much each worker is compensated due to confidentiality agreements with our manufacturing partners.”
An Everlane spokesman did, however, tell Project Just that the company maintains a “Vendor Code of Conduct” and that “each factory is subject to a yearly semi-announced audit by a third-party company, with this visit focusing in on our 13 compliancy standards.” Everlane failed to provide any specific information on its “13 compliancy standards” and its auditing system.
In fact, a bit of research reveals that Everlane does not actually publicize any detailed information about its “vetting process,” “Vendor Code of Conduct,” auditing system or the results of such audits at all. In this way, Zara is more transparent than Everlane. Zara’s parent company, Inditex lists its “Code of Conduct for Manufacturers and Suppliers Inditex Group” in full on its website.
Similarly, Fast Retailing, Uniqlo’s parent company, is also more transparent than Everlane, as it provides information identifying its auditing processes, as well as information regarding steps taken to address any failures to meet the company’s established standards. According to one summary from the company’s 2015 Annual Report, “Poor storage management of dangerous chemicals (China): On discovering this problem at a fabric supplier in China , members of our CSR department immediately offered guidance and training. The fabric supplier concerned also appointed an external manager and introduced on-site safety management training.” Inditex provides similar information.
Finally, in conversing with a Project Just editor, an Everlane spokesman asserted that it “does not use any subcontractors,” which may not be entirely true. Unauthorized subcontracting to an unapproved factory is “very, very common,” according to Gary Peck, founder and managing director of the S Group, a design and sourcing company based in Portland, Oregon. Though almost all retailers prohibit the practice in their contracts, a significant number of suppliers still do it to save money, speed production and meet high-volume orders.
While physical audits can certainly help in determining the actual places of productions, in many cases it is very difficult to determine when a contractor or subcontractor produces products at an approved or non-approved site. With this in mind, such an assertion by Everlane might suggest that it does not know the true extent of its supply chain . Per Project Just, “It is unclear if the brand can trace its entire supply chain.”
With quite a few seemingly loose ends and an array of very elusive and unverified claims, it is best to think twice about Everlane. Experts in the field of ethical sourcing and trade still encourage skepticism, no matter how warm and fuzzy a website makes one feel. “There is a lot of consumer concern, and there is a tendency for smaller companies to want to exploit it,” says Scott Nova, Executive Director of the Worker Rights Consortium. “That can be a very positive motivation, but the concern is that there are people who, out of cynicism or lack of understanding, are not making verifiable claims.”