There are more than eight billion tons of plastic on Earth. That’s more than one ton of plastic for every human being on the planet. The scary truth is that if we don’t address the overwhelming blight of plastic, a material that doesn’t biodegrade, we won’t have much of an environment by 2040. The situation calls for grand gestures, and Everlane is leading the pack with a pledge to remove all virgin plastic from its business by 2021 and by introducing a new material, called ReNew, made from recycled plastic bottles. ReNew is being launched this month in a 13-piece outerwear collection for men and women, priced from $55 to $198, which includes parkas, anoraks, fleeces, and puffers.
“For me, whenever I see product that comes out that’s virgin [plastic], I think, these companies are actively choosing [to not recycle], to say money and profit is more important to us than doing the right thing for the environment,” Everlane founder Michael Preysman told Vogue. “I think that has to change; I think that time is over.”
Preysman and his team have been active in sustainability since the brand launched in 2010, with full visibility on where the products are made, but the jump into recycled materials pushes Everlane into new territory. In researching how to eliminate virgin plastics, Preysman realized that every single product Everlane—and almost every other clothing manufacturer—makes comes wrapped in a plastic polybag for transport from the factories to the warehouses, and then from the warehouses to the customers. “That is millions of plastic bags per company, per year,” he explains. “At Everlane, that’ll all be moved to recycled material, so no more virgin there.”
Everlane is currently sourcing its recycled plastics from a factory in Taiwan—Preysman personally visited the factory—and is researching other recycling plants and factories that convert plastics into new materials around the world and in the United States. As for making sure the factories comply with ethical practices, Preysman explains, “The kinds of people that are doing this kind of work are also the kind of people that are pretty thoughtful, trying to create less damage. They’re in the business of recycling so they are pretty thoughtful about this, and we’ve found some good partners there.” Everlane’s new ReNew fabric, he adds, is Bluesign-certified, an eco-certification issued by a Swiss organization that vouches for sustainable production throughout the supply chain. (Companies like Patagonia, REI, and The North Face also work with Bluesign to use sustainable materials.)
But, of course, making something more sustainable isn’t just about reducing packaging. Preysman plans to replace any use of nylon or polyester, both petroleum-based fabrics, with ReNew by 2021. “We are not launching any new synthetic products that are not made from renewed materials,” he says. “Then, we’re slowly—or as quickly as we can, really—phasing in new products or new materials that replace what’s existing with recycled material.”
Outerwear was a clear place to start. “We try not to use polyester and nylon where we don’t have to because, in general, it is still petroleum-based, and we’d rather use natural materials. With outerwear, you need polyester, and we had done these [pieces] before, so it felt like the right way to revamp and rebuild the product,” continues Preysman. He explains that after a customer has worn down his or her Everlane puffer—a process he expects would take “five, 10-plus years”—that ReNew material can be downcycled into something like insulation or carpets. In the future, Everlane plans to use ReNew in shoe soles, synthetic underwear, and a potential new active category.
The end goal for Preysman is, yes, to sell clothing, but to do it in a way that inspires consumers to rethink the origins and impacts of their garments. “The key challenge is how do you get consumers to understand the impact?” he says. He hopes that customers are inspired to use less plastic in their daily lives and that Everlane’s big push inspires other companies to do the same. “It is our hope that other people follow suit towards a path of using renewed materials.”