What been going on
It’s rough times out there my friends. We are sick. We are fed up. We are stressed out. Many of us are struggling financially with no end in sight.
A pandemic that has killed more than 100,000 people is still being neglected while Trump is out golfing or tweeting MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! like he’s trying to one-up Lil Jon in Yeeeahs. Shit is reopening too soon. Police protests continue to sweep the nation in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder and countless other black lives lost.
Issues that have festered too long beneath the surface are being unearthed. We’re being asked to sacrifice for the collective good to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and dismantle systemic racism and we’re not used to it as Americans. This is the stuff that fuels real change. Gosh, at least I hope it does.
But if we’re determined to change, now isn’t the time to stay in our corners, however individual and cushy they may be. We must take action to ensure this collective tension leads to upheaval. We need fresh people in office and policies that advance equity for black people and other POC. A revolution is happening in the streets, on Facebook (maybe you noticed your aunt finally picked up that copy of White Fragility), and in the comments section where new allies are made but not coddled.
Why Ref matters
All of this is progress. But there’s also a lot of virtue signaling and black-washing happening, especially by brands who are flaunting little black boxes and #BLM hashtags in their feeds while neglecting their own anti-racism practices.
Rightfully so, they’re being taken DOWN by their employees and customers. The highest-profile of these cases, but the least shocking, was Reformation. After being lauded for years as the cool girl’s eco-brand, Elle Santiago and Diet Prada finally said what everyone with eyes has been thinking for a long time. “Ya racist and it reeks when you talk about your allyship.” Oh, and how about using some models that aren’t a size 00?
I’ve read most of the coverage on the Ref debacle and the evidence is bad. What I haven’t seen yet is anyone offering alternatives to folks who loved their look. Their breezy dresses sell out like fresh cookies at Levain and they made us feel like real champs with all that sexy CO2 and water-saving data in their product descriptions. So where can we invest our sustainable fashion dollars now to get a similar look?
I put together a list of alternatives to Ref so you don’t have to go without your favorite styles just because they can’t get their shit together. All but one of these brands are female-owned and three are black-owned.
Purchase is one form of protest. Stay strong out there in your fight.
Shop GANNI Instead
A brand so cool they don’t even have to put their own images on Instagram. GANNI has carved out a unique niche in the Scandinavian fashion scene that honors modernist and minimal design while iterating and adding a playfulness with their postmodern approach. GANNI is my top search term on TheRealReal and my go-to for statement dresses and those irreverent pieces you never knew you needed.
The founders say GANNI is a responsible fashion brand. “We don’t identify as a sustainable brand. We recognize the inherent contradiction between the current fashion industry that thrives off newness and consumption, and the concept of sustainability. So instead, we’re focused on becoming the most responsible version of ourselves. Committed to making better choices every day across the business to minimize our social and environmental impact. We see this as our moral obligation.”
More on their approach to ethics in this episode of Wardrobe Crisis.
Shop Dynasty George Instead
This black female-owned brand concocts dress creations that will make you want to frolic in a flower field. Hey, that’s a COVID-friendly activity! Everything is made by the owner, Dynasty, from recycled and vintage fabrics, save a mini collection with artisans in Latin America (awesome). Dynasty is passionate about zero waste design and creating a more inclusive sense of community in the dog eat dog world of fashion.
Shop Amur Instead
This female-owned brand, which stands for A Mindful Use of Resources, is all about high impact frills. Sustainability shines through in the brand’s thoughtful use of fabrics. The designers use natural fibers like organic cotton and silk, along with staple fibers like hemp and linen, which require very little water or fertilizer to grow. AMUR also offers forest-friendly cellulosic materials like cupro, a soft and silky fabric made from reclaimed cotton linter. Be sure to seek out their regenerated pieces that are made from waste material too.
Shop Christy Dawn Instead
This most subdued of the three dress brands here, Christy is an OG sustainable label that helped popularize the concept of using deadstock fabric for her namesake dresses that you can “live in.” If you like her ethereal designs, get on her email list to stay on top of styles because deadstock doesn’t stay alive for long.
Shop Earth Toned Collective Instead
In a debut collection, this black female-owned brand introduced its high impact blouses to the world, spun from revived materials. I discovered them on Instagram when a friend posted about black-owned businesses and thought their designs were really original. I especially appreciate their guide on garment care. Because remember, cleaning plays a HUGE role in the impact of your garments.
Shop Wildfang Instead
For those who like the tougher side of Ref and are driven to workwear, Wildfang is where it’s at. They’ve got sharp blazers, jumpsuits, and button downs all rendered in standout prints or solids. The founders are outspoken feminists who have raised over $400k for charities that support reproductive, immigrant, and women’s/human rights. Get it, womxn!
Shop Subrinaheyinkvintage Instead
This sleekly-curated IG account sells styles any former Ref addict would feen over. I also appreciate that the owner addressed the lack of size options in vintage and is working to expand her line with new styles because of this.
Shop Passport Vintage Instead
This local gem based in my home Austin, Texas is a great place source your vintage Levi’s instead of Ref. Plus the owners, Maria Oliveira and Ryan Lerma, are fit experts in these finicky styles that have changed through the years. Just DM them and they’ll help you solve your denim woes.
And a final note….
Reformation also sells outdoor and activewear brands like Patagonia and Girlfriend Collective. By all means, these brands are awesome, keep them on your shopping list, just go direct! And if you’re looking for a more colorful alternative to Patagonia to stand out on the mountain (or maybe just your backyard) check out my favorite brand, Cotopaxi.
Bonus! If you’re looking for an alternative to Ban.do, who also black-washed, check out an equally colorful alternative, Dazey LA.
Drop me a line in the comments and tell me what you think of this whole Reformation business. And are there any brands I missed?
Header image: Dynasty George
Images in post: Reformation
Great list. I would note that Wildfang has a pretty bad reputation for poor worker treatment though. Take a look at their GlassDoor reviews.
Thanks for flagging that Melissa and waking me up to something I didn’t know before.
This is a fabulous list as long as you wear straight sizes. What about people who wear extended? Reformation is one of the few brands I know of that is sustainable and has sizes that fit my body. Do you know of any sustainable brands who also carry sizes for all?
That a good question. Good trade has a great post on this: https://www.thegoodtrade.com/features/plus-size-ethical-fashion
Are there any brands that do a petite line? I’m not interested in tailoring and budget is a major concern. I cannot afford £200+ for one dress. Saving up is not an option.
I prefer feminine, floral styles. I never wear beige and I can’t stand the minimalist look. It isn’t me.
That’s an interesting question, Kathleen. Thanks for coming to me with it! No brands are coming to mind now but given your petite frame, you’d be a good candidate for vintage fashion (which was made historically small. Try sourcing styles from the 40s or 60s if you want the more maximalist look or bold floral patters. Some of my favorite sites for this are Poshmark and depop. You just have to know the right keywords and look for sellers with your similar body type. It can take a while to get your groove, but when you do it’s really rewarding.
Please see Elizabeth Cline’s article on the myth of ethical consumerism. Not saying people should keep buying from Reformation if they are rightfully disgusted with the founder’s behavior. But change does not happen by thinking the market fixes anything.
Thanks for reading, Tracy. I heartfully enjoyed Elizabeth’s piece and greatly respect her as a thought-leader in the apparel industry. We need to move aggressively beyond the dialogue of voting with our dollars and charity fashion that just increases consumption and into real advocacy and systems change that happens at the regulatory and government level. While all this happens, I don’t find any harm featuring brands that have better intentions than those that are greenwashing or propagating unethical practices, which is why I wrote this guide. People love Reformation. I used to love Reformation. Their branding is catchy and they design what shoppers, unfortunately, want. But Ref champions a pernicious form of “sustainable fashion” that’s just a rebrand of fast fashion and they have a shameful track record of unethical internal practices that have been widely documented. The brands listed here are more transparent and working openly not only on issues in their own supply chains, but some are advocating for a better industry. I see this, and the other guides and stories I write, as a way for consumers to make more intentional purchases in tandem with real advocacy, political engagement, and a reduction in consumption in their daily living. It is not my intent at all to detract from the real work that needs to be done at scale.
For my readers, here is Elizabeth’s piece. I encourage everyone to read and take action because these days our lives require advocacy and political engagement.
I appreciate you posting this, Tracy.
Two things. (1) Maithreyi and I (Deven) just launched an aggregator platform for ethical fashion (after going crazy scouring blogs and brands lists). We are very torn about whether or not to include Reformation. Still contemplating, but appreciate your insights. It definitely gave us more to consider. (2) As a community and political organizer, Elizabeth Cline’s piece breaks my heart! With nothing but absolute respect for her experience, it seems to me that her argument is more that the current/modern ethical consumer “movement” is ineffective in creating social change. I think that this is a very fair argument. But I definitely do not agree that ethical consumerism is an ineffective strategy for creating social change. It just cannot be the only strategy deployed in systems change. Just like eating organic is not a way to ensure that our food supply is non toxic/non GMO/non-whatever. If you’re just at home eating your organic food, what are you going to do when all of the organic food runs out b/c the producer was bought up by big ag! But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat organic. It means you should stop being myopic, care about others and not just yourself and support systems change. Not everyone has the courage or the confidence to take on the bigger fights. So we have to have compassion. But I will say it until I die…Ethical Consumerism + Community Activism = Economic, Environmental and Racial Justice. Vote with your dollar. Vote with your vote. Vote with your feet. Vote with a sign in your hand.
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