Innovative Retailer – Reformation

Brought to you by Retail Insider and PCMS Group

Name: Reformation

The Place: America (again). I promise the next one will be in the UK but we like Reformation so we’re doing it anyway. It’s headquartered in Los Angeles – where else? But also has eight other stores including a couple of pop-ups scattered about in New York, San Francisco, Miami and the like.

The Story: There are two iterations of women’s clothing manufacturer and retailer Reformation – there’s the first one and then there’s…

Let me guess. The second one: Correct. The one with the strapline ‘We make killer clothes that don’t kill the environment’. Let me take you back to 2009 when founder Yael Aflalo…

Try saying that when you’ve had a few: Sigh. In 2009 Yael Aflalo founded Reformation (she was already a seasoned retailer by then via her first company Ya-Ya which she began when she was 21) with money from the proceeds of selling off Ya-Ya. Did I mention she is also an ex-model so she knew the fashion business inside out?

No, you didn’t. So what was wrong with the first one? Well nothing really. Reformation numero uno operated on a fairly eco-friendly basis as it only bought pretty little second-hand dresses from vintage fairs and flea markets, upcycled them with a few new twirly bits thrown in and voila, sold them from one small store in Los Angeles. Pretty blooming small carbon footprint there, you might think.

So what happened? Aflalo said “No! It’s not enough, damn it” and she went away, researched how to scale sustainable production and the impact of material production on the environment and she re-launched her baby in 2012 as an online business with a production facility and shopfront in Los Angeles. Boom.

And now it’s eco-friendly enough for the most diehard activist: Unequivocably. This is a company which offers whole pages of advice on its website about the art of handwashing, and the question to ask drycleaners to make sure they are green enough.

Got it. So it’s greener than a Brussel sprout:  Wait, I haven’t finished. Then there’s Tencel. Known as the ‘Holy Grail’ of materials and Austria’s best kept secret. Part of the Rayon family but uses a fraction of the resources to make that most others fabrics do. Your average T-shirt might have used 200 gallons of water to make, one from Reformation will only take six.

Have we done enough on the whole eco thingy now? No, no. I’ll just run through a few more bits on the green thing before we stop. 15% of what they utilise is deadstock material that they save from going to landfill. Half of all the raw goods they use comes from the US to save on air miles and there are exacting standards for all other global suppliers. 50% of all Reformation stock is made from either Tencel, or vintage recycled materials.

OK, you’re beginning to sound just a teensy bit preachy on me now: But don’t you see, this could change the world. When it’s staff birthday time a tree gets planted in their name. So cute. And all the staff get one day off a month to volunteer somewhere worthwhile.

I will call security if I have to:  You are totally missing the point. As Aflalo herself has said – most sustainable trading consists of telling people that they should consume less and buying is BAD.

Bad consumer! Reformation turns that on its head – its message is basically – you want that dress, you get it, girl! Want that other one? Get it too! But don’t feel guilty because we have done the eco thing for you.

In my experience being green doesn’t lead to the explosion of interest and levels of sales growth that Reformation has experienced – so, come on what else is there? In no particular order – the Collections, fast design time and influencer adherents to the brand, and high-tech changing rooms.

Well, let’s take one at a time: Changing rooms – the bane of many a woman’s life.

A necessary evil surely: As of February this year a new store opened in San Francisco which aims to change all that. Aflalo noticed that as the shops got busier the shopping experience reviews got way worse. Staff simply firefight, replacing rifled garments back on the racks, ensuring changing rooms are clear, queue organising and leaving no time for personalised advice for consumers.

Well, it’s not haute couture: Massive racks holding every size and colour in the entire range take up all the space with a few poorly lit changing rooms for all consumers to use. And then she had the Eureka moment.

Yes? 20% of the range drives 80% of business. So just put out the 20%.

Genius: Touch-screens around the store allow you to then look through the rest of the range, order one via screen which then magically appears in the dressing room for you via the customer service fairy.

Double genius: And with all the room saved, Reformation has created much plusher interiors with proper mirrors and lighting and the staff do what they are trained to do and advise customers.

Yael Aflalo, founder of Reformation

Women everywhere are cheering now: And all that lovely data from the touch screens on what they are looking for and in what sizes is of course stored up and used to develop the collection.

OK, we haven’t got all day. Next: Fast fashion. Innovative enough to find fast fashion partnered with eco-consciousness but Reformation has developed a kind of streets-up design concept. Collections are launched on an almost weekly basis with many lines selling out straight away. Customers can then sign up to a wait list which implies that a new batch will almost certainly be made or a want list meaning that if enough of them sign it then they will think about making more.

Get back to the point: Sorry. Ideas are initially brainstormed by a group of designers, whittled down by Aflalo and several senior colleagues and then finally offered to the 250 other staff members (predominantly women) to see if they would buy it.

Job done. Next? The Collections. Reformation really tries to tell a story with its clothes. They have very specific ranges called things like ‘I’m Up Here’ – that was for ladies with a larger chest. The one for women under 5’ 4” is ‘Don’t Call Me Cute’ and so on. Celebs are totally lapping it up. It’s not cutting edge design – just really pretty clothes that women want.

Doesn’t it have any bad points? I’m just thinking…

It’s been a while. I’m still here. No it doesn’t.

Fair enough.

PCMS is a global provider of IT software and services for the retail industry. PCMS offers a full-range of integrated commerce solutions across selling touch points and also provides turnkey managed services and cloud hosting. Its client list includes John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, Whole Foods, as well as Walgreens in the US and fashion brands including Prada and Ferragamo across Europe