One of the key career programs at UCLA Anderson is our “Days-on-the-Job” experience that facilitates on-site visits to companies worldwide. Recently, Forté Fellow Robyn Rapaport (’20), who currently serves as marketing director of the student-led Entrepreneur Association and is a member of the Retail Business Association, spent a day at the downtown L.A. factory of clothing manufacturer Reformation. Robyn connected with founder Yael Aflalo, who shared her insight on success, social impact and overcoming challenges.
Reformation is one of the fastest growing retail brands out there. “Ref,” as fans of the brand call it, can be seen on the likes of Taylor Swift, Selena Gomez and even Duchess Megan Markle. Based in our very own Los Angeles, the brand is distinguished not only by its chic separates, edgy marketing and celebrity clientele, but is also set apart by its focus on sustainability. After a trip to China, where she witnessed the polluting effects of the fashion industry first hand, Yael Aflalo, CEO and founder of Reformation, set out to create a sustainable fast fashion brand. As the brand ethos professes, “Being naked is the #1 most sustainable option. We’re #2.”
Q: Reformation seems to have been on a rocket ship toward success. How did the brand get traction at the start? Was the growth mostly organic or was there a paid marketing strategy?
I think we saw relatively fast growth compared to the industry because we continuously create great products. Our fast production, style and affordable prices leave our customers wanting more. Everything’s happened organically; we’re lucky to have the immense support that comes from our customers, who help spread our story.
Q: Anderson students are very passionate about social impact. Can you talk about Reformation’s sustainable fashion initiative?
We infuse green measures into every aspect of the brand, from repurposed vintage pieces and sustainable fabrics to eco-friendly packaging. Having our own factory in Los Angeles allows us not only to be quick, but also to monitor all of our processes, ensuring that we are as sustainable as possible in everything we do.
Q: What qualities does the company believe have allowed for Ref’s success as a startup and your success as an entrepreneur?
Before I started Reformation, there weren’t many other brands who were making sustainable clothes that I would actually want to wear, so I created Reformation to really fill this void at the intersection of design and sustainability. My advice to young entrepreneurs is to find (the place) where passion meets opportunity. If it’s a cause or business or path you’re truly interested in, and there’s a need or gap in the market, go out and make it happen!
Q: Which companies do you view as your competition? How will Reformation ward against competitors in the market and continue to remain on the cutting edge of retail innovation?
We love brands like Patagonia, who are helping destigmatize “eco fashion” and effect positive change on the fashion industry and environment. But we believe that we are unique in the space and no one else is making sustainability synonymous with fashion. We want to lead a movement toward a world where sustainable manufacturing is the status quo.
We’ve established ourselves as a pioneer, not only through our direct-to-consumer business, but bricks-and-mortar retail as well, where we’ve developed an in-store tech concept that brings the best of the online experience to our 13 physical doors across the U.S.
Q: Ref’s brand has such a strong voice. How did the company cultivate that voice?
We like to think of our customers as our friends and communicate with them, as such, through our brand voice. The copy team embraces it in everything they write.
Q: What challenges Ref has faced that the company overcame?
When the company first started, we were told by a lot of people to play down the fact that we were an “eco-friendly” clothing brand because people would automatically roll their eyes. We continued on with our mission of becoming a leader in the wearable “green” fashion space, proving that style and sustainability can coexist.