In light of this collective social awakening that’s been shaking up algorithms on Instagram, it has given us the opportunity to speak up without fear. While anyone’s quick to say what they wanna say, the flip side is that sadly, the true colors of a brand comes out the moment comments pop up like a snake from a bush. As a consumer that has the privilege to spend on a brand, it’s been cropping up on my radar that you, a brand I once actively supported, have fallen short on your actions.
You’ve been plagued by workplace racism, testimonies of bad pay, unsafe working conditions, cultural appropriation and a good, but misguided sustainability campaign that’s been accused of promoting racism. A few members of staff past and present have been exposed for making irresponsible and insensitive posts on Instagram. Shortcomings aside, you’ve gotten clout from Net-A-Porter (who even granted your Founding Mother an interview), Selfridges, Shopbop, Vogue and Rookie Mag, plus the investment from Karlie Kloss and endorsement by celebrities from Rihanna to Taylor Swift. A senior analyst from Global Data dropped a quote to BBC that your premium brand image has successfully persuaded shoppers like me to buy into your hot girl sustainability mission. Even your cult status has afforded you to have the power to create hype among resellers on Carousell in Singapore as residents like myself don’t have access to your brick and mortar stores across the States, Canada or London. (Plus it’s much easier to deal with local vendors here as opposed to having to wait forever for a package to arrive from LA!)
Though it’s completely normal for a brand like you to make mistakes, I don’t expect you to be perfect. While your ex-employees have spoken about their past grievances with you on Instagram, it’s inspired me to do the same. Though I have not experienced much racial discrimination from any of your staff, I feel that I, as a customer, have had a fair share of less than positive experiences with you.
When I was in my early 20s and fresh off the boat in Los Angeles, you were one of the brands that have helped me define my style. As a college student from 2014 to 2016, I was on the hunt for sustainable, but ethically made apparel. Chic, but practical clothes that can take me anywhere from class to a dinner with my girlfriends. A vintage soul made for the modern girl. A walk in the park that bridges the gap between luxury prices and affordability. Because you checked off all the boxes on my list, it’s drawn me to your energy.
At the beginning of our relationship, you were great. I never had any issue with the fits of your cute little dresses, the deadstock fabrics you used felt awesome and I liked that the designs always had a hint of sexiness that felt playful. Though I couldn’t make any returns from the online store, I knew that some way or another, they had the potential to make great gifts for my sister, whose style erred towards conservative. The selection of vintage fabrics you found for the dresses I’ve worn in the past were phenomenal: I got zero discomfort from wearing every single deadstock surplus fabric that hugged my curves. They also photographed well to the point where it justified the price point. However, my only beef is that you could’ve hired a fabric expert to break down what a certain fiber was made out of in your deadstock fabrics.
Ditto with having to figure out how to properly care for a fabric as most garments are sewn with a “Dry Clean Only” tag. Point is, I liked how you were able to reuse leftover fabric into making cute fun dresses. For example, you know how you made a little leopard print A-line t-shirt dress? Well, I’ve decided to include a photo of myself wearing a Nasty Gal dress from an Abercrombie store visit on the left versus me wearing your Mars dress on the right. Though both styles were different, the poly/rayon blend fabric had the same thickness and identical print. Similarities aside, you did the right thing by reusing leftovers from the factories.
Apart from the deadstock fabric, I’ve had positive experiences wearing your Tencel and viscose fabrics. The former, which I previously wore in the form of a backless bodysuit, helped me to survive two very hot summers.
Your viscose fabrics, which ranged from a classic black dress, sweet off-the-shoulder polkadot dress and a pair of funky checked flared pants has helped me stay cool during hot weather and simultaneously create iconic style moments. Not only was I able to wear them again repeatedly over the years, I felt that those two dresses performed the best as I found unlimited styling options.
Even though I supported your mission in using eco-friendly fabrics, there were moments when the quality of the garment has not performed well over the years.
Exhibit A: The blue faux fur coat. Do you remember how you wanted to refrain from using real fur into your products? Well, as someone who owns vintage fur products, I was thinking of trying out the pastel faux fur trend and you were the top brand on my list. I made my score at the Melrose boutique in 2014 and I didn’t regret my purchase at that time. Your coat kept me warm from the LA winter. It was easy to clean, too. Three years later, the fibers started shedding faster than a dog losing its fur. At that point, my mom pointed out to me that something was wrong with your quality, which brought me to sell it on eBay. In spite of my sadness, I had nothing but happy memories.
Exhibit B: The glitter striped tee. Your expertise was on making everyday basics with a sustainable angle. At the same Melrose boutique in 2015, I walked out of your store with a bluish purple with silver striped glitter boyfriend tee. I bought it because not only did it make me feel comfortable, it reminded me of this vintage Angelina Jolie photo. When I first wore it, the fabric was evenly covered. But over the years, it started having a burnout effect, which I did not anticipate. It was then I realized that your fabric started to lose its quality. Though it’s sitting in my closet now, it breaks my heart to think about how it aged horribly.
While the clothing quality isn’t the most major offense that you’ve committed, I’ve been beginning to reflect that you, as a brand, have been misleading a customer like me for years with a glimmer of false hope when it came to how you wanted to dress bustier bodies.
Whenever I shopped at your boutique in Melrose between 2014 to 2016, I remembered that the space was expansive and filled with great lighting. The dressing rooms had enough space for me to put down my bags. I loved that you had mirrors that made me look like I was a movie star. But the issue that I had was that a 5’2″ and a half big breasted woman like myself could only walk out with one garment inside a black REFORMATION tote as most of the dresses and tops you offered were either too big (at the waist and shoulders), too small (for my perky 32 DD boobs) or too long (to the point where it blanketed my feet or stopped awkwardly at the widest point of my ankles). With exorbitantly high prices slapped on your tags for the items that fit me well, I was sometimes reluctant to buy it.
Conversely, I happily spent my money on a dress when you dropped the “I’m Up Here” collection. When I first saw it six years ago, I was like, “Finally! A collection where I can have the opportunity to buy more Ref pieces!”. However, the reality of it pained me.
First things first, most of your styles from that drop were *not* bra-friendly. How can a person like me, who constantly needs a bra, wear a crop top that doesn’t look bra-supportive?
Ditto with having to think of spending more money to find a decent bra to match with these kinds of dresses, which I didn’t buy because of how useless my regular bra would be.
Even when I did wear a bra with the black square necked Cobra dress from your collection, the straps of my bra still showed up (see below).
Drea, a former Reformation manager, said that the “I’m Up Here” campaign disappointed more people than anticipated.
And also, did you think that any of the fresh out of school designers whom you hired at that time had a good understanding of what it’s like to have to wear a normal size 32DD bra that has thicker straps at the back every single damn day? It seems like they didn’t when you released the dresses, which implied that I either had to wear a strapless bra, a bra with super thin straps and a low armhole or go for a non-supportive silicone backless bra.
I was hoping that you’d improve, but it still seemed like I had to ditch my bra when you released the lace-up top and this tie-front dress when you dropped a new collection for us big breasted ladies in 2015. Great marketing aside, I wish that you could have been more inclusive to show that your “full cup” garments could cover sizes bigger than DD and/or hire a busty and petite model.
Apart from marketing, the one thing where you truly needed to improve was your customer service at the brick and mortar stores. When I shopped at your boutique in Melrose, I remembered that you had two to three sales women. Though there were quite a number of girls at the store, I was barely given any service most of the times I went there. I had to grab two to five pieces of clothes off the rack myself, walk to the dressing room, then call someone over if I needed another size. Either you were understaffed or didn’t train your sales ladies enough to let the service be that bad. The bad service was appalling and I’m sure that I ain’t the only one as there were a couple of similar reviews on Yelp. Ditto with SZA, who is just as powerful as your other VIP clients.
Though you had the potential to build a rapport among customers IRL as you do on the URL, it’s extremely disappointing when your employees on the sales floor mistreat us. In spite of that, I’ve had better interactions at your Soho store in NYC as the staff was more helpful when it came to assisting me.
Before I finish, your mission was originally founded on the fact that the fashion industry’s pollution made you cry, Yael. Like you Ms. Aflalo, I also felt the same, too. When you expanded your store abroad, I respected your ambition and mission because I agreed that you wanted to bring sustainable fashion to everyone. However, your goal to become the next Zara has strayed you away from being sustainable when the amount of deadstock fabric you used to frequent went to 10 to 20 percent as of 2019, a far cry from 50 percent in 2014. Viscose, a fabric you frequently use, ironically isn’t the most sustainable as the chemical inside it has been linked to serious medical issues (e.g. stroke). Carbon disulphide, a chemical that’s used to treat the wood pulp in viscose, has been linked to birth defects to cancer. That basically ties into outsourcing, which you’ve openly mentioned on your website, as most of the viscose factories are located in Asia, specifically India, Indonesia and China (as reported by The Guardian). Given that you had employees type the “sustainably made in China” line in one of your listings for a top (for instance), how is it sustainably made when the manufacturing process for viscose has been linked to horrific pollution in China, where the loss of aquatic life took place in Poyang Lake? Although I don’t know which factories you work with outside of your Instafamous factory in LA, it deeply saddens me that the sin of your greed for profit and quick sales has polluted your morals.
While your Instafamous factory has been the star of tours, Durbyn Galindo, a student of Los Angeles Trade Technical College, commented below on Diet Prada’s post about the vagueness of your answers.
Although I am glad that you openly disclose where you outsource now, my question is why would you want to work with vendors whom you’ve mentioned on your website with moderate/minor issues to safety/health/labor violations?
Frankly, I haven’t shopped at your boutique and online store for three years due to the aforementioned flaws. I was hoping that someday, I’d be able to return to you, but I can’t. Now that you’ve destroyed your reputation, I don’t think I will never, ever, ever, ever get back together with you unless you are willing to sincerely repent.
Yael, you as a leader have the power to change and you (alongside your team) can always count on us to do better because we, the customer, are trying to hold you accountable out of love. While releasing a poorly worded self-contradictory apology and setting your Instagram to private probably isn’t the best solution to run away from this scandal, you can pull up through action without needing to use social media to validate yourself. The same applies to your senior management, presidents, etc. whom you’ve chosen to lead with you. Unlearning isn’t easy. Though I am no influencer or celebrity, I hope that my voice will enlighten you to do better.
A Former #RefBabe