Go to any wedding or balmy evening party this summer and you’ll likely find at least one person wearing Reformation. The LA-based label’s universally flattering silhouettes and pretty prints have made it the go-to for women who want to look elegant with an edge. Its founder and CEO, Yael Aflalo, is also the poster girl for the brand’s sexy-cool aesthetic, as the 5ft 10in, raven-haired LA native lives in its easy minidresses: “I feel like my legs are my best attribute, so short dresses just make sense,” she explains over the phone from her Malibu home. Confessing to owning “about 20” minidresses, her go-tos include a black Dolce & Gabbana corseted dress that’s reserved for dinner dates, and a white embroidered vintage kaftan: “I literally wear it everywhere; to run out to get groceries, or on vacation with really high heels in the evening. I have a black mini Reformation slip dress that I also wear all the time – under a jacket in the city, or on its own on vacation. It’s a prized possession.”
Our brand is all about reframing old-school concepts. Such as, I can be feminine but I can also be in charge…”
There is much, much more to Reformation than simplicity and sex appeal, however. Since its launch 10 years ago, it has sparked a quiet revolution and become one of the world’s leading sustainable fashion brands, with an estimated revenue of just over $100 million in 2017. Alongside well-heeled wedding guests, its body-hugging basics and puff-sleeved prairie dresses hang in the closets of everyone from Rihanna to Karlie Kloss. “I have access to some of the most beautiful clothing in the world – some of the most expensive, elaborate couture pieces – and yet in my daily life I wear Reformation,” Kloss, who recently invested in the brand, told The New York Times. “It’s very simple and it’s cut really well.”
Coming from a family of garmentos, and with a love of fashion that came early – “I used to dress myself up like Madonna. I must have been like eight or nine, so it was mostly just the beads and the bracelets” – it didn’t strike anyone as overly ambitious when Aflalo launched her own fashion label, Ya-Ya, aged 21. In the late noughties, when she was in her early thirties, she shuttered the label and was considering her next steps when an eye-opening business trip to China changed the course of her career dramatically. Confronted by the pollution that some garment factories were producing, she felt compelled to create something that would improve the relationship between fashion and the environment, without forsaking aesthetics.
In 2009, Reformation was born with a mission to recast ethical fashion as a desirable, stylish and contemporary proposition. “Our brand is all about reframing old-school concepts. Such as, I can be feminine but I can also be in charge. Or, I can be smart but I can be sexy.” As well as using sustainable fabrics, repurposed vintage clothing and salvaged overstock, Aflalo extended her green business model to touch all areas. Reformation has been carbon neutral since 2015, it sources locally when possible, uses eco-friendly packaging, screens its suppliers, and invests in green building infrastructure to minimize waste, water and energy footprints.
“I always knew [Reformation] was going to take off. I always believed in it,” she says, confidently. “I remember when we first started and we were like a tiny little store, I would tell my friends that we were going to be the biggest sustainable fashion brand in the world, and they would be like, ‘You’re insane’.” As a born entrepreneur, big goals excite her.
I think about what I want out of life or business and try not to worry about how difficult things are to achieve”
“Essentially, I think about what I want out of life or out of business, and I try not to worry about how difficult things are to achieve. I think you should be very focused on what you want and not on fears. Sometimes, I’ll make a mood board; right now I’ve written all the things I want on a little piece of paper that I’ve folded up and keep in my wallet. On the business side, we have a five-year plan, a 10-year plan, a six-month plan, and so on. But on my personal side, sometimes I’ll think, ‘Actually I’ve changed my mind, I want to switch this one a little bit,’ so I take the paper out and redo it.” When Reformation was in its infancy, her mood board was pasted with pictures of her “key mentors, such as [Apple co-founder] Steve Jobs and [Supreme Court Justice] Ruth Bader Ginsburg”, alongside images reflecting sustainability. Having recently launched on NET-A-PORTER, and introduced a footwear line, goal-setting is evidently working for her.
Another stereotype that Aflalo is rewriting is the definition of a power wardrobe. Days at the office are spent in her trusty slip dresses and flats, while conferences and panel talks call for “more elevated” silhouettes. When she travels to New York for meetings, she’ll dress up with Manolo Blahnik heels and an oversized black blazer, or “simple and well-made staples” from The Row, Prada, Nili Lotan and Khaite. Jobs was renowned for his low-key black turtleneck, jeans and Nike trainers, and Aflalo is making a similar statement in her low-maintenance but always-luxe minidresses.