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Fashion

Yael Aflalo's Reformation Allows Fashionistas to Go Green by Making Vintage Cool

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Wed, Jul 25, 2012 at 4:15 PM

click to enlarge Yael Aflalo of Reformation - PHOTO BY RILEY KERN
  • PHOTO BY RILEY KERN
  • Yael Aflalo of Reformation

More stories from our 2012 Fashion Issue on dressing ethically:

*West Hollywood's New Fur Ban

*Does L.A. Still Have Sweatshops?

*Yael Aflalo's Reformation Makes Vintage Cool

*Santa Monica's Main Street, a Green Fashion Hub

*Three L.A. Designers Who Do Eco-Fashion Right

When Yael Aflalo founded her first clothing line, Ya-Ya, in 1999, the 20-year-old made the same decision as many young designers: She arranged to manufacture primarily in China.

While she found the working conditions at the factory to be acceptable, their environmental impact was appalling.

"The air pollution is so intense I found it difficult to breathe or see distances clearly at 100 feet," Aflalo recalls. "I felt I could no longer close my eyes to my personal contribution to this pollution and was determined to return home and make a difference."

After nearly a decade, she closed Ya-Ya. "I became disillusioned with the fashion industry," she admits. "I hadn't enjoyed Ya-Ya for years, and I made the leap to close it and open up to new possibilities."

So in 2009 -- armed with years of experience and a truer understanding of how business practices affect the world -- Aflalo opened her first Reformation store in L.A. as a truly sustainable alternative.

Every new piece of fabric, after all, has its own negative impact on the Earth. The production of nylon creates nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas even worse than carbon dioxide. Making polyester requires large amounts of water. Rayon, made from wood pulp, can lead to the destruction of old-growth forests. Even cotton presents problems: Unless it's grown organically, it typically uses major amounts of pesticide. And that doesn't even get into the manufacturing process, which often involves bleach, dye and formaldehyde. A new blouse might seem like a quick pick-me-up, but it has serious repercussions for our soil and air.

Aflalo's innovation was to get rid of the bad stuff: the need for new fabric, chemical treatments and massive assembly lines. Her secret? Old clothing.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY RILEY KERN
  • PHOTO BY RILEY KERN

Unlike Aflalo's first venture, Reformation isn't about designing, and then producing, new styles from scratch. Instead, it's dedicated to perhaps the only truly green way to manufacture new clothes: reinventing vintage ones.

The company's headquarters resides in an aging commercial mid-rise on the corner of Olympic and Los Angeles, where a team of 12 to 15 sewers, cutters and finishers toil. It's a far cry from your stereotypical sweatshop: They start their day in the well-lit, air-conditioned space at 8:30 a.m., have an hour off for lunch, and end at 4:30 p.m. -- early enough to pick up their kids from school.

They work with both rolls of dead-stock fabric, which is leftover cloth that would otherwise end up in a landfill, and clothing gathered from vintage buyers and swap meets. Reformation pickers search, choose and keep only clothes that are 100 percent natural -- fabrics that so much as feel synthetic are rejected -- and in good condition. (Anything not up to the company's standards is donated to charities such as the American Red Cross.)

The pickers then launder, sort and stack the goods, with jeans, silk tops and leather sorted into massive and meticulously labeled cardboard boxes. Most of the styles are so outdated that the average fashionista wouldn't be caught dead in them, but Reformation aims to transform them into items that the design team defines as "on-trend but not trendy," ensuring they'll be worn for years to come.

Next, the fabrics are moved to an area with long tables and sewing machines. One cutter holds an old pair of black leather pants that she painstakingly segments into a row of fringe, soon to be sewn onto a leather jacket. Another removes shoulder pads from an old silk shirt, which is then measured and prepped for its transformational journey. (Final incarnation: a pair of high-waisted short shorts.) A third cutter fits a pair of loose-fitting vintage jeans with a new seam and a leather patch, making them both slim-cut and hip.

Instead of a factory, the warehouse is run like a well-choreographed dance. The pickers are in constant contact with the sewers, who get feedback from the designers. The Reformation team also includes a group of half a dozen attractive 20-somethings who refer to themselves as the "ref girls." Ref girls make their way from the warehouse to the stores and back again, collecting observations from customers as to what they want, and then working with the designers to make it happen.

While most of Reformation's styles are designed to fit a variety of shapes and sizes, the shops tailor individual pieces to fit, just as the big department stores do. That kind of attention, coupled with the company's efforts to be "eco," have caught the eye of celebrities like Miley Cyrus, Ali Larter and Zoe Kravitz.

The company is gaining exposure as it continues to expand. Six months after the L.A. flagship opened on Melrose, a second store sprung up on Manhattan's Lower East Side. A third is planned in SoHo.

For Aflalo, who puts her stamp on the design of every piece, that means logging some serious air miles. While she's in New York most of the time, she stays in L.A. roughly one week of each month. "I'm intimately involved, from design through production," she says. "This is one area where I let my inner control freak run wild."

Asked what she's most proud of, Aflalo doesn't mention her celebrity following or her impact on the Earth. She speaks to the company's core: its clothing. "I'm a mercurial creative type, so this changes day to day," she says. "Today I love our dresses."

More stories from our 2012 Fashion Issue on dressing ethically:

*West Hollywood's New Fur Ban

*Does L.A. Still Have Sweatshops?

*Yael Aflalo's Reformation Makes Vintage Cool

*Santa Monica's Main Street, a Green Fashion Hub

*Three L.A. Designers Who Do Eco-Fashion Right

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