San Francisco-based Web-only apparel and accessories brand Everlane, which has made the notion of transparency a fundamental tenet of its high-quality, lower-cost business model, is taking its message to the street with a novel marketing campaign that kicked off in Los Angeles earlier this week.
Everlane's Transparent City Series, which got underway here Tuesday afternoon, has already given customers, potential customers and friends of the brand opportunities to meet L.A.-based artist Tofer Chin in a downtown art gallery, get behind the scenes at Alfred Coffee on Melrose and attend a 40-person dinner at Sqirl in Silver Lake at which chef Jessica Koslow popped out between courses to painstakingly share the provenance of her ingredients. By the time the series draws to a close in Culver City on Saturday morning – with an "Ask Why LA" panel discussion that includes an "ask our CEO anything" session -- it will also have served up a tour of a Vernon T-shirt factory and a transparency-themed (glass) house party at Roy Choi's Commissary at the Line Hotel.
This isn't the first time the 4-year-old e-tailer has taken its philosophy – and its product – out into the marketplace to give customers a chance to see and feel the products. Last summer, the effort took the form of a two-week Everlane pop-up shop in New York City's SoHo neighborhood. (An unexpected result from that experience? Lots of international inquiries from visiting tourists for the company – which currently only ships to U.S. and Canadian addresses.)
But the L.A. series, with seven events over five days, is easily the most ambitious branding effort. It finds Everlane partnering with a wide range of like-minded chefs, artists, bloggers -- and even other apparel brands -- to look behind the scenes and around corners all over Los Angeles, underscoring Everlane's efforts at being completely transparent about its business, from disclosing the exact factories where its clothes are made to revealing how much profit the company makes from each piece.
Merchandise wasn't the main draw at Wednesday night's Sqirl dinner, which included spring pea salad with pea tendrils and smoked date jam, chicken and lamb kofta and a black rice dish with foraged mushrooms. But before dining, the invite-only guests were able to peruse a single spare rack of 10 pieces that included shirts, skirts, trousers and anoraks with a couple of newer shoe styles including a bold pair of woven black-and-white Italian-made loafers.
As at the dinner, a rack of Everlane's current and upcoming offerings are present at the various events but they aren't being offered for sale.
So what will constitute a successful "activation" (as such things are known)?
"You're asking the age-old question of: 'What is successful branding?,' " CEO Michael Preysman said at Wednesday night's invite-only dinner at Sqirl. "One [measure] will be how many people turn out to the various events and another will be how engaged people are on social media." As of this writing it's hard to get a bead on the second of those metrics but to the first point, each of the events described at the Transparent L.A. page of Everlane's website was at capacity before the first event began Tuesday, and one – a Friday tour of the Vernon factory where Everlane's T-shirts are made -- had a wait list of more than 300 people.
Preysman said that Los Angeles made sense as a place to kick off the Transparent City Series because of its connection to the Vernon factory but that future stops will be determined by customers, who are encouraged to vote for one of a dozen cities listed at the site including Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Philadelphia, Portland, San Diego, Seattle, Toronto and Washington, D.C.
Radical transparency aside, Preysman couldn't say with any certainty which city would be next – because he doesn't know yet. "Right now it looks like it's between Austin and Chicago," he told us Wednesday night. "And, as of right now, Chicago has the most votes."
According to an Everlane rep, the next series of events will probably unspool in June, with the city announced a month in advance – so customers and inhabitants of that city can help Everlane crowd-source curate what that city's see-through experience will look like.