In 2020, news reports published about staff unrest at the popular fashion brand Everlane, including accusations of a toxic work culture. For a company with a cult following that touts its dedication to sustainability and “radical transparency,” it was a blow.
The company had made some big changes since then. Everlane’s founder and CEO Michael Preysman spoke about them recently in an exclusive streaming Inc. event hosted by Beatrice Dixon, co-founder and CEO of The Honey Pot Company.
Certainly the internal strife wasn’t unique to Everlane as many employers navigated the pandemic and the tumultuous year that was 2020. But how Everlane responded could be a case study in founder leadership.
Preysman, who started the company in 2010, says he not only hired an executive coach, but the company also set up structural systems to install greater empathy and accountability in the organization. These include changing the makeup of the company’s board, adding rules about how it hires at the director level, pledging to fill a third of its positions internally, installing an anonymous employee feedback process, and collaborating with its staff on talent planning and assessment.
“That constant process, it’s like going out and working in the garden or checking in on your friends. You’re constantly asking people, ‘What’s working? What’s not working? How can I help?’ And you start to pick up themes. It’s our job as leaders to hear those themes that are constantly unblocked to create a better environment,” says Preysman.
In the wide-ranging exchange, Preysman and Dixon spoke about seeking new ways to navigate change as a business owners and sticking to your ideals as a mission-driven company. Here are a few other highlights from the interview.
When Everlane was founded, Preysman says he and his team didn’t really know how every part of the clothing industry worked, but they knew there were lots of ways other businesses were cutting corners and not doing right by the consumer and the planet. So perhaps out of sheer ignorance, the company in its early days set seemingly impossible goals. But those ambitions, Preysman says, gave the entire team a goal to shoot for the moon, even if that meant landing among the stars at times.
“Part of the journey is to set ambitious goals and part of our communication is to say, we’re never going to get there. But we set these goals to be so high so that we have something to aspire to,” Preysman says.
Expect some failures along the way.
Creating something different or aiming to disrupt an industry is simply hard work, Preysman says. Often, you’re putting growth aside to do it. For example, in 2018 Everlane decided to remove all non-recycled plastic from its supply chain within three years, which required a lot of research and development. So far, it has hit 90 percent of its goal.
“Inevitably, you’re not going to always land and get things right, and that’s scary for people,” Preysman says. Instead of being afraid to take the first step, he say, recognize that it’s hard work and keep moving forward until it’s done.
Don’t compromise on product quality.
While your mission is important, consumers look for great products at the end of the day. “They fall in love with the brand. But they buy the product,” Preysman says.
In addition to focusing on your mission, ask yourself: Do people resonate with and love the product? Do they come back to buy more? That’s key, according to Preysman, because without satisfied customers coming back, your company won’t have the fuel it needs to create an impact.
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