How Reformation’s Yael Aflalo Launched Every It Girl’s Favorite Brand

Yael Aflalo Reformation

Photo: Celeste Sloman

If you don’t know Yael Aflalo, you definitely know her brand. She’s the founder of Reformation, a collection of simple, sexy, and sustainable clothing with a cult following that includes celebrities, models, and the coolest girls on your Instagram feed. From off-the-shoulder tops to flowing dresses cut in all the right places, Aflalo’s creations are guaranteed to turn heads. It’s no wonder street-style stars, Rihanna, Alexa Chung, and nearly every member of Taylor Swift’s #girlsquad have been spotted in the L.A.-made and -bred brand.

Aflalo originally started Reformation in 2009 as a side project in which she remade clothes out of vintage items. Before that, she spent a decade at the helm of her first brand, Ya-Ya, which she launched shortly after deciding to leave fashion school. We chatted with the designer for some insight on her work process and path to success, so read on for her top tips.

What does a typical day of work look like for you?
“Having our own factory in downtown Los Angeles gives us the freedom to design, manufacture, photograph, and ship product under our own roof and by our own rules. On a typical day, I could be interviewing new people about joining the team, running over to a fitting, meeting with architects about possible new retail spaces, or reviewing fabric samples for upcoming collections—it’s different every day. I really like to be involved in a lot of the process and be as available and hands-on as I can.”

How did you start your career?
“I was introduced to the fashion industry when I was really young, and I spent most of my early years in the downtown L.A. garment district. When I was 20, I produced a small order of handmade skirts from pashminas, which I sold to Fred Segal. I’d say that kick-started my career as a designer. Then I went on to create my first clothing line, Ya-Ya, in 1999.”

What are the most valuable lessons you learned from running your first business?
“Don’t make more than you can sell, and be fast. Opening my own factory with Reformation was the best move because there was no more sitting on inventory. And when there was demand for something, we were able to turn it around and get it back on the floor in two weeks. Speed to market is important.”

When did sustainability become important to you?
“I know I’ve said it before, but the trip to a China [factory] was really it for me. I finally witnessed firsthand the smog and waste and massive scale of it all. There was no going back after that.”

Yael Aflalo Reformation

Photo: Courtesy of Yael Aflalo/Reformation

How has Reformation evolved from when it launched?
“We have three retail stores—one in L.A. and two in New York City—a 33,500 square-foot factory, and more than 100 employees, and we’re growing fast! We’ve also started to implement some cool sustainability initiatives­—like this past Earth Day, we launched RefScale, a feature on our site that shows you how Reformation clothes compare to industry standards in terms of CO2 and water usage. And last month, we launched our new recycling program, RefRecycling, that provides free shipping labels for anyone who wants to send us their old clothes to be reused or recycled.”

What challenges or doubts did you overcome when starting Reformation?
“When I used to tell people that I wanted to create a sustainable clothing company, most of them weren’t into it. At the time, a lot of eco brands weren’t looking at trends or focusing on fit. Instead of listening, we pursued our goal of becoming one of the first clothing brands to master fast, sustainable fashion that doesn’t sacrifice style or the environment.”

How would you describe your design process?
“First, I sit down with my designers and ask them what they want to wear. Then we go through various sketch phases. Once samples are done, we fit various people in the office who have different body types to ensure the best possible fit. I would say that I sit in on 90 percent of the fittings, just because I want to make sure that our styles fit a variety of women and in the most perfect way.”

What has made you feel most accomplished?
“The underlying mission for Reformation is to change the world without changing your style, and I feel that we are the first brand to truly live up to that. Not only are we doing right by the environment and educating our customers, but we are creating beautiful, limited-edition pieces that make women feel beautiful and empowered.”

How do you feel about the celebrity following of the brand?
“We’re lucky to have a lot of really awesome women wear our clothes. We’ve seen pieces on Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Lily Aldridge, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, and Karlie Kloss to name a few. But it’s also nice to go through Instagram and see so many customers in Ref talking about how much they love the brand. I feel like we have a chic, diverse group of ladies who support us, and I hope that group continues to grow as we do.”