Reports of Racism Besmirch Reformation's 'Sustainable' Reputation [Updated]

Whitney Bauck

"You will never allow a Black woman to sit at your table because then you wouldn't be able to talk the way you all love to talk."

Reformation has long been a darling of millennial shoppers due to its sustainability-centered marketing and LA cool girl aesthetic. But as the United States erupts in protests over white supremacy and police brutality, Reformation is finding itself in the spotlight for something other than its summer dresses. Accusations are coming forward that racism have been woven into the fabric of the company since its inception.

When the company posted about the donations it would be making to organizations like Black Lives Matter, the NAACP and Black Visions Collective on May 31, Elle Santiago, formerly the assistant manager at Reformation's flagship store, commented sharing some of her experiences with racism at the company. 

"Working for Reformation deeply traumatized me. Being overlooked and under valued as a woman of color who worked & managed their flagship store for 3years was the hardest [sic]," she said. Her comment soon garnered over 26,000 likes, far surpassing the 16,000 or so likes on Reformation's post itself.

A few days later, Santiago created a dedicated post on her own Instagram to share more of her experiences. She described being passed over for hires despite having a proven track record effectively expanding and training the team, being denied a more senior title that reflected the work she was already doing, and being treated with "disgust" by the brand's founder, Yael Aflalo

"There were lots of stories about what was happening at HQ but one I always remember was that someone showed Yael a potential Black model and she responded 'we're not ready for that yet,'" Santiago wrote.

She also talked about the lack of care that was shown for Black employees when traumatic headlines — like the news of Philando Castile's shooting — made showing up to work retail particularly difficult. Santiago also mentioned stories she'd heard from other former employees claiming that white employees were often sent to service customers on "shiny heated sales floors" while Black and non-Black people of color were made to work in the back of the store without heat. 

Other stories, like one where current VP of wholesale Elana Rosenblatt posted a picture of herself eating fried chicken to "celebrate" Black History Month, further underscored the picture Santiago painted of the company culture at Reformation.

"You will never allow a Black woman to sit at your table because then you wouldn't be able to talk the way you all love to talk," she wrote.

Santiago's post blew up, probably in part due to some signal boosting by Diet Prada, to the point that Reformation couldn't ignore it. On June 7, four days after Santiago's initial comment, Reformation posted a statement from Aflalo that started with "I've failed." In the statement, Aflalo detailed the initiatives the brand would be taking moving forward, including launching a Diversity and Inclusion Board and including diversity and inclusion metrics in its quarterly Sustainability Report.

If the comment section is any indication, customers aren't quite convinced yet. We'll be keeping an eye on the brand to see what develops in the coming months.

UPDATE, Friday, June 12: On Friday, Reformation founder Yael Aflalo posted a statement to the brand's website announcing her departure from the company. "Over the past few years it has become clear to me that I am not the right person to lead a business of Reformation's size and scope," Aflalo said in the published statement. "On a personal note, I have long struggled with the public-facing nature of my role and with managing our team. It is time for a change." 

According to Business of Fashion, Reformation's current president Hali Borenstein will immediately replace her as chief executive. 

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