For this edition of our continuing series “Conversations with Green Champions,” Sustana Chief Commercial Officer Philip Rundle speaks with Jeff Abrams, founder and creative director of Rails, the LA-based lifestyle fashion brand.
Jeff has an entrepreneurial focus on brand-building, innovation and customer experience. All this is very evident in Rails’ stylish product catalogs, printed on 100% sustainable recycled Rolland paper. And the sustainability conversation extends to eco-friendly fabrics, responsible factories, even clean California beaches.
Founded in 2009 in California, Rails is popular worldwide
- Rails’ contemporary casual clothing for women and men is sold in 1,500 specialty and department stores worldwide, in Rails stores, and direct to consumers.
- Rails is known for the super-soft hand feel of its innovative fabrics, typified by its ever-popular Hunter Shirt.
- Revenue and profitability have grown every year, and Rails’ e-commerce channel is growing exponentially.
- In 2021 Rails produced five women’s catalogs and two for men, with distribution of 300,000 to 800,000, printed on Rolland® Enviro Satin with Enviro® Cover – and it plans more in 2022.
How does Rails do business?
We grew up in the wholesale channel, essentially relying on our partners to distribute our products to our customers. We have moved to a more balanced distribution model, combining the old-school wholesale world and the new-school B2C platform. B2C means investing in e-commerce and our own retail stores so we can communicate directly with customers – who we are as a brand, what our products are all about, how they look and feel.
Why does a digitally-savvy brand like Rails publish catalogs?
In-home catalogs give customers and prospects a slower and more tactile experience with our brand, as opposed to the quick hit of a two-second sound bite or Instagram visual.
What was the reaction to your first catalog, for women?
In tests people loved the catalog. We started slowly, working out how the books would look, how to put together all the pieces. The positive response gave us the confidence to invest in a comprehensive catalog strategy. Our first book, two years ago, had a distribution of 250,000 to 300,000 copies to customers and prospects. We saw a healthy response rate in orders from recipients.
How important are catalogs to your marketing mix?
Not everyone is going to transact on receiving catalog number one. It is part of a broader engagement where a customer gets our book, sees a digital ad, then shops at a Rails store or at a wholesale partner like Nordstrom or Neiman Marcus or Intermix. It is the combination of touchpoints.
Two years ago, our marketing budget was limited – mainly to social media, influencer networks, and PR – because we relied on our wholesale network. Now, our two biggest marketing investments are catalogs and digital. Since catalogs are performing we’re producing more, with plans in 2022 for six to eight for women and four to six for men.
Why did Rails choose Rolland paper?
Before producing our catalogs, I received a lot of other catalogs and felt that seemingly minor choices like paper have a big impact. Books that were flimsy, or on glossy paper, felt less elevated and considered. They were more transaction-driven and did not offer as much brand value.
One of the things that made us choose Rolland was the quality of the paper, which feels more elevated in terms of hand feel, while the finish gives the visuals an enduring look. That matters for our location photos shot around the world, because travel is part of our brand. Rolland’s recycled content is super important because we use lots of paper, and want to do it sustainably.
How did Rolland stand up against competing papers?
We looked at and tested many papers: Rolland was the best combination of quality and sustainability. We are investing in recycled paper and print production so we want to be thoughtful about delivering a great book. Rolland provides a better print experience than you generally find with catalogs, which are traditionally for lower price categories. Rails is in a slightly more expensive category in contemporary fashion – we have to deliver the quality customers expect.
How does Rails address sustainability across the business?
Rails is a dynamic company, and we care about our impact on the environment. As we build a successful company, we are doing great things to be more sustainable every year. In products, we use Tencel fabrics from Lenzing, manufactured from certified renewable wood sources. Many categories in our collection use recycled and organic cottons. Some best-sellers in shirting are made with recycled fabrics only.
We cannot say our entire collection is eco-friendly but we’re introducing more of those products, like denim styles made at mills with low water waste. Denim production can use a lot of water, so we want to limit that. In 2022, we’ll introduce an Eco Collection, with environmentally-friendly fabrics.
Does Rails Gives Back support environmental causes?
Yes. A percentage of our denim sales goes to Water.org which provides access to safe water. We work with Surfrider Foundation, helping with beach cleanups, and making donations to keep beaches and oceans safe. California is our back yard so this aligns with our brand.
Rails also contributes to the fight against breast cancer among other causes, and we want to keep supporting the same partners. We also want to add new initiatives, and in 2022 plan to contribute to reforestation, as an offset to our paper usage.
Does your supply chain meet sustainability standards?
Many longstanding partners produce our garments – our first is still with us – and all their factories are gold WRAP (Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production) certified. This means good working conditions. We do not want to be part of a supply chain that maximizes profits at the expense of workers.
We’ve moved to recycled materials for all packaging inbound from factories in China, Vietnam, Turkey and elsewhere. All outbound ecommerce packaging is made from recycled materials. And we are big recyclers, too.
Do you see Rails as a green champion?
I don’t know if we can call ourselves champions, but we’re in the game, we’re en route. We’ve made amazing strides and are looking for new ways to be more sustainable, including exploring using recycled materials to create sustainable fabrics with incredibly soft hand feel – Rails is built on fabric innovation.