On a recent trip to San Francisco, I received a surprising text: “Hey! See you’re in SF, want to join me for an ice cream crawl at all the best joints?”
Obviously, my answer was yes… but why? My friend, a former McKinsey consultant, just moved to the Bay Area to work at Everlane, the devastatingly hip, ethically sourced clothing company. Today was her first day, and instead of spending it on routine paperwork or awkward hellos, she was hiking, picking up trash in a local park, and eating all the ice cream she could stomach.
“It’s called a passion day,” says Michael Preysman, CEO of the direct-to-consumer clothing startup, which hit $100 million in revenue in 2016. Every Everlane employee starts their new job with a passion day, on which they’re given $100 to spend doing something they love. (“No one has asked for more money yet,” Preysman adds, “but I don’t think we’d have a problem with it.”)
There are no limits on what the cash can be spent on, so long as it’s outside of the office and legal. And while they’re not warned ahead of time, every employee has to share how they spent their cash upon being introduced to the entire company the following week.
“We don’t want people to know they’ll have to share what they spend the money doing, because we want them to do it out of authenticity, not a need to impress people,” Preysman tells Quartz. Some of his favorite passion adventures include acrobat classes, exploring state parks (after moving from New York’s concrete jungle), and one woman who spent the whole day volunteering at a soup kitchen, to which she donated all $100. “Then we all felt pretty bad about how we spent our day,” he says, laughing.
Initially online-only (five years ago Preysman said he’d rather shut down his company than open a store), Everlane opened brick and mortar stores in both SoHo and San Francisco this year. Committed to “radical transparency,” Everlane tells its customers the exact cost breakdown of their extremely minimalist clothing—accounting for materials, labor, duties, and transport. They seek out ethical factories, each of which is given a compliance audit to evaluate factors like fair wages, reasonable hours, and environmental impact.
According to Preysman, Everlane’s company culture is equally transparent—so much so that it would feel disingenuous not to begin their on-boarding process with an entrepreneurial experiment. Passion days are an extension of an already hyper-individualized hiring process.
Everyone who applies to Everlane has to complete a project, regardless of their seniority, to evaluate their skills. “One of our core values is to hire people who are entrepreneurial thinkers—people who are creative and passionate,” Preysman says.
To identify such entrepreneurial thinkers, he asks applicants what motivates them, and what they’re most proud of that’s not on their resumes. It’s a strategy rooted in personal experience–when he applied to his first job, his resume listed a number of personal projects, like creating a pool-cleaning robot, before his internships. When asked why these projects were prioritized above his work experience he simply responded: “They matter to me more, and I’ve worked on them harder than I have in my internships.”
“We’re looking for people with the same mentality. You want people to be more than just the paper in front of them,” says Preysman. “What we’re really trying to understand is are they just applying for a job? Or is this what they’re really passionate about?”
Passion days are Preysman’s way of signaling from day zero that culture is going to be different at Everlane, and that they’re not all talk when it comes to entrepreneurial thinking. “Our company is run very differently than traditional retail, so we try to encourage everyone to be an entrepreneur in their own way,” he says. “That doesn’t mean complete chaos, it means we encourage people to be creative, to own the problem, to think the problem all the way through, and to be very in touch with their curiosity.”
The passion days aren’t the only abnormal element of Everlane employees’ early days. “For senior employees, we have a 60-day consulting period, during which you’re not allowed to make decisions or exert influence” says Preysman. “For these two months, it’s just learning.” For Ayni Raimondi, who recently left Airbnb to become Everlane’s head of brand maketing at Everlane, these 60 days were packed with 55 meetings—or, as Preysman calls them, “on-boarding experiences.”
Anxiety-inducing as this period can be, Everlane believes it’s an essential adjustment, especially for those used to more traditional corporate environments. “It’s particularly hard if you’re senior person, because you’ve been in action mode, and the first thing you want to do when you get to a new company is to prove yourself, and we’re saying no, you need to learn and you need to absorb,” says Preysman. For more junior employees, the no-decision period is 30 days.
As anyone who’s seen the first season of Silicon Valley knows, startup CEOs devoting themselves to ”doing things differently” is the most hackneyed trope in tech. That doesn’t bother Preysman, whose divergence from retail’s natural resource-sucking seasonal spiral makes the company stand out. Preysman says the money spent on passion days is worth it: “It’s one day of someone’s salary. I think you could say it’s dorky, but people get excited about it.”
Unfortunately, Preysman himself has yet to indulge a passion day. “No, I had about 700 first days,” he says. “Maybe I should go re-do it.”