J. Crew used to be higher quality, but in recent years the company has turned to traditional sweatshop models and lower textile quality. Here are some ethical and sustainable alternatives to J. Crew.
Is Madewell Ethical?
Out of all of the contemporary brands at a mid-level price range, Madewell stands out as most representative of what women want to be wearing right now.
It's a vintage Americana-meets-minimalist aesthetic that captures that aspirational need to feel polished and perfectly laid back at the same time. We could delve into the ways clothing acts as a sort of costume for living into our aspirations, but that would take awhile.
For now, I'll just say this: while Madewell and its parent company, J Crew, have a standard corporate social responsibility document in place, there is no evidence that the brand enforces these policies. In fact, a cursory search on Google will render multiple results for evidence of sweatshop labor. This doesn't mean that the J Crew-Madewell conglomerate is worse than most conventional brands, but it does mean they're not prioritizing sustainable practices in their supply chain (though, according to this recent Fashionista article, the new CEO is working to get sustainability and fair trade certifications for J Crew brands).
So you have a couple options:
If you're a Madewell super fan, email them and let them know that you'd like greater transparency and attention to ethics in their supply chain. Your voice matters.
If you're ready to find some ethical alternatives, use the list I've compiled to shop.
Update: Madewell just released a fair trade certified denim line produced at Saitex, the same company Everlane uses.
Levi's Waterless | Everlane | Ace & Jig
Contains affiliate links
11 Ethical Brands That Are Better Than Madewell
1 | Levi's Waterless
Madewell is best known for their denim, but their denim manufacturing processes are opaque. Levi's produces a lot of their denim products with very low water waste and other responsible practices. You can still get that American heritage look without the wasteful manufacturing processes.
2 | Everlane
Similar to Levi's Waterless, Everlane produces their denim range in a low waste facility that even repurposes fabric scraps into bricks for housing. Plus, their linen and basic t-shirts capture the Madewell look at a similar price point, but with better attention to ethical standards.
3 | Tonle
Tonle is a zero waste clothing brand that does amazing things with factory remnants. Shop screenprinted and woven clothing with casual, cool vibes.
4 | Only Child
Made in California, Only Child captures the California-cool aesthetic in wide leg pants, cropped blouses, and more, most made out of high quality linen.
Liz Alig | MATTER Prints
5 | Liz Alig
Mentioned here because their new recycled denim line totally captures Madewell's 2018 look, with casual stripes and streamlined, vintage inspired looks.
6 | Ace & Jig
With an emphasis on hand loomed, artisan fabric, Ace & Jig is undoubtedly an inspiration for Madewell's own line. In fact, Madewell partnered with them on a custom textile. The price point is higher, but the pieces are true works of art.
Cotton spandex separates with laid-back, feminine silhouettes, Synergy uses organic fabrics and produces in a fair trade facility.
8 | MATTER Prints
While MATTER may be a little out there compared to Madewell, some of their separates and jumpsuits fall right in line with the overall aesthetic, plus they're made ethically using traditional artisan textile designs and techniques.
Everlane | Nisolo
9 | Nisolo
A minimalist blogger favorite, Nisolo makes mules, sandals, huaraches, and boots with a fashion-forward meets timeless aesthetic.
10 | Fortress of Inca
A luxurious collection of leather slides, boots, sandals and more made ethically in South America.
Bonus | Po-Zu
European made leather AND VEGAN shoes with a vintage-meets-modern aesthetic
11 | Etsy
Last but not least, don't forget the vintage option! So much of Madewell's designs, colors, and patterns have been pulled directly from vintage pieces. Their look as of late is very early 80s with a dash of the 70s mixed in. Look for specific products through an etsy search.
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12 | ABLE
Made fairly with full employee wage transparency (!), ABLE's entire line of clothing, shoes, and bags closely aligns with the Madewell aesthetic.
13 | Tradlands
Responsibly made, menswear-inspired classics for women like button downs, work jackets, and t-shirts.