J. Crew and Madewell Just Launched Fair Trade Certified Collections

fair trade denim at madewell and j crew


I just received an email from Fair Trade USA notifying me that J.Crew and Madewell have officially joined the Fair Trade Certified family, with 30+ styles receiving the certification agency's stamp of approval.

From the press release:

For every piece, a premium is paid into a Community Development Fund run by the people who make the clothes, helping them improve their lives in countless ways. With future plans to continue to grow their Fair Trade USA program, J.Crew and Madewell aspire to offer one of the largest Fair Trade Certified apparel assortments in the coming years. Look for the Fair Trade Certified seal on your next pair of jeans!

I had read an article on Fashionista several months ago that indicated this was a short term priority for the brands, but with the recent ousting of the "new" CEO and a lot of internal strife over continuously disappointing sales, I had just assumed this would be one of the first things they dropped the ball on. I am relieved and excited to see that that's not the case.

Ethical Credentials

J. Crew and Madewell (they have the same parent company) are producing at Saitex, now a Fair Trade Certified factory (!), the same clean denim factory Everlane uses for their denim manufacturing.

They're participating in Cotton's Blue Jeans Go Green denim recycling program, which uses old denim in home insulation.

Garments are dyed with old shrimp shells to save water and reduce the need for toxic chemicals during the dye process.

What does this say about fair trade as a marketing angle?

The fact that J. Crew/Madewell chose to move forward with expensive and time consuming Fair Trade certification in the midst of financial struggle is a good indication that execs see this as a good marketing move.

That's ultimately a good thing, because it means that a. consumers are interested enough in fair labor that even big companies are taking notice and b. this may serve as a proof of concept for other massive brands. Let's hope the launch is successful and that demand for fair trade products from  conventional companies remains steady enough to bring real change to the industry at large.

Possible Drawbacks

Of course, whenever a well known company like J. Crew Inc. creates a capsule collection of "ethical" or "green" items, I am suspicious of greenwashing. After all, while the items in the fair trade collection are required to meet minimum standards for ethics, the thousands of additional products available in stores and on their websites aren't beholden to really any standard at all.

Creating an ethos around ethics may encourage consumers to divert more of their dollars to products in their line-up that aren't Fair Trade Certified, especially since sales associates are typically encouraged to upsell in groups of three (my sister used to work at Wet Seal - it's a thing). Put simply, doing one thing right can make the whole company look good, even when only minimal effort has been made to improve supply chain issues.

All that to say, I am cautiously optimistic about this move and hope that it will convince J.Crew/Madewell to certify more of their products in the near future.

Learn more here: J. Crew | Madewell

11 Ethical Brands That Are Better Than Madewell


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.

Shop Madewell fair trade denim here.

11 ethical alternatives to madewell

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.

Featured item. SHOP HERE

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.

Featured item. SHOP HERE

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.


11 ethical alternatives to madewell

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.

Featured item. SHOP HERE

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.

Featured item. SHOP HERE

7 | Synergy Organic Clothing

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.

Featured item. SHOP HERE

11 ethical alternatives to madewell

Everlane | Nisolo


9 | Nisolo

A minimalist blogger favorite, Nisolo makes mules, sandals, huaraches, and boots with a fashion-forward meets timeless aesthetic.

Featured item. SHOP HERE

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.


MORE! Reader Suggestions

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.