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.
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.
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.