Is Madewell Fast Fashion? Image by Madewell #ismadewellfastfashion #ismadewellethical #howethicalismadewell #ismadewellagoodbrand #madewellsustainability #ismadewellsustainable #sustainablejungle
Image by Madewell

Is Madewell Fast Fashion?

Hailey Carrillo

Does Madewell live up to its name?

Or are the denim dealer’s garments stitched together with cheap fabric and exploitative labor practices? 

Founded in 2006, J.Crew’s darling umbrella project was launched to provide clothing to young, 20-something year old Millenials looking for affordable closet staples. 

Madewell quickly grew to outperform its parent retailer, and is now a leading one-stop-shop for over 2,000  “downtown” garb items like trendy denim, clothing, shoes, and accessories aimed at Gen-Z and millennial women and men alike.  

But as with all things large and trendy, we can’t help but wonder: Is Madewell fast fashion? 

And if not, is Madewell an ethical brand by the standards that we need to start demanding of fashion?

Unlike some other flagrantly fast fashion brands we’ve deep-dived into (cough cough Zara and Shein), the answer isn’t so straight cut as Madewell jeans.

Keep reading to see why Madewell might not be the best denim-stration of a conscious fashion brand. 

1. Uncovering Why Madewell Might Be Fast Fashion

Is Madewell Fast Fashion? Image by africa images #ismadewellfastfashion #ismadewellethical #howethicalismadewell #ismadewellagoodbrand #madewellsustainability #ismadewellsustainable #sustainablejungle
Image by africa images

Founded in 1937 by a European Jewish immigrant, Madewell had humble beginnings as a family owned operation supplying workwear in New England. 

The brand was proudly formed with profits in mind—while Madewell “quality was a means to an end”.

After years of dungarees and corduroy-lined jackets, the last Madewell factory closed its doors in 1989 for unspecified reasons. 

Fast forward to 2004, former G.A.P. CEO Mickey Drexler acquired the logo and trademark of the brand for $125,000 (of which the original Madewell family did not receive a single dime).

The move was a smart play on Drexler’s part, as the brand’s reputation aided nicely in the rising demands for “true vintage” clothing. Or, as Madewell heir put it:

Mickey Drexler, in creating J.Crew’s new womenswear stores, shrewdly read the market and realized that stocking nice clothes wouldn’t be enough: He’d have to tell a story along with them. Drexler didn’t have any stories, so he bought ours.

So, does J.Crew own Madewell? 

In 2006, the new iteration of the once loved Madewell brand formally became J. Crew’s newest market for mid-priced, casual offerings that expertly filled the middle ground between luxury and mass-market clothing (similar to what ASOS is doing). 

What was once timeless now became trendy, with womenswear that directly paralleled what the original brand stood for. 

Which, we’ll remind you, was ultimately well-made men’s working class clothing. 

While the brand has increasingly grown, it has deviated far from the original 1937 brand’s mission. 

Which has us asking: is Madewell good quality? Or is the brand simply banking off a catchy name. 

While we can’t answer the question, “Is Madewell a good brand”, we can lay down the facts to help you decide if Madewell ethics and sustainability give you the denim blues. 

2. Madewell Controversies

Is Madewell Fast Fashion? Image by gzorgz #ismadewellfastfashion #ismadewellethical #howethicalismadewell #ismadewellagoodbrand #madewellsustainability #ismadewellsustainable #sustainablejungle
Image by gzorgz

Since Madewell and J.Crew are sister companies, we’ve covered controversies of both brands (while putting priority on Madewell-specific controversies).

Note however, that they have done a great job at avoiding controversies (or at least letting them out to the public eye.) 

Design Theft

In 2019, The Great filed a lawsuit against Madewell for using a pattern that is identical to one of their copyrighted designs

The design in question included fabric blazoned with a front-facing blooming flower design that has extreme likeliness to a poppy design that The Great uses. 

We could not find any information on Madewell’s response or the results of the case.

Cultural Styling Mishaps

In 2017, Madewell received backlash after posting a model of color with “unkempt” hair. 

Many questioned whether the move was intentional, or if the brand didn’t have the means or knowledge to style the women of color’s hair. 

Some social media users argued women of color should be granted agency to rock the same type of “effortless” hairstyles as other white-looking models on their website. 

Others said they thought the model suited Madewell’s “laid back” branding well. 

J.Crew issued an apology on Twitter, saying that they are taking steps to address the problem and prevent it from happening again. 

Politically Charged Garb On Children

In 2018, J Crew released a children’s shirt reading “I’m a feminist, too”, modeled by and seemingly aimed at young boys. 

They posted an Instagram post with the caption “start em’ young” and received a stir of backlash. 

While the underlying feminist message is one we agree with, many people felt it was gross for the brand to use children to make political statements. 

Profits from the shirt were meant to support Girl Up, a UN partner group that helps girls get access to education. 

3. Madewell Ethics Are Unclear

Is Madewell Fast Fashion? Image by danishkhan #ismadewellfastfashion #ismadewellethical #howethicalismadewell #ismadewellagoodbrand #madewellsustainability #ismadewellsustainable #sustainablejungle
Image by danishkhan

Is Madewell ethical? 

It’s hard to say. 

The Madewell Supplier Code of Conduct is based on the International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions and other internationally recognized labor rights that prohibit their suppliers from using forced labor. 

The brand also has a Conflict Minerals Program that thoroughly regulates the use of minerals that support armed conflict and human rights abuse. 

While this all sounds great, Madewell doesn’t currently release any information of third-party verification audits, meaning there isn’t much evidence that the brand actually falls through with these regulations. 

Though, per their recent Do Well Report, random supply audits are routinely done.

As for the question how ethical is Madewell, most of the factories received a “Fair Rating” on the most recent batch of audits due to the need of system and procedure changes within the next year (which we actually appreciate their honesty about).

By 2025, Madewell is aiming for 90% of their denim will be Fair Trade Certified

And, unlike big-name brands like Nike, there also hasn’t been any widespread claims of Madewell using child or forced labor sweatshops. Though it’s worth keeping in mind that lack of damning evidence isn’t exactly the same as having evidence proving their ethical merit.

In general, there has been a lack of coverage of their factories at all. There is scarce information online about the location, sizes, and practices of their factories which has us wondering: where are Madewell clothes made?

While some products are made locally in the US, the majority are imported from unspecified countries. 

It’s virtually impossible to find out more than that, which is, frankly, not a promising sign. 

Animal Welfare

Madewell has an animal welfare policy that prohibits the use of fur, down, virgin leather, exotic animal skin, and angora, though ethical wool and cashmere are used in some products. 

As “one of the first U.S. fashion brands to join the Sustainable Fibre Alliance (SFA)”, Madewell seemingly takes sustainable and ethical sourcing to heart. 

Considering this alliance is based on an annual fee, we can’t help but wonder if Madewell actually cares about the cause, or if they are hiding behind yet another clever name. 

4. Madewell Sustainability Is Questionable

Is Madewell Fast Fashion? Image by corelens #ismadewellfastfashion #ismadewellethical #howethicalismadewell #ismadewellagoodbrand #madewellsustainability #ismadewellsustainable #sustainablejungle
Image by corelens

Is Madewell sustainable? 

The clothing brand is actively shifting to more sustainable fabrics by collaborating with Canopy and other innovative fiber companies that focus on agricultural residues and recycled fibers. 

As of their latest report, 60% of their total key fibers by volume are made of Do Well Materials, which consist of recycled cotton, responsible wood pulp, hemp, recycled plastic, and Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) cotton. 

Though the fabric descriptions for many of their cotton products read “ This product is sourced through a system of mass balance and therefore may not contain Better Cotton.’

A.K.A. their cotton products aren’t fully traced to source—and that’s not even taking into account the fact that BCI cotton is full of its own controversies.

By 2025, the brand aims for 100% of their key fibers to be sustainable sourced and free from non-recycled plastics. 

Their Responsible Forestry Commitment ensures suppliers do not use products that are under threat of extinction, or that have a negative impact on biodiversity or conservation. 

So in terms of sustainable manufacturing, we can’t be mad…well…

Maybe a little. 

There also isn’t evidence that Madewell does much to reduce their carbon footprint via carbon offsets or renewable energy usage, despite a goal of being carbon neutral by 2030

Some changes they’ve claimed to make so far include using LED lighting in stores, opting for boxed water instead of plastic, offsetting their paper footprint, and donating clothing samples. 

Yet another statistic-free statement that doesn’t prove much of anything.

The brand also claims to use AFIRM’s restricted substance list to manage chemicals in their supply chain, but once again, there isn’t any proof. 

In general, it’s hard to tell how sustainable Madewell is due to the brand’s lack of transparency and specificity. 

For a brand with millions of dollars in revenue, we’d expect to see more audits and sustainability certifications

The one thing we can definitely give a glowing Madewell sustainability rating to is the brand’s circularity.  

Not only do they stock a pre-loved collection of Madewell trade-in jeans on thredUp, but they also accept jean trade-ins from any brand! 

Customers are able to turn their old jeans and other denim products (skirts, overalls, and more) into stores, or ship them via a free shipping label for $20 off a fresh pair. 

Products that aren’t resold are jean-iously recycled into housing insulation, effectively making the jeans cool in more ways than one. 

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Final Thoughts On Why Madewell Is Fast Fashion

So, is Madewell considered fast fashion?

The answer is as hard(wearing) as denim fabric itself. 

At face level, Madewell ethics and sustainability seem to be on-point.

Yet, with a lot of gaps and a level of vagueness that seems almost purposeful, we wonder if the brand prefers green washed over acid washed jeans. 

They claim to have a lot of rules and regulations with human and planet welfare in mind, but have absolutely no proof that these regulations are being followed. 

While their guidelines are filled with claims of “processes to uphold our commitments to rights”, we don’t see specific details like cost to produce items, wages, factory locations, etc. 

If the brand provided audits from third-party certificates, we’d be a little more inclined to say they are not fast fashion. 

Until then, we aren’t quick to include them on our list of eco-friendly clothing brands—even those specializing in sustainable jeans.

Though if you really want to snag a pair of Madewell jeans, we’d recommend using their thredUp platform or other second hand stores instead.

And because every consumer choice contributes to a well-made and minded planet, be sure to share this article with all the friends you’ve ever made….well, at least a few 😉

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Is Madewell Fast Fashion? Image by africa images #ismadewellfastfashion #ismadewellethical #howethicalismadewell #ismadewellagoodbrand #madewellsustainability #ismadewellsustainable #sustainablejungle
Is Madewell Fast Fashion? Image by gzorgz #ismadewellfastfashion #ismadewellethical #howethicalismadewell #ismadewellagoodbrand #madewellsustainability #ismadewellsustainable #sustainablejungle

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