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14 Jul

How Ethical Is Madewell?

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This article is based on the Madewell rating published in October 2020.

Madewell has taken the global apparel market by storm in recent years. Bought by J.Crew in 2004, the brand—aimed at a younger audience of 20-30 somethings women—has since overtaken J.Crew in sales and popularity thanks to the “casualisation” of fashion. And with the recent addition of menswear, Madewell is reaching more wardrobes than ever. But does the brand live up to its name? How well made are the products, really? Let’s take a look at the popular label’s impact on the planet, people, and animals, and answer the question—how ethical is Madewell?

Environmental Impact

When it comes to its environmental impact, Madewell is ‘Not Good Enough’. It uses some eco-friendly materials, including recycled materials, which is a step in the right direction. But the good news ends there. There is no evidence it reduces its carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions, nor has it taken meaningful action to reduce or eliminate hazardous chemicals from its products. It also doesn’t seem to implement any water reduction initiatives. Does anyone else smell greenwashing?

Labour Conditions

So, how about labour? Does the brand at least treat its workers right? Unfortunately, it is resounding ‘Not Good Enough’ in this category, too. While some of its supply chain is certified by Fairtrade USA in the final stage of production, the rest of the story isn’t so shiny. It received a score of only 11-20% in the Fashion Transparency Index, and while it likely publishes some information about its supplier policies and audits, there’s no list of suppliers or information about forced labour, gender equality, or freedom of association to be seen. It didn’t say anything about protecting suppliers or workers from the impacts of COVID-19, and there is zero evidence it pays a living wage. For a company that is doing so well financially, that should be a given!

Animal Welfare

And the animals? Well, it does have a formal animal welfare policy aligned with Five Freedoms and doesn’t use angora, down, fur, or exotic animal skin in its designs. Buuut it uses wool, leather, and exotic animal hair and doesn’t appear to trace any animal products, even to the first stage of production. ‘Not Good Enough’ once again, Madewell!

Overall rating: Not Good Enough

So, how ethical is Madewell? Overall, we rate it ‘Not Good Enough’. Despite making small efforts in each of the three key areas, Madewell doesn’t appear to be made very well at all—at least not for workers, the planet, and animals! To increase its score, it would need to make some serious upgrades to its environmental policies, ensure payment of a living wage throughout its supply chain, and ditch the cruel animal-based fabrics.

Note that Good On You ratings consider 100s of issues, and it is not possible to list every relevant issue in a summary of the brand’s performance. For more information, see our How We Rate page and our FAQs.

See the rating.

Craving that casual-yet-cute style but don’t want to support a brand with such a long way to go? We’ve rounded up our favourite ‘Good’ and ‘Great’ brands doing better than Madewell!

Good Swaps

Sustainable alternatives to Madewell

Whimsy + Row

Rated: Good

Whimsy + Row is a US-based lifestyle brand born out of a love for quality goods and responsible practices. Since 2014, its mission has been to provide ease and elegance for the modern woman. Whimsy + Row utilises deadstock fabric, and by limiting each garment to short runs, the brand also reduces packaging waste and takes care of precious water resources.

Find most products in XS-XL, with an extended sizing range up to 3XL.

See the rating.

Shop Whimsy + Row.

Shop Whimsy + Row @ Earthkind.

MUD Jeans

Rated: Great
A man wears navy jeans and a blue top

Dutch denim brand MUD Jeans is all about sustainability. Not only does it offer a repair service, but it also provides a rental service where you can lease a pair of jeans for up to a year. MUD Jeans uses a combination of GOTS certified organic cotton and post-consumer recycled cotton.

MUD Jeans are available in a range of sizes, usually from W25 L30-W33 L32 for women and W28 L34-W36 L34 for men.

See the rating.

Shop MUD Jeans.


Rated: Good

ABLE is a US-based clothing and accessories brand that works with communities all over the world to make a meaningful impact, producing slow fashion that pays a living wage to women who have faced extraordinary circumstances. It uses lower-impact materials, and reuses water and materials to minimise waste. With thoughtful design and a level of quality that guarantees its products for life, its pieces aren't just an investment for your wardrobe, they are an investment in women around the world.

Find the range in sizes 2XS-2XL.

See the rating.

Shop ABLE.


Rated: Good
image of person in shirt, cardigan and trousers by Unrecorded

Unrecorded is an independent clothing brand from the Netherlands that represents a new wave of unisex brands that are rebelling against the nature of fast fashion. Unrecorded is passionate about style, and produces apparel using more responsible materials.

Its range includes items that are all year round essentials suitable for any wardrobe, available in sizes XS-2XL.

See the rating.

Shop Unrecorded.


Rated: Good

Every piece of ARTICLE22 jewellery is locally handcrafted in Laos using recycled materials from Vietnam War bombs, plane parts, military hardware, and other aluminium scraps. The brand embodies the innovation that the fashion industry needs more of—using recycled materials to produce beautiful globally marketable products, while equipping local artisans with new skill sets and providing them with a sustainable source of income. ARTICLE22 gives back to clear more unexploded bombs in Laos, supports traditional artisans, and donates a proportion of profit to community development for workers.

The range is available in sizes S-XL.

See the rating.



Rated: Good

Fashion and responsible production can go together and Womsh is the brand that proves it. Its shoes are entirely designed and manufactured in Italy, and its clothing range is made from lower-impact fabrics like organic cotton.

Find most shoes in EU sizes 35-42, and clothes in XS-2XL.

See the rating.

Shop Womsh.

Editor's note

Feature image via Madewell, all other images via brands mentioned. Good On You publishes the world’s most comprehensive ratings of fashion brands’ impact on people, the planet and animals. Use our Directory to search thousands of rated brands. We may earn a commission on sales made using our offer codes or affiliate links.

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