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?
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?
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!
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.
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!
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