Ethical Alternatives to Madewell
A favorite for classic basics with a carefree vibe, Madewell has been a popular topic in the ethical fashion world for the last few years. After all, their timeless styles, sustainability promises, and even their name hints that their clothes are...made...well.
Madewell is a prime example that conscious consumerism and advocacy really does make a difference. Once just a typical fast fashion brand under the J. Crew umbrella, Madewell has made serious strides in the sustainability world over the last decade. That must be due in large part to consumer demand. But do all these changes mean that we can now consider Madewell an ethical and sustainable brand? This article will review Madewell's ethics and sustainability practices and discuss:
- Is Madewell Ethical?
- Madewell Sustainability Statistics
- 6 Brands like Madewell That are Ethical & Sustainable
Is Madewell Ethical?
Madewell has taken some steps on the ethical side of things. They have a code of conduct that prohibits child labor, forced labor and demands reasonable work hours and at least minimum wages. Their factories are audited by a third party, and a little over half of their denim is made in the B Corp and fair trade certified factory Saitex. These steps forward are worth celebrating!
However, looking closer, even at these small victories, it's important to see the issues. Over half of Madewell's denim is made in fair trade factories, but that's only 56% and it's only their denim. That leaves thousands of other products that have much less oversight into how they're being made and how their workers are being treated.
That's where their code of conduct comes in. Their code of conduct is helpful and their factories are audited by a third party to ensure that factories are abiding by the code. But at last audit, only 40% of factories were in full compliance. 56% had mild to moderate compliance issues and 4% had serious issues. Madewell still has work to do in transparency, certifications, and paying workers living wages.
Madewell Sustainability Statistics
Madewell has made a little headway in the area of environmental sustainability. They have a preloved program that resells pre-worn Madewell items on their site to cut down on clothes. They are also beginning to use recycled fabrics and materials in their collections. These are good steps.
But there's not much evidence Madewell is aiming to cut down on textile or water waste or significantly lower their carbon footprint (more below). Madewell has some bold sustainability goals for the next ten years, and while their goals are admirable, their current practices don't seem to be matching up.
- Carbon: Madewell states that they plan to be carbon-neutral by 2030. This is a hefty goal, and when you look at what they're doing to get there, they mention successes like switching to LED lights, paperless receipts, and offsetting their shipping. These are great starting places for sure, but nowhere near the action that needs to be taken for a massive company to be carbon neutral!
- Materials: By 2025, Madewell aims to have 100% of their key fibers sustainably sourced and free of virgin plastic. Another great goal that they're working toward. And for a progress report, Madewell cites that 67% of fabric for their spring collection is sourced "more sustainably." But this is part of one of their collections, and the "more sustainably" phrase is vague and troubling if we're talking about actual progress.
6 Brands like Madewell That are Ethical & Sustainable
So, as we've seen, Madewell is a mixed bag. We applaud the steps they've taken towards more ethical and sustainable manufacturing. We appreciate the goals they've made and cheer them on as they work towards them. But...they've still got a little way to go. So, in the meantime, we've got some brand recommendations for you. These brands are similar in style to Madewell, but they're going above and beyond when it comes to taking care of people and the planet. Let's check them out.
Woman-owned Lev Apparel is out to help women look and feel their best with high-quality, sustainable staples that fit well and feel great! Their stylish designs fit and flatter, work with every body type, and are designed to be worn for years to come.
Lev Apparel believes that empowered women empower women! That's why their clothing production takes place in two ethical factories in India and Vietnam. These factories pay above fair wages, prioritize health and safety, and empower women who would otherwise be at risk for human trafficking. Unlike Madewell, with Lev Apparel you know exactly where your clothes are coming from.
Wanting to "fashion their way to a better world," Mata Traders is a design-driven, fair trade fashion brand that's out to end global poverty and inspire consumers to change the fashion industry. Their colorful designs are made by artisans in India and Nepal who earn a fair wage for their work.
With every purchase, you empower these female artisans with economic independence, help them send their kids to school, lift up communities with jobs and healthcare, and preserve ancient artisanal traditions. And you get really cool apparel and accessories out of the deal!
If you were going to Madewell for jeans, you may have just found the perfect swap! ÉTICA is a family-owned brand committed to making durable, high-quality denim that's leading the way in ethics and sustainability. And their numbers are just better than Madewell's.
Compared to traditional brands, ÉTICA designs reduce water usage by 90%, energy consumption by 63%, and chemical usage by 70%. 100% of their products exceed fair trade standards, providing workers with living wages, health benefits, on-staff doctors, and free meals in an ÉTICA-owned factory.
A leader in the sustainable fashion industry, WVN aims to inspire other businesses and consumers to be more thoughtful through what they wear. And WVN is convinced that we don't have to compromise style or standards to do just that.
Where Madewell's fair trade certification covers just over half of their final stage denim production, all of WVN's collection is fair trade certified. Their cotton is also GOTS certified to ensure sustainable fabrics from the get-go, and the company itself is a veteran B Corp.
If you're into Madewell's shoes and accessories, you'll want to check out Nisolo for classic boots, sneakers, purses, bags and more. It's all made with sustainably-sourced leather that's a byproduct of the meat industry and made in Nisolo-owned ethical factories. Nisolo pays their workers above fair trade wages, provides healthcare benefits, and offers life-changing personal development programs.
And if you loved the idea of Madewell's buyback program, Nisolo has a take back program too! But instead of reselling preloved Nisolo products, Nisolo donates them to entrepreneurs in the developing world who repair and resell the shoes to help further develop the economy in their communities. And as a sweet byproduct of keeping shoes out of landfills and helping lift up developing countries, Nisolo also offers $40 toward a future purchase. Not bad!
OK, so DoneGood isn't exactly a brand. We're a marketplace where you can find dozens of brands that are better than Madewell—brands like all the ones above. When you shop DoneGood, you'll find thousands of products that were all made with fair labor and eco-friendly practices with slow fashion principles.
We make sure our brands model transparency by disclosing sourcing, production, environmental practices and more. We check that they're using sustainable materials and low or zero-waste production practices. Then, we ensure they've got ethical certifications like Fair Trade, B Corp, GOTS, Rainforest Alliance, FSC, Peta-approved vegan and more to back up their claims.
We're all about trying to make ethical shopping as convenient, affordable, and stress-free as possible! Check out our collection of women's, men's and kids' clothes for thousands of more ethical alternatives to Madwell! And find out more about us here!
We're grateful for the steps Madewell has taken to empower workers and take care of the planet. Little changes add up—especially for huge brands. They've got a ways to go and we hope they'll keep making changes.
But in the meantime, you can find alternatives to Madewell! Lots of brands out there are killing it when it comes to sustainability, worker empowerment, and more. Check out the brands above who are taking care of people and the planet, and make sure you check out our collections to find even more!