Tell Madewell & J.Crew:
No Fairwashed Jeans, Support Fair Trade Cotton Farmers
If you see an ad promising “Fair Trade Denim Jeans” you might assume that that denim was made from fair trade cotton. Unfortunately, in the case of Madewell and J. Crew’s “Fair Trade Denim” collection, that’s not what it means.
The apparel industry is notorious for deadly, exploitative conditions and forced labor from field to factory. Out of the long, complex supply chain that takes fluffy white cotton bolls and transforms them into thread, cloth, and finally clothes, just one stage of their line is certified—the final factory where the jeans are cut and sewed.
That’s why we’re calling on Madewell and their parent company J.Crew to stop fairwashing and commit to actually using fair trade cotton for their “Fair Trade Denim Jeans.”
The fashion industry has a bad reputation—and it has earned it. Around the globe, small-scale cotton farmers struggle with low prices and ever-rising costs of inputs. So many cotton farmers live in dire poverty that the crop is one of the most at-risk of forced labor. Approximately 65% of the world’s cotton supply comes from countries that are at high risk for forced labor, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. That’s definitely not fair.
J.Crew and Madewell are getting away with misleading you because the fair trade label they’re using just skims the surface of the complex fashion supply chain and only applies to the final stage of production. For years, advocates have complained that Fair Trade USA’s “Fair Trade Factory” label is confusing. And it seems that J. Crew and Madewell are more than willing to lean into that confusion.
Instead of weak commitments, we’re calling on J.Crew and Madewell to do better. Plenty of fair trade cotton farmers exist; in fact, 57% of their crops don’t find fair trade buyers, forcing them to sell for low prices on the conventional market. J. Crew and Madewell could use their market power for more than marketing and build supply chains to bring those farmers’ crops to market.
Fair trade is a movement built by small-scale farmers and artisans. As big, mainstream brands such as J. Crew and Madewell enter that market, we call on them to do it responsibly and in ways that create more opportunities for the people who built the movement.
Send a letter to J.Crew and Madewell’s Director of Corporate Social Responsibility letting him know that you expect your fair trade denim to actually contain fair trade cotton. Enough with the fair washing!
For more on Madewell and parent company J.Crew’s fairwashing and the weak Fair Trade USA standards that allow them to get away with it, see this blog post: Fairwashed: Madewell’s Fair Trade Denim