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Madewell Builds Deeper Connections to Fiber Sources, Factory Workers

Madewell collected nearly 1,000 pairs of jeans to be reused or recycled through its partnership with online resale destination ThredUp in 2021 and re-sold over 2,900 preloved Madewell pieces ranging from jeans to outerwear through its circular popup in Brooklyn.

These wins for the circular economy and more are outlined in Madewell’s third annual “Do Well” report. The report includes the results of Madewell’s first-ever materiality assessment, guided by the GRI 3: Material Topics Standard.

The assessment process was directed by a “cross-functional steering committee overseen by senior executives” and supported by external ESG experts. From this process, the J.Crew Group-owned brand identified 16 priority ESG topics based on their importance to its business and stakeholders ranging from climate, emissions and energy, corporate governance, water stewardships and chemical management, sustainable raw material to circular economy and biodiversity and regenerative agriculture.

Madewell is inching closer to achieving its goals. In 2021, 60 percent of the key fibers were sourced sustainably—up from 38 percent the previous year. The brand is committed to sourcing 100 percent of its key fibers (cotton, polyester, nylon, cellulosics, leather and wool) from sustainable sources by 2025. The fibers account for more than 90 percent of the materials it uses for products.

Being a denim-based brand, cotton is the largest of Madewell’s key fibers, making up 60 percent of its total fiber footprint by volume. In 2021, 65 percent of Madewell’s cotton as certified organic, certified recycled or sourced through the Better Cotton Initiative, up from 49 percent in 2020. Madewell estimates that its Better Cotton sourcing in 2021 saved 357 million gallons of water and prevented 1,892 lbs. of pesticides from entering soil.

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Madewell also became one of the first members of the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol’s Consumption Management Solution pilot, which harnesses blockchain technology to deliver full supply chain transparency by recording and verifying the movement of U.S. cotton fiber along the entire supply chain.

“We aim to expand our scope of mill partners in the coming years,” the brand stated.

Madewell is working closer to the cotton source. In 2021, the company began piloting regenerative agriculture programs for cotton and wool to “actively mitigate the effects of climate change.” The brand is working with Crossland Consulting and Textile Exchange to support U.S. cotton growers in Texas and Louisiana transitioning from conventional farming practices into regenerative agriculture with the end goal of achieving the Regenagri regenerative certification.

Madewell is paying growers an economic reward that it calls “impact incentives” to transition towards regenerative farming. The incentives are paid directly to the farmers.

For the 2021 cotton harvest, Madewell reports that it “positively impacted” over 600 acres of land and committed to 968 bales of cotton which will be used in products in 2023. The work has impacted approximately 24 farming families across 21 farms.

Doing its part to contribute to climate action, Madewell conducted a Scope 3 footprint screening in 2021 to better understand its impact throughout our supply chain in addition to its annual measure of Scope 1 and Scope 2 greenhouse gas emissions.

“We assessed our business against fifteen categories, and it was determined that as an apparel manufacturer and retailer, the greatest source of emissions is from our purchased goods and services (the materials we use and the suppliers we work with) and our upstream travel and distribution logistics. This foundational work enables us to develop a roadmap to reduce emissions across our supply chain,” the brand stated.

With this, J.Crew Group is working on a path towards achieving a 33 percent value chain greenhouse gas reduction in line with the Paris Climate Agreement. The goal is twofold and impacts Madewell’s goal of being carbon neutral for its own operations, Scope 1 and Scope 2 by 2030 and to reduce Scope 3 emissions by 30 percent.

Madewell’s partnership with Fair Trade USA to strengthen protections for the workers in global factories is taking hold. In 2021, 52 percent of Madewell’s denim was from Fair Trade Certified factories, meaning the brand is more than halfway to achieving its goal of having 90 percent of its denim Fair Trade Certified by 2025.

A typical fair trade journey for a pair of Madewell jeans begins at Italian denim mill Candiani, from where Madewell sources its organic cotton and recycled elastane denim fabrics, and continues to Saitex’s garment factory in Vietnam, which received its Fair Trade certification in 2019. Fair trade factory workers receive a premium from Madewell on the cost of the jeans that goes directly into a community fund. The fair trade committee then votes on projects to implement with those funds.

In 2021, Madewell contributed $575,452 directly back to its fair trade factory workers. Since 2019, the brand reports that it has contributed over $1.2 million into community development funds at nine certified factories in Asia and Central America and “protected and empowered” approximately 10,000 workers.

“The employees are empowered to organize democratically and vote to invest the funds in projects they consider most important to their unique local social, economic and environmental needs,” the brand stated.