Today, J.Crew and Madewell are launching their first round of Fair Trade certified products, indicating that even the big shopping mall brands are beginning to think more deeply about their production process.
In their debut Fair Trade collections, J.Crew is launching 18 styles of denim and Madewell added 16 styles, across men’s and women’s denim. “This is our first category that the company is doing with the denim collection with the Saitex factory in Vietnam. Fair Trade is a broader CSR commitment and we’ll be announcing more styles across categories in the near future,” says Gonzalo Pertile, Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at J. Crew Group.
This Fair Trade denim sits within the brand’s eco collection, which is made at the Saitex factory, a ‘zero-discharge facility’ and uses 65 percent less chemicals and 75 percent less water than conventional fabric. The Saitex factory reports to have reduced their energy consumptions by 13 million kilowatts of power per year (the equivalent of 2,000 cars off the road) and recycles most of its water waste. The Vietnam-based factory has been heralded as one of the leading innovators in textile manufacturing and has been working with other American brands like Everlane, the Bay Area direct-to-consumer company focused on transparency.
J.Crew Group, however, is a very different model to Everlane; the company, which operates 204 J.Crew retail stores, 127 Madewell stores, 174 factory stores, and their respective online stores, has a complex web of supply chains to manage. But now, it’s taking this omni-channel business into more ethical production, says Gonzalo Pertile, Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at J. Crew Group.
The Fair Trade certification applies to the process of making the denim, not the materials themselves. Denim’s other problem is cotton, a water-intensive crop that’s been involved in countless GMO debates. Whereas some brands, such as Nudie Jeans, have become iconic for organic cotton denim made consciously, the bigger players have been slower adopters.
Pertile, however, says this could be the beginning of a series of Fair Trade certifications for the company; it’s part of a broader five-year plan to bring more of its factories into the program. J.Crew Corp works with factories in 26 countries around the world. In the coming year, they will nominate other facilities to be added to the Fair Trade program and cover the cost of certification for each of these factories.
“J.Crew Group is changing the way we do business and becoming a purpose-driven organization and this is just one of the steps we’re taking in our sustainability journey,” Pertile adds.
The cost of doing this will not be passed to the consumer, he assures. “This is not reflected in the retail price – the initiative is cost neutral. Fair Trade certified jeans have the same price point as the rest of the denim offering from J.Crew and Madewell.”
This is a welcomed change from a brand that has shared little so far on their manufacturing practices or their environmental goals going forward. In fact, when asked for specifics, Pertile says, “J.Crew is taking steps to minimize our environmental footprint. We’re assessing our biggest areas of opportunity and working to source more sustainable raw materials.”