Lately, I’ve been working on getting rid of all the fast fashion in my wardrobe and gradually replacing it with fewer, quality investments. In the process, I’ve become enamoured with capsule collections and minimal brands that don’t skimp on style. But I can’t seem to kick my J.Crew habit.
Ethical fashion is usually quite expensive. But I’m okay spending more money on it not only because it’s less harmful but also, because it’s a sound investment in the long run. I have limits though and they were definitely tested when I started shopping for a classic camel blazer to add to my wardrobe. At my phase in life, an $800 option just doesn’t cut it.
The ethical brands I go to most are Amour Vert and Bead and Reel because they’re accessible and they’ve also got the adult-ish aesthetic down to a T. But I couldn’t find a go- to blazer. I started looking at other ethical brands, but honestly couldn’t find a single option that met my criteria [wool materials, quality manufacturing, a gamine charm]. Not one I could afford at least.
Here’s the part where I come down from my ethical high-horse and admit a fashion weakness. I can’t give up Jcrew. I usually default to J.Crew when I can’t find what I need from ethical brands – this case was no exception. I ended up buying their classic Regent blazer and, guess what? It rocks! It also made me realize that my Jcrew purchases – while not ideal – never leave me unsatisfied or empty the way Zara or H&M purchases do.
So, I started wondering why and decided to investigate if my feelings were based in fact. I ran an ethical audit on my regent blazer to test for quality manufacturing. Then, I looked into J.Crew’s business practices – at least what they tell us publically – for the full picture.
I think the results will surprise you. Basically, I went from I can’t give up Jcrew – to I won’t give up Jcrew. And here’s why.
My Green Closet’s ‘Quality Clothes’ Test
Verena Erin is one of my conscious fashion favorite vloggers. I used her video about quality clothing to audit my blazer. Keep in mind, I’m basing this test on a single item. J.Crew’s line is wide (lots of products) and deep (tons of colors offered), so this test doesn’t speak for all their clothes. I encourage you to run this test on all your future purchases.
Fibers [Are they appropriate for the item?]
98% wool, 2% elastane for stretch which is approprate for a fallblazer. It’s also durable, doesn’t pill, and can be an ethical choice if sustainably produced and purchased in limited quality.
Practical care instructions
Dry clean only, which is to be expected. This gets a B because environmental-friendly dry cleaning methods are often hard to find. You can wear it multiples times or air freshen to cut back on your impact here.
Fabric [Thicker = more durable]
It’s about a centimeter thick and holds its shape firmly. I’ve worn it a few times and found that it is best suited for a moderate climate. Don’t expect to use it as a coat.
Seams – tight, straight, type
The weave is pretty tight and no gaps show anywhere when I pull on them. They seams are also straight and matching. They also use what looks to be a french seam along the bodice. Some seams are piped in red, which is a nice aesthetic touch you don’t see in mass produced items. The minus grade is because there are no extra seam allowances that provide from alterations to the blazer.
Buttons came with it, no thread.
Self-fabric facings [pockets]
The pockets were also sealed (a quality indicator) and opened easily.
Fully lined bodice and sleeves. It doesn’t indicate the material used.
Tightly stitched buttons/quality
The button quality is decent. The seams could be a bit tighter. An added bonus come here because there are double buttons on the inside and outside of the blazer.
Top stitching [straight/even]
‘Fit’ seems [Are they appropriate for the item?]
Overall grade: A-
The Ethics Test
Digging into J.Crew’s ethics was a tougher challenge. There isn’t a wealth of information on the company’s business practices yet, so I based my test on their own social responsibility policy. This is a bummer because it doesn’t tell the whole story about their business, but here’s what I got:
Sustainability and Environment
This one is bad because J.Crew’s policy only covers their stance on store management, paper, and packaging. It doesn’t say anywhere that the company is using or researching sustainable textiles or manufacturing practices. It does say that they recycle, their headquarters are LEED certified, they have an employee ‘Green Committee,’ and their catalog paper is Forest Stewardship Certified. Many of these practices, however, are the minimum expectation of a business nowadays.
The policy says they conduct audits of their supply chain based on trafficking and slavery, but it doesn’t say how frequently. It’s good they have two full-time staff members who manage these audits but in a company of more than 5,700 employees with 76 global offices, two is not enough. They also don’t say how many vendors they have. On the positive side, the scope of their Vendor Code of Conduct is robust and the fact that they include subcontractors even better. The issue of managing subcontractors is big in the fashion industry right now.
Their social responsibility policy is decent, and it’s good they have one. It could, however, be filled with less legalease and more straightforword writing. Typically this type of corporate jargon indicated they’re not telling us the whole story about their supply chain, partners, and ethical standards. *Revision 05/17/17: Jcrew cannot trace its supply chain so I have revised this score to from a B to a D-. Source: https://projectjust.com/brand_jcrew/
J.Crew has a respect for craftmanship and old world manufacturing. They rely on fabric houses and family owned-mills across Europe to source custom materials and details for their clothing. [Read the fine print]. Through a big business model, they successfully sustain small business. Jcrew also manufactures at a higher quality with better materials than their fast fashion competitors. Still, the not revealing its supply chain brings them down to a C score here.
On another note: J.Crew has another section that covers community involvement. I didn’t include it in this grade because the charities [Teach for America, CFDA, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society] are unrelated to ethical fashion.
Overall grade: D
GoodGuide rates J.Crew less favorably, giving the brand a 4.1/10 ‘fair’ assessment based on environment and society. This is higher than most fast-fashion brand, but much lower than some similar sized companies like Levi’s (7.8) and H&M ( 6.4) – which I find shocking.
How can Jcrew improve?
- Go beyond quality standards by employing organic and sustainable materials (think Tencel, viscose).
- Go totally digital. The print catalog is beautiful, but not necessary, especially when it comes every month. If they want to use paper, they could try a targeted, single-page item promo that ships with packages.
- Fix their packaging. [Package items together. Axe the plastic wrap. Incentivize bring your own brag programs.]
- Include vendor names in their policy.
- Map suppliers and publish data from environmental audits.
- Openly answer questions from consumers about who made their clothes.
Do you have a J.Crew habit that’s hard to kick? Tell me what you think of my assessment in the comments.
I did discover one reasonably priced ethical blazer after my J.Crew purchase. If you’ve got the funds, check out Citizen’s Mark for a similar style.
I’m adding an appendix with additional information about J.Crew’s association with the inhuman treatment of animals, in particular, unethical sheep wool. I recently chatted with a fellow ethical blogger, Holly Rose of Leotie Lovely, after my J.Crew post and she shared these findings with me. I have so much respect for Holly. She does her homework and writes thorough assessments of issues in fashion and ethical living. Plus, she’s unafraid to challenge big brands and give preconceived notions a swift kick in the ass.
In her piece The Wrongs and Wonders of Wool she outlines how J.Crew, and other luxury and mass retailers are linked to supplies of wool that commit atrocious animal rights violations.
Holly (and I) don’t think this makes J.Crew a monster. It does – however – mean they have been negligent in monitoring their suppliers. The onus falls first on the supplies, but J.Crew could prevent these issues by introducing more stringent regulations and higher ethical standards. To my knowledge, the company has taken no action to remedy this situation.
If the information Holly shares shocks you, consider buying from the brands she outlines or ditching sheep wool and replacing it with alpaca wool.