is j crew fast fashion

Is J Crew Fast Fashion? An Honest Review

by jacky chou
Updated on

If there ever was a brand in the middle of fast and slow fashion, J Crew has to be one of them. Most people feel that J Crew has established itself as a high-quality, durable, and timeless fashion brand and will not fit the fast fashion criteria. On the other hand, others will feel that J Crew mass produces clothes for its customers to overconsume and to meet current trends. In comes the big question: Is J Crew fast fashion?

The simple answer is yes. Well, maybe we could build a compromise. If you ask anyone what fast fashion is, they’d say low-quality clothes produced en masse to satisfy demand. Fast fashion does not regard manufacturing laws, environmental concerns, or production processes so long as clothes are mass-produced for customers to consume.

However, what happens if a brand is sustainable yet mass-produced to meet high demand? To add to this, what if this brand strives to satisfy current trends? Will it still be labeled fast fashion? Let’s take a deep dive to understand this. At the end of the article, we will have established why J-Crew is a fast fashion brand.

What is J Crew?

J Crew is an American fashion brand with men’s, women’s, and children’s clothes and accessories. It was founded in 1947 by Mitchell Cinader and Saul Charles as Popular Merchandise, Inc. The company officially rebranded to J Crew in 1983.

Model in J.Crew Cashmere relaxed cardigan sweater

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Is J Crew Fast Fashion?

To understand whether a brand is fast fashion, we shall consider the following factors:

  • Rapid and mass production
  • Low cost
  • High trend satisfaction
  • Poor manufacturing standards and conditions
  • Lower quality
  • Aggressive marketing
  • Retail presence

1. Does J Crew produce rapidly and massively?

All fast fashion brands mass produce because of economies of scale, the rush to meet global industry demand, and to satisfy current trends. Indeed, J Crew produces clothes and accessories in large quantities for all the above reasons.

In the US alone, J Crew has 124 locations, with New York having the most stores, at 16, which translates to 13%. All these stores have to have all J Crew apparel and accessories, meaning that production units have to match this supply chain requirement.

J Crew at New York City's financial district

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Further, to meet rising demand, the brand has to ensure that it produces rapidly and massively. The company has over 12,000 employees in its stores and the J-Crew factory.

2. Are J-Crew outfits and accessories priced low?

J Crew, the original and mother brand of J Crew Factory, J Crew Mercantile, and Madewell, is more expensive in apparel and finances. The flagship brand pays more attention to detail to produce high-quality items, meaning the price is also quite high.

J Crew's Ludlow Slim-fit suit jacket in English wool tweed

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J Crew Factory, albeit being affiliated with J Crew, sells lower quality clothes that use less sustainable materials. J Crew uses more sustainable alternatives, which means their clothes cost even twice as much as J Crew Factory’s.

One important aspect of J Crew is that it has periodic discounts. On the website, there are items with discounts as huge as 40%. J Crew Factory also goes on clearance and end-of-season sales sometimes, so customers rush to purchase these products as quickly as possible.

3. Does J Crew seek to satisfy current trends?

Let’s start with the demographics. About 69% of J Crew’s target audience based on gender distribution comprises women; the remaining 31% comprises men. However, despite men having a higher propensity to spend money and be more loyal to a brand, women still lead the pack in purchasing in-trend and contemporary fashion items.

Collection rosette slip dress in luster crepe - J Crew

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Between 2003 and 2017, Mickey Drexler was CEO and chairman of J Crew and led the company in a paradigm journey of moving from a low-priced clothing store to an upscale boutique. What strategy did he use? Trend amplification.

Drexler could pick up on trends quickly and implement them in J Crew’s portfolio almost instantly. He used intense data collection and analysis strategies to forge a way for J Crew to escape the murky world of fast fashion. While he achieved this in part, a large part of the company still appealed to the fast fashion masses. Some of these have been carried forward till now.

Another important aspect is that social media drive trends and J Crew has invested in communicating with its fan base intensively on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest. Customers who interact with J Crew on its social platforms generally buy from the brand two times more.

So, indeed, J Crew does aim to amplify, take advantage of, and meet current trends. And it has surely worked in their favor. Former First Lady Michelle Obama is an ardent fan of J Crew; she has been spotted several times in some of the brand’s outfits. Other celebrities who have worn the brand include Taylor Swift and Jennifer Love-Hewitt.

Former First Lady Michell Obama in a J Crew outfit

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4. Does J Crew have poor manufacturing standards and conditions?

J Crew’s website has a page dedicated to the brand’s core practices and policies. It details J Crew’s commitment to human rights, animal welfare, vendor code of conduct, the brand’s approach to chemical management, social compliance, environmental conservation, gender equality, and terrorism.

The page is comprehensive and details everything the brand believes regarding these core practices. For instance, J Crew suppliers should never employ anyone under fifteen and comply with all labor ethics and laws.

Further, in the spirit of animal rights, J Crew does not use exotic animal hair and fur in its products. It also does not obtain exotic animal skin from any endangered species.

However, J Crew sources its raw materials in developing nations, where ethical production frameworks may not be fully established yet, meaning they take advantage of some loopholes, such as human rights exploitation. Also, J Crew does not take supplier policies into full consideration.

In terms of labor laws, J Crew has been accused of illegal dismissals of staff and union busting, which go against the standard required by the fashion industry.

J Crew also sells fragrant candles, and other household accessories

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In terms of the brand’s environmental impact, J Crew seeks to achieve carbon neutrality and reduce the existential carbon footprint. The brand also uses the closed-loop lyocell processing strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which uses more sustainable materials, eco-friendly fabrics, and organic cotton in some of its apparel. However, this strategy often becomes more environmentally degrading than other strategies.

According to the Fashion Transparency Index, J Crew has a measly 11-20% in terms of supply chain transparency. Further, it has been claimed that the company is not fair trade certified and does not support fair trade factories.

J Crew’s Controversies in the Recent Years

J Crew decided to use the picture of Beckett Lyons, the brand’s president’s son, in pink toenails. The caption used in the picture was, “Lucky for me, I ended up with a boy whose favorite color is pink. Toenail painting is so much more fun in neon.” The campaign was branded as a blatant effort to celebrate transgender children. The brand was seen as targeting a new demographic – mothers of gender-confused young boys.

Further, they posted a picture of a boy wearing a t-shirt with the inscription, “I am a feminist too.” Critics were angry for two reasons. One, the brand was forcing social issues on children, but most majorly, it was pushing a feminist ideology to its clients.

Young boy in J Crew t-shirt, with words, "I am a feminist too"

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Another controversial moment for J Crew was when they used a model for one of their advertisements, and her hair was messy. The messy, unflattering hairstyle brought out harsh reviews, with people saying this disrespected the model’s heritage.

Madewell (and J Crew) used an African-American model with unflattering hair

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Conclusion: Is J Crew Ethical, Sustainable, or Fast Fashion?

J.Crew's 'Fast Fashion' Pivot | Fast fashion, Fashion, J Crew

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To conclude this hotly contested topic, let’s consider what J Crew themselves have to say about this: “We believe in forever fashion, not fast fashion.” J Crew’s idea is that their clothes should be worn for decades and handed me down in their best condition. While this may be practically impossible, it is still a vital aspect to consider.

Let us define fast fashion again to take an objective view of whether J Crew is fast fashion. Fast fashion is fashion that mass produces apparel to meet high demand caused by the urge to satisfy current trends. As a result, fast fashion brands may inadvertently or otherwise use unfair labor policies, forced labor, gender inequality, child labor, safe working conditions for employees, and other negative aspects.

Fast fashion does not have to be cheap, necessarily. So to speak, if it ticks more fast fashion boxes than slow fashion, it qualifies as fast fashion. Furthermore, J Crew was under fire for vanity sizing in 2014 with reports that its outfits run small.

In this case, with the observance of all our findings, J Crew is fast fashion, not ethical, and not sustainable fashion. Alongside other brands such as Aldo, Banana Republic, and Macy’s, J Crew is undoubtedly fast fashion.

Is J Crew Fast Fashion, Ethical or Sustainable?

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There are other ethical alternatives to J Crew that you may consider, such as Quince, Eileen Fisher, and People Tree, which use recycled materials and have a well-established recycling program. These other brands use ethical practices and sustainable goals in production and supply. Despite J Crew producing sophisticated, buttoned-up, and official outfits, the process involved in making this happen is not necessarily ethical and sustainable.

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jacky chou


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