Year Founded: 1937 & 2006
Headquarters: Charlottesville, Virginia, US
Company Website: madewell.com
History and Background
While a fair amount of brands find themselves bending to the twists and turns of fast fashion, Madewell has always known its market and stuck to its guns. That is only part of the reason why the brand is quickly taking over its parent company, J. Crew.
What originally started as a workwear brand started by a Russian immigrant, the convoluted history of Madewell makes for quite an exciting story.
Who is Mickey Drexler?
In 2003, Micky Drexler started as CEO for J. Crew after being fired from Gap, by 2004 he had bought the Madewell name for J. Crew, and by 2006 he had started work on his goal of turning Madewell into a break-a-way brand from J. Crew itself.
Drexler’s work history is littered with some of the biggest industry brands today. Drexler had taken J. Crew, which was struggling before he was signed on, and turned its profits by reinventing women’s fashion in the brand, so it’s no surprise how he turned Madewell into the concrete fashion icon that we know it as today. Mickey Drexler has turned what originally was just a fishermen and dock worker workwear brand into an ethical and hip brand for millennials.
Even if Madewell didn’t start with Mickey Drexler, it sure was reinvented by him.
The Real Origin Story
However, the history of Madewell is much older than 2006. In fact, it’s almost a century older.
At the turn of the 20th Century, a Russian immigrant named Julius Kivowitz (which wasn’t his original name) fled to America from Russia to escape both the antisemitism that was rampant at the turn of the century and the army conscription that would take him at age 20. Eventually, at the age of 19, both he and his wife landed at Ellis Island in 1908.
After many different attempts at finding financial success in New Bedford (a bit of a journey from his original landing near New York), he started working with textiles, and in 1936 he filed for the Madewell trademark, opening his first factory in 1937.
This beautiful story of a man reinventing himself on a new continent was told by the great-grandson of Julius Kivowitz. It can be found here with much more depth and detail.
A great notion to come from this story is that Madewell has lived up to the standards of Julius since he was noted as a man who enjoyed luxurious things and wanted to find success in every opportunity. There’s no doubt he would be happy to find that Madewell is a multi-million dollar company with sustainable, ethical, and innovative designs.
Where it is Today
As of 2022, Madewell is a brand with over 151 stores. As opposed to other industry giants in fashion, Madewell does a lot of its selling through other brands’ stores, shown in its partnerships with Nordstrom, Stitch Fix, and a few others that are noted for bringing like-minded brands together.
Although it started from the arms of J. Crew, it has actually grown to do better than its parent company and has been outselling it for a while now. With their dual-gender marketing, they have been dominating both sexes in fashion and have no intent on stopping anyone.
Over half of Madewell’s styles are made ethically, and to ensure you’re getting exactly what you want the clothes made through their sustainability program are marked with a special tag that lets you know exactly what you’re shopping for.
Dipping Their Toes in All Categories
Not only does Madewell do clothing better than its predecessor, but it’s also dipped its toes into the accessory and handbag sections of the fashion industry. Just like their clothes, Madewell makes their bags with vegan leather and ensures everything is made with consumer interests and their brand sustainability in mind.
Madewell even makes an evident promise on their website, boasting that they are “gold rated by sustainability experts at the leather working group.” For those curious, the leather working group is a non-profit organization that monitors and values the sustainability and ethicality of each company’s leather sourcing.
Sustainable, Ethical, Beautiful Bags
Let’s talk about bags! Madewell may be known for its denim collections, but we’re here to explore the diverse collection of bags this brand has to offer.
The Sydney Collection
The Sydney Collection is (to date) a spotlight collection on the Madewell website. It features several different bag types, such as a large leather tote, a smaller square crossbody bag, and an even smaller clutch.
A lovely note about this collection is that all of these bags are very different, but all have the same theme. All of the bags are on theme with a vintage-to-now design staple, meaning they are meant to last through the ages. The leather is naturally milled and the straps are easily resizable to suit any body type.
The crossbody in particular features a magnetic snap closure which can save the shelf-life of the bag by making tears and breaks nearly non-existent.
The Medium Transport Tote
Madewell has a fantastic history of making non-vintage items look beautifully worn in all the right places, and the medium transport tote is a fantastic example. From its deep leather color, the soft texture of the transport tote transcends time and makes it looks like your grandma’s hand-me-down that’s been kept in perfect condition. Its simplistic design resonates with most outfits, and it has just enough space to hold everything you need without looking too luggage-y.
The tote also features a cross-body strap as well as a shoulder handle, in case you’re more comfortable carrying it that way. The bag comes in a few different colors, to let you really customize exactly how original you want to look.
There are also a few different options available. One has a zipper on the top to secure your belongings, another is made completely out of woven leather fabrics. Just in case you weren’t having a hard enough time deciding which one to buy.
The Leather Carabiner Mini Crossbody Bag
The leather carabiner mini crossbody bag is the perfect partying bag. This clutch-type purse is just big enough for your lipstick, phone, and wallet. This party-perfect bag comes in a variety of fantastic colors, all made with naturally milled leather.
Its strap is completely adjustable, as well as removable for those outfits that won’t stand a strap across them. Even if you’re not the partying kind of person, this bag is great for everyday use as well, with its “dress down or up” style.
The MWL (Re)sourced Ripstop Nylon Backpack
The MWL nylon backpack is made with recycled ripstop nylon (a fantastic use of recycled waste nylon that would usually go straight into a landfill). This backpack is made (as advertised) to go with Madewell’s workout gear, although we think it looks just fine on its own.
With its exterior pockets and drawstring close, it is such a cute little number that’s fantastic for a day out with your friends or just a trip to the grocery store.
It is water resistant, because of its external material, however, if you want something completely waterproof you may want to look elsewhere. On top of the drawstring, it has a magnetic closure to really secure all of your belongings.
The Thredup Program
Madewell has more recently turned their Madewell Forever program into an easy way for shoppers to get rid of their old clothes. Simply just order a thredup kit which comes with a shipping label that can be used on any box, and load up your package with your clothing or accessory by any brand. Then, ship it in.
Even if not all of your clothes make the cut to be resold, Madewell will responsibly recycle them to reuse the fabrics or patterns involved. If your items do get resold, you have an opportunity for shopping credit in return for any item of yours sold on the Thredup website.
This is a fantastic idea, and to learn more about it go here to find out more.
The Future of Madewell
If Madewell continues on its trend of not following the trends, then we can be sure they are going to be around for a while. The brand has been doing fantastically since its launch, and we can only see it doing better as time goes on. Especially with all of their clothing and bags being as ethically sourced as they are.
“Madewell is for Denim Lovers – Or basically anyone who appreciates timeless designs that put you at ease” – Joyce Lee, Head Designer
Madewell Bag Repair Policy
Madewell does not offer repairs, but they do off 30-day full refunds on products that are unworn, unwashed, defective, and unaltered. Although it’s unfortunate they do not offer repairs, according to the overwhelming reviews, their customer service is fantastic.