Going to school in Los Angeles, I am no stranger to being witness to the most popular trends and brands that gain the most interest in people my age across the country. A brand that in the past few years has taken the fashion industry by storm is Madhappy. They present themselves as a lifestyle brand that has a mission to normalize conversations about mental health and create a safe space with people to talk about it and their well-being, making the world altogether a little more optimistic. They create numerous collections full of high quality products ranging from sweatshirts to hats, t-shirts, socks, bags, and shorts like their Madhappy Athletics collection Biker Shorts (a product I recently purchased before deciding to actually review...). Madhappy products are made for everyday wear for those who wish to be comfortable and stylish. With a focus on mental health, Madhappy talks little of their sustainability practices, only mentioning it once under a question on their FAQ page that reads “Is Madhappy a sustainable brand?” under their general content. Being located primarily in Downtown Los Angeles, their major fan base is one that generally looks to progressive goals for the future. It is in the best interest of Madhappy to seek to align their goals with more current standards of sustainability that their general fan base of young adults looks towards for the environment in years to come. They are massive advocates for their mission about mental health, and their efforts should not go unnoticed. In many ways, in my eyes, however, they seem to prioritize their fashion and how trendy they will be in lieu of their actual message and who they are partnering with. I personally find their clothes high quality and long-lasting, mitigating the need to buy more, which is nice. However, they are a brand that consistently cranks out collection after collection each year to satisfy a consumer that has endless demands and changes in style. A brand as influential as this one to the youth of our world should be a role model in showcasing that companies truly can prioritize more than one goal and solution, and not escalate one problem while trying to solve another.
Being athletic wear, these biker shorts are made of 46% micro modal, 46% supima cotton, and 8% spandex. Micro modal is seen as a sustainable textile in many eyes as it is completely biodegradable, the manufacturing process is closed loop, it takes well to natural dye, and is manufactured form a renewable crop, coming from cellulose from hardwood trees. Micromodal is a specific type of modal rayon, and modal rayon is seen as a great improvement to viscose rayon which was the first type of cellulose-based semi-synthetic fiber that began to be produced in massive quantities all over the world. Micromodal is also seen as more sustainable than other textiles because it is only manufactured by one company, Lenzing AG in Austria. However, this means that it requires more intensive travel to bring it to the United States to create the product. There are many counters to these claims of sustainability, however, about how the modal supply chain has been known to obtain wood from areas of rainforest that have been cleared for timber plantations and also using ancient woodstock. These and other harmful effects of deforestation on vulnerable environments could be true for certain manufacturers of modal, but the only manufacturer of micromodal states their specific textile is a certified biobased fiber under the BioPreferred designation of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and they claim to only use wood and pulp that come from natural forests or sustainably managed plantations. They are also recognized internationally with the EU Ecolabel and Oeko-Tex standard as well as being available as Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Promoting Sustainable Forest Management (PEFC) certified. All of these certifications ensure the product contains renewable biological ingredients, has a low impact on the environment through its entire lifespan, is harmless to the human environment, has been produced under socially responsible and environmentally friendly working conditions, and the forests used to produce the product are being sustainably managed to preserve biological diversity while still being able to sustain economic viability. The next material used is supima cotton fabric, derived from fibers of the Gossypium barbadense tree. All supima cotton is grown in the United States (most in California), making it more sustainable and easier to be transported to be produced. It’s one of the least environmentally impactful forms of cotton as Pima, the more general form of this cotton, only makes up 5% of the United States’ total cotton production, and not all of it is specifically Supima. The American Supima Association (ASA) has also implemented a number of strict guidelines for Supima production to prevent any growers of this cotton from utilizing dangerous or toxic practices during the manufacturing process of this fabric. The last material used, spandex, is a synthetic fiber that is made from a polymer that contains polyurethane. Spandex is not biodegradable and it can take hundreds of years to decompose. Its production is derived from petroleum and is incredibly energy-intensive. Also when washing these clothes, we end up polluting microfibers into the ocean. While some of these materials are evidently harmful to the environment and others seems to hold to some sustainable standards, they all require extracting raw materials through intense processes while combining with many chemicals and water and utilizing lots of energy in the process.
Madhappy produces their clothes locally in Los Angeles, based around where their entire company is headquartered. They also have international partners for distributing to consumers outside of the United States; this is helpful as less intensive travel is required for those living outside of the realms of Los Angeles and U.S. domestic travel. Madhappy recently released a five part series documenting the inside of their factories and manufacturing facilities, demonstrating how one of their garments is made from knitting the yarn all the way to the final packaging. Oddly enough, it is no longer on their website, but I found it with a little digging on a Vimeo page. After watching them, I learned a little bit about the effort that it takes to put a piece together. The process to make one of their pieces of clothing starts at the knitting mill where they have knitting machines that spin the yarns together to create the rolls of fabric. After the fabric is created and inspected, it is packaged to go to their dye house. In the dye house, a formula is created by a lab technician, and it is placed in industrial washers to undergo a rigorous wash cycle. Enzymes and silicone are added with the dye color to create a soft feel. They are then put in dryers to eliminate any shrinkage of the clothes. They are then sent to a cut and sew factory where the fabric is first cut into layers and sent to be sewn. Workers sew pieces of the garment individually until the whole thing is put together. Then, they go to screen printing where the custom inks are loaded onto the screens and the garments are placed onto the palettes; the palettes rotate to place the graphic onto the garment. They are then placed on a conveyor dryer where the ink is cured. The labels are individually sewn on and the garments are steamed and pressed to eliminate any wrinkles. Lastly, they are sorted and bagged to be shipped off. Clearly, through this production, there is a lot of energy used to ensure every step and process is done thoroughly; however, this is what ensures the high quality of clothes that is put out, and therefore, people will have less of a need to throw out the clothes and waste more. Madhappy deserves some credit for filming the process of their clothes production and showing the environment their workers are in, but it does not go into any depth of how much energy they use and the amount of waste they create at all, which lacks a great amount of transparency, in that respect. They also put out numerous collections a year, cranking their production into high speed and creating and wasting more than needs to be done. They have little to no information, other than that, on their production and manufacturing, leaving much to our imagination.
Madhappy brands itself through commitment to talking about mental health and advocating for optimism everywhere. They have created a community of “local optimists” through their intentional collaborations that all lead back to happiness, optimism, and mental health. It is essential that businesses advocate for a mission, and theirs seeks to observe and help a social and health issue that wreaks havoc on people globally. They are able to support this community through their social media, website, and numerous pop up stores around the country. They also hosts large events, panels, guided meditations, etc. to become closer to their community. Their mission, to build a more optimistic world, is also seen in their blog “The Local Optimist,” where they create conversations about mental health and share powerful stories with interview content, editorial content, guest posts, information about and inspiration for their launches, a podcast, video content, and mental health resources for their community. They also donate proceeds to their charity partner, The JED Foundation, a non profit organization that aims to protect emotional health and prevent suicide for teens and young adults across the country. Their support for the mental health community does not go unnoticed. However, when we enter the environmental sector of issues that could arise from company like this, Madhappy leaves little to work with on their website regarding their sustainability practices. Their answer to a question on their FAQ page on whether or not they are a sustainable company begins by addressing that they are aware that apparel as a whole is not inherently sustainable (if anything, at least they admit that...). However, they then claim to be working to make sure all of their products are being made sustainably through a number of efforts. They claim to be reducing their emissions by having a compact, primarily LA-based supply chain, increasing their usage of high quality organic fabrics to ensure long-lasting clothes that do not go wasted, working with dye houses that hold Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) Certification and follow stringent dye processes and singular laundering of the fabric, optimizing garment quality and construction, and donating any imperfect garments to charity to minimize waste. In the future, they say they are setting strict fiber standards across all of their products, introducing recycled fabrics in their core line, setting strict standards for their factories, and are creating a way to upcycle old products. Most importantly, though, they claim that by 2025, Madhappy will be a carbon neutral brand. It’s hard to want to think a company with goals and efforts like these are really doing a lot to become increasingly more sustainable when there are no numbers, statistics, legal commitments, or transparent progress to show for it; they are making simple and relatively vague claims to answer a loaded question. I have to give them credit for their mission to aid in the pressing social issues surrounding mental health, but I almost feels as though brands like this sometimes use their mission to mask the other problems going on with the company and the issues they are instigating in other sectors, like the environmental one, in the process; they can use what they are doing right to distract from what they are doing wrong, and that is where the main problem lies.