Girlfriend Collective is a colorful American activewear brand whose motto is that trash looks better on you than it does on the planet. This is why they recycle old water bottles and use fishing nets into size-inclusive clothes, including maternity wear. Soft, stretchy, and comfortable, their clothes come in more colors than your typical beige and black. Girlfriend Collective closes the loop through their ReGirlfriend program where you can donate your old leggings to be converted into new ones again!
Is Girlfriend Collective Ethical?
Girlfriend Collective stands out with its waste-conscious approach to activewear. They responsibly source post-consumer water bottles from Taiwan which used to be called “garbage island”. In fact, nearly 70% of their fabrics are recycled and OEKO-TEX certified. They also trace most of their supply chain, and their final stage production factory in Vietnam is SA8000 certified, which ensures payment of a living wage, fair working conditions, no child or forced labor. However, they mostly use synthetic materials (80%), including spandex, and their pieces cannot be recycled infinitely, if at all. In addition, they can be more transparent about the efficiency of the ReGirlfriend program and the work conditions in their factories in Taiwan and Japan.
By using recycled polyester and nylon for their leggings, Girlfriend Collective is preventing a large number of plastic waste from ending up in landfills. Each of their bras is made using 11 post-consumer recycled water bottles and leggings are made using 25 or by recycling old fishing nets. These fishing nets usually end up at the bottom of the ocean and contribute to massive amounts of marine waste, so Girlfriend Collective is helping prevent that by giving them a new (and useful) life. Using rPET and ECONYL nylon reduces energy and water consumption greatly when compared to virgin polyester.
GF Collective also uses 100% cupro fiber for their tops and tanks. Cupro is a natural fabric made from post-industrial cotton waste which is not used for textiles: the short cotton fibers that cling to the seeds after ginning. Since it is made from the waste of a natural fiber and is biodegradable, it is often speculated to be a sustainable fabric.
However, the downside is that while cupro is celebrated for its fineness and biodegradability, it is a type of viscose rayon fiber and is not all that good. Turning it into a fabric requires a lot of energy and water as well as heavy chemicals such as copper, ammonia, and caustic soda which are hazardous to the environment. Moreover, the fact that it relies on cotton agriculture makes it a not-so-eco friendly product.
While GF Collective claims their products are recycled and recyclable, they cannot be recycled infinitely as the fibers lose their strength with each cycle. We also challenge if their clothes are really circular by design since most of their activewear is blended with spandex to give it elasticity. Spandex is not eco-friendly and often makes garments impossible to recycle. Furthermore, recycled polyester also sheds plastic microfibers which are too tiny to be filtered. They end up in the oceans, in the belly of marine animals, and eventually come back to us in our food.
GF Collective uses eco-friendly dyes which are certified safe by OEKO-TEX. All the water used in the dyeing process is carefully cleaned and cooled at their wastewater treatment plant which is located 100 meters away from the machines. The residual dye mud is donated to a local pavement facility instead of getting dumped in a landfill. The facility then uses it for the betterment of the community by recycling it into roads and sidewalks.
GF Collective partners with CRP to ensure that all of their packaging is recycled and recyclable. Their garments come in a cardboard box along with a reusable pouch as a little treat for you! The pouch is made from the same rPET as their leggings, and even the thread used for stitching is recycled. Everything, down to their hangtags, is made using recycled paper. Production of their packaging takes place in factories that are ISO certified and use FSC certified paper.
GF Collective mentions that they ship out all orders from a fulfillment center near their main factory in Vietnam. This is to reduce CO2 emission by sending all the goods to the US and shipping them from there. But there have been a lot of consumer reports saying that the label and packaging indicate that their products originated from Hong Kong and not Vietnam as they claim on their website. Upon contacting GF Collective, their concerns were dodged and the questions went unanswered. Apart from this, the brand is also not transparent about their CO2 emissions due to shipping and whether they are offsetting it in other ways.
Other than using recycled materials and minimizing leftover waste from dyeing, GF Collective mentions that their cupro yarn is made in a zero-waste, zero-emission facility in Japan. With the ReGirlfriend program, they close the loop by taking back old Girlfriend Collective Compressive leggings and upcycling them into new pieces that can be worn again. Their packaging is also made using recycled materials. However, there is no evidence that they make an effort to reduce textile waste in manufacturing.
GF Collective’s core manufacturing factory is located in Vietnam, a place with a high risk of labor abuse. But their factory is SA8000 certified, which is a social accountability standard and certificate developed by Social Accountability International (SAI). The certification makes sure that no child labor is used, health and safety standards are followed, and workers are treated fairly. Most importantly, it allows workers to unionize. GF Collective pays a living wage, provides free catered lunch and dinner to the workers along with guided exercise breaks so that they don’t spend too long working. They also provide free health check-ups every 6 months apart from health insurance. But, other than the final manufacturing site in Vietnam, they are not very transparent about the rest of the supply chain.
Charity and Inclusivity
Embracing diversity from day one, GF Collective has a diverse pool of employees, including 3 Asians in top leadership positions which they shared in their transparency report. They feature BIPOC models and their clothes are available in various sizes.
In 2020, they also pledged to be a more equitable organization. They donated $5k each to organizations that fight systemic justice and inequality such as Reclaim the Block, Black Visions Collective, and ACLU. They also donated 100% of the net profits ($20k) from their Socks and Underwear campaign to The Loveland Foundation and The OKRA Project. This campaign was also dedicated to women who champion equality and opportunity for BIPOC communities.