Girlfriend Collective is an activewear brand made popular for their ethical and sustainable practices. I impressed by the level of transparency Girlfriend Collective has with their manufacturing, and the effort that goes into making many parts of the process sustainable. From the materials they use to their workplace conditions to manufacturing their products overseas, Girlfriend Collective is honest about the good and bad aspects of their production. They turn post-consumer waste into products that can be enjoyed for years to come and have practices at every stage of the supply chain to lessen their environmental impact.
Although Girlfriend Collective has great sustainability initiatives, all of their manufacturing still takes place overseas and has multiple stages. They source the material for their products in Taiwan, and their fabric is shipped to Vietnam to be made into clothing. The facilities themselves have not made an active effort to reduce their emissions even though the materials they use are sustainable. I appreciate the standard Girlfriend Collective is trying to achieve and I am hopeful that they will be able to become even more environmentally friendly in the future.
All of Girlfriend Collective’s fabric contains recycled water bottles from Taiwan. Depending on the product, each item contains a different percentage of recycled material: for example, leggings and bras are 79% recycled, and tank tops are 100% recycled. The scrunchies are made of the scrap fabric from Girlfriend Collective’s other products.
Taiwan is a global leader in recycling with around 55% of their waste being recycled: after overflowing landfills in the 1990s caught the attention of the government, they created a “4-in-1” recycling scheme that has propelled them to the forefront of the recycling movement. Recycling trucks pick up waste, with officials and volunteers onboard to help citizens sort their materials and plastics by number. These trucks will stop up to 5 times a week or twice a day depending on your location, playing classical music to alert people to bring out their waste. It became a social ritual where neighbors gather to deliver their trash together. The Taiwanese government recycling authority oversees the process of post-consumer water bottle collection for Girlfriend Collective, since their processing center is certified by the government, and ensures that Girlfriend Collective is only putting used water bottles in their products. Additionally, their packaging is also recycled and recyclable, diverting waste from landfills on the manufacturer’s end and the consumer’s end.
After the plastic arrives at their processing center, the bottles are sorted by color, cleaned, and broken down into chips. These chips are shredded and washed, and melted into thick stands. The strands are broken into smaller pieces again, and finally melted into fine threads that can be spun into yarn. The yarn is shipped off to a separate knitting factory, then to a dye house, to produce the finished fabric. The fabric is colored with environmentally friendly dyes. After the dyeing process, the water used to dye the fabric is treated before being discharged into the surrounding water streams. Finally, the finished fabric is shipped to Girlfriend Collective’s main factory in Vietnam to be cut and sewn into clothing.
Girlfriend Collective has not made steps to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in the manufacturing process or minimize their supply chain, but they have made notable strides in using eco-friendly materials and limiting the amount of waste they produce.
Girlfriend Collective provides a lot of information about the materials, production, and labor behind their products. Their processing center in Taiwan creates their fabric, and it is then shipped to their core factory in Hanoi, Vietnam to be cut and sewn into clothing. Their Vietnam factory is SA8000 certified: this certification comes from Social Accountability International and has nine elements, including child and forced labor, that are evaluated by a third party semi-annually to ensure that certified factories maintain ethical practices. The SA8000 certification ensures that workers get paid a living wage and the working conditions follow International Labor Organization standards.
Their plastic processing factory in Taiwan does not have any labor certifications but Girlfriend Collective states that it is run by a highly respected Taiwanese family in the recycling industry. This facility in Taiwan is also supervised by the Taiwanese government to ensure that the plastics being used are post-consumer and not brand new (since buying plastic bottles is cheaper than cleaning and processing used plastics, and some brands will take advantage of this). Considering how serious Taiwan's recycling program is, the government's approval of their factory is signficiant.