Outdoor Voices has a brand identity dedicated to “getting the world moving”. They are also vocal about their in-house blends of activewear fabrics being a large portion of their initiatives dedicated to reducing their environmental impact as an apparel brand. Their most popular product, the Exercise Dress, is responsible for much of their rise to fame; the juxtaposition of a feminine silhouette within the typically male-dominated industry of athletic wear and performance created the message of empowerment in movement that was essential in the creation of their community. However, it is disappointing that this extremely popular piece is one of the least sustainable products - employing materials with terrible sustainability ratings. Outdoor Voices has a myriad of sustainability efforts listed on their website, including a long list of more sustainable materials, and are dedicated to incorporating longevity and circularity into their products and supply chain. They also have initiatives partnering with environmental organizations to increase education and outreach on sustainability, are working to eliminate all single-use plastics from events, and have goals to increase use of recycled fibers (80% by 2022) and and of bluesign certified fabrics (50% by 2021). For reference, bluesign certification means that the fabric meets a set of criteria for sustainability in chemical, material, traceability, and transparency. They present an average level of transparency on their website regarding where their pieces are produced and their working conditions, however there is definitely still room to grow.
Outdoor voices pledges on their website to convert their conventional materials to more sustainable fabrics. However, the Exercise Dress side steps those efforts. The original Exercise Dress is made from their Lightspeed blend: a 85% nylon, 15% spandex mix. Both of these fabrics are extremely unsustainable for a myriad of reasons. Obviously, both are derived from some of ~the most~ environmentally degrading industries (coal, crude oil) and manufacturing practices (immense water and energy usage, chemical dying processes). Production of nylon also releases large amounts of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide (300x more potent than carbon dioxide) into the atmosphere. As the icing on the cake, both materials are non-biodegradable and often break down into microplastics. In addition, neither of these materials are bluesign certified (ref. "overall" section for definition of bluesign). There are ways to incorporate plastic-based textiles such as nylon and spandex into products in a sustainable way; many companies used recycled versions of these fabrics. However, Outdoor Voices has no such claim to these practices on their website.
Outdoor Voices has a clear and admirable dedication to sustainable practices that is evident on their website. Despite this specific piece not having the ~greatest~ material game, I do believe that the company is dedicated to ethical and environmentally conscious production. However, nylon and spandex are about as terrible as it comes regarding sustainable textiles. Nylon - developed during WWII to be used in wartime products such as parachutes and tires, as well as a silk replacement - is essentially a plastic material derived from crude oil and is within the textile family of polyamides. Polyamides are textiles made from the process of “polymerization”, which involves chemically reacting carbon-based chemicals from coal and crude oil in a high pressure environment. The resulting sheet of nylon is then shattered, melted down, and woven into the stretchy fabric we are all familiar with. Spandex is like a cousin of nylon - coming after and made from a similar chemical called polyurethane. For textile manufacturing OV gets a failing grade. Still, it is important to keep in mind that activewear is extremely difficult to produce sustainably and recycle due to the characteristics of its use and necessary materials.
From a company-wide perspective it is clear that Outdoor Voices is dedicated to increasing the longevity and circularity of their products, with a clear statement of dedication to continuous progress and transparency. This is clear in the multitude of initiatives they have in the works; one being their increasing library of more sustainable fabrics that do employ recycled materials and ethically sourced wool. It is my suggestion that they switch to using these sustainable fabrics in their original Exercise Dress style, as the product is one of their most popular pieces, is heavily marketed, and is closely tied to their brand identity.
I was extremely disappointed with the lack of transparency on Outdoor Voices' part regarding their worker rights certifications, or should I say lack thereof. In their FAQ section on the website Outdoor Voices states that they prioritize quality, compliance to worker safety and benefits, fair wages, and dedication to environmentally conscious practices in their selection of partners. They manufacture in the US, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Italy, and Portugal. They state that all of their manufacturers must comply with a “vendor code of conduct” that keeps their employees safe, paid fairly, and given benefits and regular hours. They also assert that every facility is visited a few times per year. All this being said, there are no certifications listed on their website to confirm these assertions about ethical working conditions. It is unclear whether or not they are certified in actuality, but one must think that if they were they would be inclinded to include it explicitly on their website.