Girlfriend Collective: minimal, luxurious, eco-friendly activewear
Very rarely a new brand comes along that is doing something genuinely different and special. At The Sports Edit we are excited and proud to be the first European stockists of Girlfriend Collective as it is doing just that. Not only because of the beautiful activewear it makes, but how it does what it does, from the unique fabric made out of recycled water bottles, to the socially and environmentally responsible manufacturing.
This Seattle-based start-up launched to a storm in the US when it offered a pair of free leggings to its first customers, and promptly received 10,000 orders on its first day and ran out of stock. It has built such a cult following in the US that running out of stock has been a theme.
So why all the excitement? First and foremost, it makes elegant and timeless activewear in a range of simple, pretty colours - all designed to be easily mixed and matched. As the co-founder Quang Dinh told Vogue:
“There wasn’t a lifestyle brand for a person who likes to casually work out and has a feminine aesthetic but doesn’t want to wear leopard and galaxy prints”.
But with Girlfriend Collective, aesthetics are just the start. The founders wanted to create an activewear line that was luxurious and of the highest quality, but that also guaranteed no environmental or social damage in its production. With their mantra that ‘good things come to those who don’t waste’, they make all their fabrics using recycled, post-consumer materials, like single-use water bottles and discarded fishing nets cleaned from the seas. Because, as they put it:
“Old water bottles and fishing nets look better on you than they do clogging landfills and polluting oceans”.
Each pair of leggings is made from 25 plastic bottles and each bra uses 11 bottles. As such the brand has recycled over 8 million water bottles, and is adding around 70,000 to that number every month. Each pair of the LITE leggings removes 1kg of waste from the oceans, recycling discarded fishing nets (which account for 46% of all ocean plastic).
Sustainability at the heart of what they do
Sustainability has become a real buzzword in the fashion industry of late. Lots of companies tout sustainability with bold headlines, but underneath there is little substance. Girlfriend Collective is at the opposite end of the spectrum. Just look at the 4700 essay on its website covering every aspect of its materials, production process, labour policies and more.
How the magic happens
Whilst Girlfriend Collective makes its core compressive fabric out of plastic bottles, there is absolutely no compromise on fit, feel or function. An eco-friendly legging is a great idea until it doesn’t perform. So the founders approached the problem from the perspective of trying to develop the best leggings on the market, that also happen to be eco-friendly. They spent over a year refining the fabric and fits, testing with over 100 women to get it right.
At The Sports Edit we evaluate hundreds of fabrics every year, and the Girlfriend fabric is one of the best we’ve come across, regardless of its eco-credentials. It holds colour beautifully, is super soft to the touch, doesn’t pill, and has a nice thickness to hold you in. It has a matt finish and more natural touch compared with conventional polyester. So how does it work?
The single-use plastic bottles are collected at a government certified recycling facility in Taiwan (a world leader in recycling), where they are validated as post consumer, then sorted, steam washed to remove caps and labels, and shredded into millions of tiny chips, washed again until they’re sparkling clean, then transported to the fabric mill. Their knitting process is unlike any other in the activewear industry, delivering a softer, more stable fabric, due to a very precise process that takes time - the knitting machine takes 24 hours to make enough fabric for 100 pairs of leggings.
Does recycled material hold up as well in a workout?
In a word, yes. We’ve tested the fabric in various types of workouts, and despite its surprising origin, it is highly technical, wicks sweat away quickly and keeps you cool and comfortable. The core Compressive leggings have a slightly thicker fabric that lifts and holds you in, and a lot of reviews point to how flattering the leggings are due to the combination of the snug, compressive fit, high waist, and clever seam placement that follows the natural line of the body.
Ethically made as well as sustainably sourced
Girlfriend Collective goes beyond the use of sustainable materials, focusing on every aspect of the production process from fiber to finished product:
- All dyes are eco-friendly, and OEKO-certified as safe
- Wastewater from the dyeing process is properly treated and independently monitored before being released safely back into the water source
- Rather than dumping dye mud into landfill like most facilities, they got creative and send it to a pavement facility to be used with paving stone
- All of their pieces are made in a family owned SA8000-certified factory in Hanoi, Vietnam, where employees are paid fair wages (125% of the local minimum wage), with no child labour, the right to unionise, free catered meals and daily exercise breaks, and work in an environment that is safe and healthy.
This is just scratching the surface of what they do, but you get the point; the team at Girlfriend really is striving to make a difference.
Accessibility: activewear for all
They don’t want ethical, sustainable clothing to be a luxury, so the pricing is accessible, despite the very highest quality fabrics and high end fit and feel. Leggings are £62, and bras £35, so less than brands such as Sweaty Betty and Outdoor Voices.
Accessibility extends beyond price, with a focus on athletic empowerment for all. You’ll notice just how diverse the group of women are that model for Girlfriend Collective and feature on its Instagram, with all shapes, sizes, ages and ethnicities, and the size range runs from XXS to 6XL in leggings and XS to 3XL in bras.
If you’re sold on Girlfriend’s environmentally responsible, functional, stylish activewear, then here’s a bit more on the key pieces on the collection:
The original legging that started the movement. Made from 25 recycled water bottles. An extra high rise that sits snug near your belly button, and a soft yet compressive fabric. Great for high-impact activities as well as yoga.
- Available in a full length or 7/8 length.
- Available in seven colours at launch at The Sports Edit
These are the newest, lightweight leggings that are great for hot yoga, Spin and other super sweaty activities. They are not as compressive as the originals, but are lighter, thinner and more breathable, which customers had requested for more intense workouts. They are made of recycled fishing nets, which account for 46% of all ocean plastic.
- The LITE Leggings will be available at The Sports Edit later in 2019.
- Classic - GC's most supportive bra that’s both full-coverage and flattering, with a long length, scoop neck, racerback shape, and support band. Made for medium-impact workouts.
- Cropped - The same as the Classic, but in a slightly shorter length.