The fashion industry receives a lot of criticism for a lack of eco-friendly sourcing and production methods. As explained in The True Cost, a documentary about the industry, clothing companies are leaving behind a substantial environmental footprint. Certain aspects of the fashion industry, known as "fast fashion," can be particularly bad on this front, given their high production rate and the amount of clothing quickly tossed to the landfills when styles change with the seasons.
Girlfriend Collective (GC) has tackled this issue head-on by creating an eco-friendly line of activewear clothing. GC was founded to offer people a completely transparent clothing line. The Seattle based company is built from top to bottom with sustainability initiatives in mind. All of their packaging is recycled and recyclable, and they make most of their clothing with post-consumer products.
How does this work? To begin with, the company sources post-consumer water bottles to create clothes and divert items from landfills. They’ve set their sights on plastic from Taiwan because the government there has set up a comprehensive recycling program throughout the island.
Once collected, the plastic water bottles are organized by type. GC uses BPA free #1 plastics, which are also known as polyethylene terephthalate or PET. Once categorized, the used plastic goes to processing centers which clean and chip the bottles down. GC only works with material that is certified Standard 100 by Oeko-Tex, a third party organization which tests fabrics.
Next, a machine spins the chips into threads which are then knit via machine into fabrics. The following process, dying, is a tricky step. This part is where so many factories often drop the ball and can harm the environment. GC’s dying process is entirely structured to use eco-friendly methods so they can stay aligned with their environmental principles.
For instance, the factory ensures that all water used is treated right on site, so it does not contaminate nearby rivers or water sources. Once the machine removes the OEKO-certified safe dyes from the water, and it’s determined safe by the Taiwanese EPA, GC disposes of the water by sending it to a pavement facility where is up-cycled to make roads.
Finally, the materials are cut and sewn. Since this stage is the most human intensive part, GC made sure they teamed up with a factory that treats their workers fairly and is SA8000 certified. Social Accountability International established this certification to ensure that social standards are created and met by organizations. Similar to the Fair Trade certification, an SA8000 certification lets GC customers know that the clothes was made in environment free of harmful employee conditions such as child labor or dangerous conditions.
One common concern people often have about clothing made from recycled plastic is the effect of washing the garments because they can release microfibers into the water. GC is working on a solution to make sure this doesn’t happen. In the meantime, GC encourages their customers to use Patagonia’s washing bag which helps reduce the number of microfibers that can enter the water system. They also suggest washing the clothing on spin cycle and hang drying. This also minimizes energy usage from the machine, which is always easier on the environment.
As a sustainable clothing company, GC hopes to set a new standard in the fashion industry, and they continue to look for more ways to help women break a sweat responsibly.