My Ethical Closet /01

24 September 2017

Hey guys, you may have seen some pictures on Instagram of tights I purchased from Girlfriend Collective which have inspired me to create a new series here on the blog- "My Ethical Closet". In this series I will be giving my honest review of ethical clothing brands as well as practicing my art skills with an illustrated picture of each item! My goal is to create these posts once a month (though if I have no items to review it will obviously be less), but for this first brand I am making a part 2 which will be online later in September or in early October. I will be touching on customer service, shipping, quality, transparency and value to make up a 5 star rating.


With the catchphrase "Eco-friendly apparel for people who care about doing good as well as looking good." , I expected a lot from Girlfriend Collective, but the small Seattle-based active wear brand doesn't disappoint! They launched in May 2016 with a limited release of plain black leggings featured on Refinery 29WhoWhatWear, InStyle, Bustle and all over Facebook within days. So what was all the fuss about? Well, they were giving out a certified fair trade product made of recycled water bottles for only the cost of shipping. Crazy right? After reading a couple of the above articles and scoping out the brand on social media I was keen to test out these leggings which so many people were raving about, but of course the deal had just ended a couple of days before. Cue months of clicking refresh on their website (and showing admirable restraint might I add) until I finally snatched up a pair in late August this year. Now the range has expanded and includes not only a variety of leggings (high rise and mid-rise as well as 3/4 length) but also bras and tops in colours ranging from ivory to indigo for all shapes and sizes.  So, enough suspense, I'm sure you're wondering at this point...

What did I order?
The Red Ochre Girlfriend Mid-Rise Legging

And here comes the fun part - the review!



Customer Service

They sure earnt this star! I won't be giving too much away (yes I am invoking the dreaded cliffhanger) but I did have to contact the support team due to some issues with an item I recieved (further explored in Part 2), and considering the time zone difference between Australia and America their replies were fast. They were very responsive to the feedback I gave on my order, and generally happy to help. Also, can I just mention how beautiful the site design is - I love the polished layout, minimal colour palette and easy navigation as well as the photography (which is honestly what drew me in at the start).

Shipping

First of all I must admit that I was very excited about the free shipping deal if you ordered 2 or more items (shipping to Australia is crazy expensive otherwise), as well as the regular emails to inform me of when my shipment had been processed and sent. It took exactly a fortnight to arrive, which is pretty fast seeing as it came from America. Overall my experience was very positive - I loved the minimal but stylish packaging (it really does feel like a special gift just for you) and added details such as the protective bag with embroidered logo (visit my Instagram page to get a closer look). The recyclable cardboard envelope was also a nice touch as well as the thank-you card enclosed, and the package arrived undamaged (thank you Australia Post!).


Quality

From my inspection the fabric is smooth and surprisingly soft for synthetic activewear (my leggings are 79% recycled polyester - equating to 25 plastic water bottles diverted from landfill - and 21% spandex) probably owing to the special brushing technique used on the fabric. I have to say that I was especially pleased with the compression abilities of the fibres as well as the opaqueness of the tights, made even more impressive by the colour! They are very comfortable and flattering to all body shapes (as you can see on the variety of models in their store images). The flatlocked seams are also sturdy and durable with minimal threads visible on the inside and none on the outside, creating a lovely detailing effect and ensuring the garment will last well beyond one season.


Transparency

It's time to get deep! Their website provides heaps of information on each aspect of their process and supply chain, and the Vietnamese factory which manufactures the clothing is SA8000 certified. SA8000 was created by Social Accountability International and is essentially the equivalent of fair-trade for garment manufacturers based on international standards (if you want more information visit Project Just's list of ethical fashion terms). Let me break it down further for you;

Material 


The raw material (PET water bottles) is first sorted by community groups in Taipei, Taiwan as part of government recycling initiatives before being transported by trucks to processing centres. Here, in a government certified facility (which ensures security and accountability), the bottles used in Girlfriend's leggings are stripped of labels and caps, sorted by colour, washed and chipped.


They are then sent to a spinning mill, cleaned again, and from there are heated and extruded by machines, then chipped and extruded again to create superfine threads which are spun into yarn (an in-depth explanation of this process is available here).


These large bobbins of yarn are sent to a dye house where they are soaked in Blue Sign and Oeko-Tex certified dyes (certificates linked on their FAQ page, and extra information is available here ). Paraphrasing, these certifications mean that focus is placed on reducing the use of substances and emissions harmful to the environment and consumers in the early stages of processing.


Soon after, the dye water is moved to a treatment plant near to the factory which filters out any stray fibres and treats the water for release back into the water source (after real-time approval by the Taiwanese EPA). Dye mud is also transported to a separate facility where it is transformed into paving stones for use in the local area.



Cutting and Sewing

As previously mentioned, the factory where their products are manufactured is located in Hanoi, Vietnam and is SA8000 certified, meaning there is no forced or child labor, safe working conditions, fair wages, the right to unionise and collective bargaining.The facility was opened in 2005 by a Danish family with a long heritage in the textile industry - since 1931 in fact!


The factory is managed by Hien, a Vietnamese woman whose previous experience includes work for the United Nations Development Program. During this time she championed agricultural development for rural farmers, enabling them to access various technologies and organising the building of new infrastructure for their benefit.


Each item of clothing is made by 14 people. These workers are paid at a minimum of 125% the local minimum wage and are provided with an array of services including a free catered lunch and dinner as well as guided exercise breaks.


Healthcare is also given for free, with health insurance as well as biannual check-ups provided for all employees.


Key policies (regular auditing is undertaken to ensure compliance with these SA8000 standards)

Child Labour
  • The organisation shall not engage in or support the use of child labour
  • Young workers ... shall work only outside of school hours. Under no circumstances shall [they] ... work more than 8 hours a day ... [or] during night hours.
Forced Labour
  • The organisation shall [not] withhold any part of any personnel’s salary, benefits, property or documents in order to force such personnel to continue working for [them].
  • Personnel ... have the right to leave the workplace premises after completing the standard workday and ... [are] free to terminate their employment provided that they give reasonable notice.
  • The organisation ... shall [not] engage in or support human trafficking.
Health and safety
  • The organisation shall provide a safe and healthy workplace environment and shall take effective steps to prevent potential ... incidents and occupational injury or illness. 
  • The organisation shall provide personnel with appropriate personal protective equipment.
  • A Health and Safety Committee, comprised of a well-balanced group of management representatives and workers, shall be established and maintained.
  • The organisation shall provide ... regular ... health and safety training.
  • The organisation shall provide ...  free access to: clean toilet facilities, potable water, suitable spaces for meal breaks, and ... sanitary facilities for food storage.
Freedom of association & collective bargaining
  • All personnel shall have the right to form, join and organise trade union(s) of their choice and to bargain collectively ... with the organisation ... without any negative consequences.
Discrimination
  • The organisation shall not engage in or support discrimination in hiring, remuneration, access to training, promotion, termination or retirement based on race, national or territorial or social origin, caste, birth, religion, disability, gender, sexual orientation, family responsibilities, marital status, union membership, political opinions, age or any other condition.
  • The organisation shall not interfere with the exercise of personnel’s rights to observe ... practices or to meet needs [relating to conditions as above].
  • The organisation shall not allow any behaviour that is threatening, abusive, exploitative or sexually coercive.
Discipline
  • The organisation shall treat all personnel with dignity and respect. The organisation shall not engage in or tolerate the use of corporal punishment, mental or physical coercion or verbal abuse of personnel. No harsh or inhumane treatment is allowed.
Working Hours
  • The organisation shall comply with applicable laws, ... agreements ... and industry standards. The normal work week, not including overtime ... shall not exceed 48 hours.
  • Personnel shall be provided with at least one day off following every six consecutive days of working. *[Unless] n
  • ational law ... and a
  •  freely negotiated collective bargaining agreement ... allow [otherwise].
  •    
  • All overtime work shall be voluntary,* shall not exceed 12 hours per week and shall not be ... regular
Wages
  • The organisation shall respect the right of personnel to a living wage and ensure that wages for a normal work week, not including overtime, shall always meet at least legal or industry minimum standards, or collective bargaining agreements .... and ... provide some discretionary income.
  • The organisation shall not make deductions from wages for disciplinary purposes.*
  • All overtime shall be reimbursed at a premium rate as defined by national law or established by a collective bargaining agreement ... [if neither exist] personnel shall be compensated ... at the organisation’s premium rate or ... [premium] industry standards, whichever is higher.
Management
  • The organisation shall develop policies and procedures to implement the SA8000 Standard.
  • The[y] ... shall be ... accessible to personnel in all appropriate languages. The[y] ... shall also be clearly shared with customers, suppliers, sub-contractors and sub-suppliers.
  • The organisation shall regularly conduct a management review.
  • A Social Performance Team (SPT) shall be established to implement all elements of SA8000 ... [with] a balanced representation of
  •  ... worker representative(s)... and 
  • management.
  • Compliance accountability for the Standard shall solely rest with Senior Management.
  • The SPT shall conduct periodic written risk assessments to identify and prioritise the areas of actual or potential non-conformance to this Standard ... [and] recommend [relevant] actions
  • The organisation shall demonstrate that personnel effectively understand the requirements of SA8000, and shall regularly communicate the[m]. 
  • The organisation shall establish a written grievance procedure that is confidential, unbiased, non-retaliatory and accessible ... to personnel and interested parties. 
  • In the case of announced and unannounced audits for ... certifying its compliance with the ... Standard, the organisation shall fully cooperate
  • The organisation shall ... [ensure] its suppliers/subcontractors, private employment agencies and sub-suppliers’ compliance with the SA8000 Standard.
Note: This information is all readily available with minimal research across their about page, FAQ page, supplier codes/environmental compliance pages, and even on their tags! (What did I tell you - the site navigation is very well-considered!)


Value

So I am aware the prices are quite a splurge (especially on this girl's limited student budget) however considering the quality and certification involved, as well as comparison with similar ethical fashion brands I think they are quite reasonable. Calculating the Cost Per Wear - if I wear the leggings seasonally (not during summer or most of spring) about once a fortnight, and assuming they will last a minimum of three years, our equation looks a little something like this (look at me suffering through all this maths for you guys); 2 x 7 = 14 , 14 x 3 = 42, $84.98 AUD / 42 = $2.00 approx. per wear. Pretty good value I think!

Considering I spent many $ on fast fashion back when I was younger, I know such products did not make me happy due to the lack of connection I had to their origins - aside from the 'Made in China' on the label. Some garments I have kept due to their sentimental value or durability (I may do a separate series on that in the future...), but for the most part I find myself drawn to smaller companies or those who care about their social and environmental impact as I find they are more likely to match with my values. So yes, it may be an investment, but it is one I am willing to make! I'm glad to know that the hard-earned cash I saved up not only went toward a beautiful pair of leggings, but also a small business promoting worker's rights and environmental sustainability which is often lost in the profit driven fashion industry.

I know I shouldn't start off with a 5 star rating but.... I had to give it to Girlfriend Collective for their 100% worth it leggings!!




Hopefully you enjoyed my review (apologies if you found it too long), and maybe consider Girlfriend Collective next time you are shopping for activewear. Let me know if you are enjoying this series and what your favourite ethical activewear brands are, and be sure to keep an eye out for Part Two of this review as well - it should be online within the next few weeks!

Annika xx

P.S. I've got my eye on these beauties as well;


Credit for all images in this post (aside from my illustrations) goes to Girlfriend Collective

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