GFORCE Sportswear

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Nicole Bowen
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Established in 1936, Gymphlex has been on the sportswear scene for almost a century, with GFORCE established as a successful branch of this company. In recent years, GFORCE has become a force in itself to be reckoned with. The company has dominated the sportswear market by providing high-quality, personalised sports kit not only for schools and university students across the UK, but for companies such as Burberry. However, although the financial success of GFORCE is impressive, their progress in sustainability is shockingly absent in key areas. These include the lack of transparency pertaining labourers involved in extraction and processing, as well as the fabrics and energy utilised in creating the products. The only redeeming feature of GFORCE clothing is their long-lasting and durable nature, but this is partly because materials like polyester are non-biodegradable.

What it's made of:


Although GFORCE utilises numerous techniques such as Cut and Sew, there is a great emphasis on their Dye Sublimation method, especially for personalised kit. This has significant implications for the range of resources that can be used, since dye sublimation only works on certain materials. Disappointingly, this is limited to polymers such as polyester, which makes the products extremely unsustainable. Around half the fabrics on the website are available for dye sublimation, which is reflected in the range of materials that are offered, including polyester, elastane, and nylon with only a few products based on cotton. Polyester is not only created from fossil fuels which are non-biodegradable and involve destructive extraction, but this material also experiences immense shedding of microparticles – in this case microfibres – which adds further damage to the environment throughout their usage. Moreover, the liquids applied in manufacturing the Dye Sublimation products are known as disperse dyes, which are toxic and have harmful effects when entering water sources. These include increasing toxicity levels, changes to natural self-purification systems as well as the properties of surface water such as its colour and odour. These changes have significant, detrimental impacts on aquatic life such as on species diversity, thus making these dyes unsustainable. Lastly, the sustainability of cotton as a fabric is debateable. On one hand, organic cotton is biodegradable  and does not utilise pesticides or toxic substances in its manufacturing process. However, most cotton is not organic and GFORCE does not specify its use of organic cotton, which means it utilises pesticides and artificial fertilisers throughout the production process, thus animals and wearers of cotton garments have exposure to harmful, carcinogenic chemicals.  

How it's made:


There is an immense lack of transparency in the extraction and the sources of the materials that GFORCE utilises, such as where the cotton is grown as well as whether the polyester is virgin or recycled. This leads me to believe that the cotton is non-organic, and the polyester is virgin, since companies usually advertise if the reverse is true. Furthermore, as the products are created using dye sublimation, this involves high quantities of heat and energy which require industrial factories. However, the number of these factories and their locations are not stated on the GFORCE website, apart from the first one in established in Horncastle in 1973 for Gymphlex. This is concerning since it is unknown how far the product has to travel to consumers from the factory and thus the greenhouse gas emissions released in the process is also unknown. On the Gymphlex website, there is a claim of using sea and airfreight transport, making it obvious the factories are located in countries outside the UK where its headquarters are based, and thus utilising energy for transport. 

Moreover, although it is not directly described on the GFORCE website, dye sublimation in general requires significant amounts of heat and pressure. This is because processes of sublimation (turning a solid into a gas) as well as transference of an image onto the fabric both require temperatures ranging from 380-420 Fahrenheit and pressure depending on the fabric used. Transforming a darker colour into a lighter one also requires cooling and thus additional amounts of energy. Importantly, not only does this process inherently emit greenhouse gases, but it is also unclear where the energy to fuel these processes come from and whether it is from sustainable energy sources such as wind power, or from fossil fuels – the latter being far more likely. 

There is substantial waste generated from this process, as each panel ribbon involved in dye sublimation has to match the size of the fabric, which means cutting the ribbon to specific proportions. There is no mention what happens to this excess material and whether it is recycled or repurposed. Moreover, the dye excess is surprisingly high, as most of the dye in each of the four panels is wasted with only a small amount applied to the fabric. This is because even if something as small as a dot is printed from a panel, once it is used, the panel cannot be used again otherwise a blank spot (from the dot) will remain. As a result of how printing works, a negative image on the supply roll panels is generated with each print. This waste roll is plastic which means it is either incinerated or remains in the environment for decades, with both scenarios damaging the environment.

Who makes it:


The information pertaining who extracts the cotton and other raw materials as well as who works in the manufacturing factories is not made available, let alone where these locations are. This makes it difficult to know the treatment of these labourers such as their income, potential child labour, and if social discrimination occurs. This treatment is crucial especially in the context of harvesting cotton since non-organic cotton can cause health problems such as birth defects and even cancer. This is due to the chemicals from toxic substances used in non-organic cotton production such as pesticides and artificial fertilisers. Upon further research I discovered there are 53 employees associated with GFORCE, with key executive team members like Jamie Stone, but again, no information on those involved in extraction and processing raw materials. 

The main value is ‘United as One’, which is vague and does not lend itself to sufficient criteria for checks and regulations done by GFORCE to make sure the company is matching its words with actions. In general, the core values of GFORCE does not concern conditions of labourers and neither the sustainability of the fabrics, but rather the lasting nature of the products. In terms of contribution to social justice and inequality, the company has a grassroots campaign involving sports clubs across the UK. However, this was not only postponed in recent years but also does not involve labourers in other countries where factories and cotton fields are likely to be. This means contributions are limited to a small sphere for a specific type of worker. 

Instead, the company is strong in its opposition to fast fashion and states that GFORCE is not a part of this and instead creates products that are meant to last. In some respects this is true, since the nature of dye sublimation means that the images are more permanent and are much less likely to fade or experience peeling. However, although this means longer usage and a higher chance of reuse by someone else, it means recycling the product into something new is harder as it is difficult to remove the dye without significant effort and energy.