I think that Girlfriend Collective, on the whole, is a really sustainable company, and the Coco Scoop Bodysuit is no exception. They place an emphasis on the use of recycled materials, minimizing waste, and creating good and ethical working conditions. However, there is always room for improvement; I specifically wish that Girlfriend Collective on the whole would be more transparent in areas where they may be falling behind or still striving to meet maximum sustainability standards, rather than only their exceptionally sustainable areas. The key to true transparency is being straightforward across the board, not just to brag.
This bodysuit is made of a combination of fiber produced from recycled plastic and spandex. Spandex is considered a material necessary to give stretch to activewear but it is not a sustainable fabric; in addition to a short life causing it to be replaced often, spandex is made of polyurethane which is non-biodegradable and a carcinogen. However, this material only makes up 11% of the bodysuit, with recycled plastic as the other 89%. This converts to 13 water bottles per bodysuit. In the recycled clothing industries, sometimes companies will collect new plastic bottles, recycle them and then call their material “recycled,” but Girlfriend notes that the company that produces their yarn uses entirely post-consumer use plastic bottles. One criticism of recycled plastic clothing is that it still leeches microplastics into the water supply; Girlfriend acknowledges this and recommends consumers wash their clothing in a washing bag or with a filter for the washing machine. The dye used by Girlfriend is Oeko-tex standard 100 certified and described as eco-friendly, but it is unclear what the material actually is. The Oeko-Tex Standard 100 rating means nothing on the product, including the material, dye and any other fastenings contains substances harmful to human health. I would like to know what dye they actually use and what “eco-friendly” means to them, as this rating only refers to harmful chemicals and health and this is a really vague term. Although I think in some places Girlfriend Collective uses very sustainable materials, there is still unfortunately a lack of clarity in others.
A large portion of the Girlfriend Collective supply chain is located in Asia with facilities in different countries. The process for turning bottles into plastic is relatively complex. The company chose a processing facility in Taiwan because the country has a notoriously good national recycling program. The plastics are collected and sorted through this program, and specifically polyethylene terephthalate, or type #1 plastic, is sent to a processing center to be cleaned, and broken down into chips. An interesting note about this process is the processing facility weighs their plastic material on the way in and out to ensure that all of the usable plastic is processed and no plastic that does not come from true consumer waste is added to the total output. This facility is also certified by the Taiwanese government. According to Girlfriend, this means that the facility has to adhere to higher standards regulated by the government, but it’s unclear what this certification is. The plastic sorted and chipped here is sent to a spinning mill where it’s washed, melted down twice, and turned into fiber. This process undoubtedly produces wastewater and CO2, both of which Girlfriend does not acknowledge. Additionally, the burning of plastic releases many kinds of toxic chemicals; without being made aware of specifically what facilities Girlfriend works with, it is unclear how, if at all, the facility captures these emissions and handles toxic waste from the melting process. The company’s core factory is located in Hanoi, Vietnam, meaning that material must be shipped from Taiwan to Vietnam, producing emissions. The Hanoi facility is SA-8000 certified, which ensures that the facilities have fair and good working conditions, including no forced or child labor, healthy working conditions, fair hours, and other considerations that ensure good working conditions for employees. In addition to the requirements of this certification, Girlfriend employees receive healthcare that is not taken from their wages and free checkups every 6 months, as well as free lunch and guided exercise sessions and breaks. An interesting note is that it appears only this facility has received the SA8000 certification in their supply chain. When Girlfriend products are dyed, the excess wastewater is sent immediately to a wastewater treatment plant which they brag is 100 feet from the dying facility. The water here is separated and when it is approved as clean and dye free by monitors sent to the Taiwanese EPA, the water is released. I appreciate that this process is really thorough to ensure no unclean water pollutes the water supply. The excess dye and fabric, which they call “dye mud” is also recycled into pavement and building material at a facility in Taiwan. In order to decrease emissions in the shipping process, Girlfriend uses one holding facility and then ships products directly to consumers. This means that the material does not need to travel excess distances to be stored in different local holding facilities. The shipping materials Girlfriend uses are both recycled and recyclable again, which is good. At the end of a product's life, Girlfriend has a program called “ReGirlfriend” where used products can be returned to the company and they are processed into new yarn for other Girlfriend products. The facility that accepts and recycles these products is in North Carolina, which is unfortunate because the yarn is then presumably sent back to the company’s main facility in Vietnam, producing a lot of emissions in the shipping process. People often criticise company-organized recycle programs because consumers are unlikely to make the effort to package and ship the products back to the facility just to be recycled. One upside to Girlfriend’s program is that they offer store credit to customers who recycle their clothing. I think that Girlfriend takes many fantastic steps in their production process to reduce waste; however, I would like them to be more transparent about the emissions and waste processes of all of their facilities rather than only a few, as well as holding standards across their supply chain. I also think that they should consider offsetting their carbon emissions or creating a more localized production process and be more clear about the impact that melting plastics into fabric can have.
I am always impressed by companies that are designed with sustainability in mind from the start, and Girlfriend Collective is definitely one of these. They claim to strive for as much transparency as possible, and in a number of ways they have achieved this, although, as I noted above, there are still some holes. The company is attempting a circular production process, which is always appreciated, and has a commitment to not allowing itself to delve into the realm of fast fashion. I also appreciate that Girlfriend has high standards for the conditions of their workers and offers them not just the minimum that many companies supply, but additional benefits like food and health insurance that does not come out of their pay (which really should be the standard). It is also worth noting, to me, that Girlfriend’s advertising is done in an inclusive and diverse way, featuring models of many races, ethnicities, sizes, etc. which is something that cannot be said for a lot of companies. Girlfriend appears to commit to ecofriendly and sustainable products across their product line, with a particular focus on recycled plastic both from bottles and fishing nets. In 2021, the company self-reported that they have recycled 4,743,474 bottles, prevented 3,621,430 pounds of CO2 produced, and saved 7,358,899 gallons of water so far. It is unclear how the CO2 and water were saved, presumably through reusing these materials rather than disposing of them in other ways. Despite their claims of the use of a single holding facility for the shipment of their products, Girlfriend does partner with a number of retailers around the world, including Nordstrom. Nordstrom is a company that, while having some sustainability goals, to me feels like a company that participates in greenwashing according to their sustainable plans, which they say they hope to meet by 2025. I think that, although this brand and likely the others they partner with are definitely not the worst retailers in terms of sustainability, adding them to their supply chain diminishes Girlfriend Collective’s sustainability in a number of ways. Beyond this, there is little available information about the team behind Girlfriend Collective and any sustainability initiatives they may take part in or support beyond their production process.