Last summer, ads for environmentally friendly leggings began popping up all over Facebook. The brand offering them was called Girlfriend Collective, and the leggings were free, aside from the price of shipping. While this promotion strategy was met with some skepticism at first (as any promotion for “free” clothes would be), thousands of women ultimately took a chance on the mysterious new brand and paid a somewhat steep 20 dollars in shipping. Then, they waited to see what would happen.
As the leggings shipped and arrived in the mail to those who ordered, nearly all skepticism transformed into love and loyalty, as evidenced by the overwhelmingly positive feedback from women and the quick success of the promotion through word-of-mouth spread. As awareness and admiration for the leggings and the brand grew, founders, Quang and Ellie Dinh, became confident in their ability to create a successful and, more importantly, environmentally sustainable line of activewear. Now, over a year since their free leggings promotion and on the heels of their first full collection launch of leggings and sports bras in multiple style and colors, Quang and Ellie spoke to us about their company’s environmental ethos and the impact of Girlfriend Collective.
“In the fashion industry, everything is smoke and mirrors,” says Quang. “For us, as a brand, we don't want to put our head in the sand. We always want to acknowledge issues and problems in the environment and within the fashion industry itself. We know that the fashion industry is a dirty industry. [We thought,] how do we transparently solve problems so that our customers really trust us in the long run?”
That desire for transparency is expressed on the brand’s website and achieved through the meticulous detailing of every aspect of the clothing’s production process. The core fabric used in their activewear is biodegradable and created from post-consumer water bottles. The factory they work with in Taiwan, which Quang and Ellie visited themselves, is SA8000 certified, which ensures ethical treatment of employees and safe working conditions. On Girlfriend Collective’s website, the entire legal document of the SA8000 qualifications is laid out, and you can even view PDFs of the brand’s authorized certification papers and information on the Taiwan factory owners, specific recycling process, safe dye methods, and cutting and sewing procedures (14 pairs of hands are on each pair of leggings).
For Quang and Ellie, finding ethical suppliers was the most difficult part of building an environmentally sound brand. “You can find a really terrible supplier really easily; they're all over the place. Finding suppliers and owners, from the mill down to the manufacturer, that actually care about the environment and the people is really hard,” Quang explains. “Sometimes mills won't tell brands how they do things. When we were building our relationships with our suppliers, it was more of a personal one. They were willing to unveil their processes and show how they dye, how they clean their water, everything, and then further, they allowed us to share that with our customers. Building that relationship makes it easier to understand the ins and outs of how it’s all made.”
Still, Quang and Ellie acknowledge that it’s all a learning process, and they’re just getting started. “In sustainability, there are always new things popping up and ways to make products better and more eco-friendly. We're not perfect with the process, but we're here to keep growing,” Ellie says.
Currently, the brand's growth feels inevitable, especially since pre-orders for the first collection opened June 28 and immediately garnered attention from the brand’s devoted fans. The collection's reveal has been a gradual process during the pre-order phase, with new colors added every several days over the past few weeks with the goal of providing insight into which styles and colors will be most popular, as to avoid inventory waste. The site is set to officially launch for online orders at the end of the month, and the full collection will be available mid-August with sports bras for $38 and leggings from $58 to $68.
As Quang and Ellie continue to push forward with the collection, they’re already envisioning future styles, materials, and other offerings. But above all, sustainability and transparency will remain their top priority. “We want to be as eco-friendly as possible,” Quang affirms. “We’re not in this to make a quick dollar.”
Browse through the gallery below to take a look at the first drop, and shop it here.