If you wear it because it’s good for the Earth
First off, I have absolutely nothing against companies that strive to create a more sustainable product in their market. I firmly believe that considerations of both the social and environmental aspect of a product’s life-cycle are of equal importance to the economic potential that may be available. However, the rise in popularity in sustainable products, along with the loose standards for marketing products as environmentally friendly, has created a situation where some claims may be exaggerated or wrongfully implied.
There has been a video floating around the internet of a clothing company that is producing women’s leggings in Taiwan using environmentally friendly and socially responsible ways (Girlfriend Collective). This video has over 2 million views and an unusually high percent of positive comments for an y video found on the internet. The entire video highlights the company’s sustainable practices and barely discusses the physical qualities that would normally be used to sell a product. While the company has obviously put a lot of work into maintaining a high set of values, and should be commended for doing so, I do feel as though they may have sold themselves on aspects that many mislead customers into believing that their purchase is benefiting the environment.
To summarize the claims found on the company’s website, they recycle PET plastic bottles into women’s leggings. They produce out of Taiwan, which they claim is a leader in that region for environmental stewardship. They pay their worker’s 125% of the minimum wage and offer many benefits that are not required by the state. The company’s website (Behind the Seams) goes further into the company’s strategy, and explains the recycling process that is utilized, certifications they have obtained, and reasons for choosing their location.
My primary problem with their business model is that the pollution caused by polyester microfibers makes any product made with this material ecologically harmful (Chia, 2017). In some studies, these microfibers made up over 80% of the plastic pollution found in ocean water samples (Chia, 2017), and can damage marine life while contaminating our own food supply. Since the fibers are extremely small, they flow through most standard filters and easily infiltrate open bodies of water. Relatively, this company might be doing very well for the product that they make, but the product itself is not sustainable. From a company that discusses environmentalism in so much depth, they fail to mention what I consider to be a rather important topic. With that said, it’s very likely that the performance of the clothing dictates that there are no alternatives to using polyester, and this relative benefit may still be the best alternative to using non-recycled materials.
In all honesty I can see the motivation behind the company’s failure to include issues that might reflect badly on their sales. It certainly won’t help to convince their market to ditch leggings altogether. However, other companies have taken the initiative in other ways, such as conducting studies that monitor the microfiber pollution on their own products in order to determine a greener method for their customers to wash their clothing (Bruce N., 2016). The same company that conducted this study also claims to have had a recycling process for their polyester clothing in place since 1993 (Recycled Polyester). This brings up another point in regards to the original video; the process of recycling used polyester and plastic bottles is not unique or original to this company, like the video implies to its viewers.
From the comments on the company’s video and the other reviews customers have posted, the product they are making is perfectly capable of being sold based on the quality of the pants. There seems to be an overwhelming number of people vouching for how comfortable and well-made this clothing is. It seems unnecessary to stretch the truth about the sustainability of their materials when they can sell the product on its own merit while maintaining a firm foundation on their company’s values and standards.
The Girlfriend Collective advertisement: https://www.facebook.com/NowThisHer/videos/1445779458796563/
The Girlfriend Collective statement on recycling:
“Behind the Seams: Recycling Done Right.”The Girlfriend Collective. Retrieved from: https://girlfriend.com/recycling
Chai, J. &Associated Press (2017). “Yoga pants and comfy clothes blamed for rise in ocean pollution…” The Daily Mail. Retrieved from: www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4316452/Yoga-pants-cozy-clothes-key-source-sea-pollution.html
Patagonia Study on Microfibers:
Bruce, N. Hartline, N. Karba, S., Ruff B., Sonar, S. (2016). “Microfiber Pollution & the Apparel Industry.” Patagonia, Inc. Retrieved from: http://brenmicroplastics.weebly.com/project-findings.html
Patagonia Statement on recycling:
“Recycled Polyester.” Patagonia, Inc. Retrieved from: http://www.patagonia.com/recycled-polyester.html