UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School

How one fashion brand is putting a sustainable twist on athleisure

Photo via Girlfriend Collective

Photo via Girlfriend Collective

Since 2014, there has been rapid growth in the units and dollar sales of athletic wear. The popularity of athletic wear has spurred an entirely new segment within the clothing industry: athleisure.

Yoga pants, neon tank tops and leggings have not only become acceptable clothing choices outside of the gym, but a fashionable statement of choice. Individuals – especially young women – are choosing to wear these comfortable, casual yet stylish clothes to class, on outings and beyond.

The latest trend in athleisure is the shift towards a sustainable fashion movement. Big-name companies such as Zara and H&M are adopting sustainable practices that include launching new collections completely made out of recycled materials. The Girlfriend Collective is a company to watch in 2016-17 for sustainability. The Seattle-based company was started with idea of creating eco-friendly, sustainable athletic wear.

The Girlfriend Collective’s founders believe that athletic apparel should be high-quality, affordable and produced without destroying the environment. The company makes a point to be transparent about its sustainability practices with customers. Their website lists everything from the materials used to its product production process and manufacturing plants, allowing customers to know exactly where and how their products are made. The Girlfriend Collective’s leggings are recycled polyester (RPET), a green fabric made from water bottles. Each bottle is stripped of its cap and label, then shredded into tiny chips that are processed into the yarn used for the leggings. There are numerous benefits to creating apparel from RPET. The fabric has a 50 percent lower carbon footprint than organic carbon and nearly 90 percent lower than nylon. Each pair of leggings from Girlfriend Collective contain approximately 25 water bottles.

The company also runs unique promotions, such as giving away free leggings – customers only pay for the cost of shipping – to encourage higher consumption of sustainable products. The trade-off has caught the attention of consumers while positioning sustainable athleisure as an affordable option that has the potential to become mainstream.

With more and more clothing companies making the switch to sustainable business practices, consumers are demanding more environmentally-friendly standards and regulations for the apparel industry. Consumers’ willingness to pay for sustainable athleisure is definitely apparent – an indication that sustainability strategies are here for the long-run.

By Irina Trenkova (BSBA ’18)