Girlfriend Collective leggings review: how well does the sustainable workout wear perform?

Girlfriend Collective leggings are fan favorites, but are they actually worth all the hype? Our tried and tested review breaks down everything you need to know

Girlfriend Collective leggings
(Image credit: Girlfriend Collective)
My Imperfect Life Verdict

The Girlfriend Collective leggings make a lasting impression.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Comfortable material

  • +

    Made with recycled materials

  • +

    Transparent about ethics

  • +

    True to size

  • +

    Extensive size range

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    On the expensive side

Girlfriend Collective leggings have quickly become a buzzword in fitness circles, with sustainable credentials to boot. But are they actually worth the hype? To find out for sure, I put them to the test so you can find out before you hit the checkout. 

From vigorous exercise to bouts of general clumsiness, I tend to put even my best workout clothes through a gamut of tests—especially my performance leggings. So it's safe to say that I expect a lot from the quality and strength of the fabric (I am a running buff journalist training for my first marathon, after all.) But in recent years, it’s become just as important to question how ethical my choices in activewear are, as well as which are the best eco-friendly fitness names on the market.

Girlfriend Collective wasn’t on my radar initially, as I tended to lean toward the big gym giants, which aren't always the best choices for sustainable activewear. The best sustainable fashion brands, especially those focused on workout wear, are frequently presumed to not be durable or fit for purpose.

Yet, with its trendy millennial branding and transparency around its manufacturing processes, I found Girlfriend Collective to be a refreshing change from my usual go-tos. The American brand was founded by entrepreneur Ellie Dinh in 2016 as she, too, was having trouble finding women’s leggings that were made ethically. Seeing a gap in the market, Dinh created her own.

Girlfriend Collective’s Compressive High-Rise Leggings are made mostly with recycled plastic that was once destined for landfills. Not that you would guess—the leggings have serious mainstream appeal, with the added benefit of being good for the environment. Girlfriend Collective seems to have mastered activewear that’s sustainable, size-inclusive, and fashionable, making it one of the best eco-conscious fitness brands on the market. 

How we tested the Girlfriend Collective leggings

While workout wear partly comes down to personal preference, there are a few universal criteria that most people look out for when it comes to fitness leggings like Girlfriend Collective's pair. We want them to be supportive (the kind that has you covered—literally—during those jump squats), comfortable (we're about leisure as much as athleisure, after all) and long-lasting (especially if you're forking over a pretty penny for them). 

During my tests of the Girlfriend Collective leggings, which included both running and squat sessions, I assessed the following factors. 

  • Are they stretchy yet supportive? 
  • Are they moisture-wicking yet breathable? 
  • Are they compressive yet comfortable?
  • Do they run true to size?
  • Do they fit well? Are they full-length? 
  • Are they non-see-through?
  • Do they retain their structure, even after a wash?
  • Are they worth the price?

How much do Girlfriend Collective leggings cost? 

Girlfriend Collective sits somewhere within the affordable and premium price ranges. The brand's compressive high-rise leggings, for example, cost $78 (£65) and promise a lifetime of wear. There are more affordable brands on the market, true, but it's a competitive price when you consider that other premium brands, such as Lululemon and Sweaty Betty, offer a similar product for a bit more money.

How sustainable are Girlfriend Collective leggings?

The majority of mainstream sportswear is made from plastic-derived fabrics, such as polyester, nylon, and Lycra. Although the brand still uses plastic, Girlfriend Collective repurposes materials that would otherwise clog landfills and pollute the earth. The brand really takes the saying "one man (or woman’s) trash is another man’s treasure" seriously, making activewear out of recycled materials that include fishing nets and water bottles. So far they’ve recycled 4,482,875 bottles and saved 3,811,434 CO2 emissions—now those are some figures to be proud of!

More specifically, Girlfriend Collective Compressive High-Rise Leggings utilize "up to 25 plastic water bottles" per item, as well as ethical dip dyes to give them their bold colors. Interestingly, Girlfriend Collective doesn’t use American manufacturers and instead uses a "certified factory" in Hanoi, Vietnam. The brand says the factory guarantees fair wages, safe and healthy conditions, and zero forced or child labor.

Size range and fit of Girlfriend Collective leggings: are they true to size and inclusive? 

Mainstream fashion often isn't size-inclusive, also a common criticism for many sustainable fashion brands across the board. Thankfully, Girlfriend Collective’s sizes go up to a 6XL. 

As a UK size 10 (about a US 6), I decided on the small bottoms. The leggings are true to size and don’t feel like vanity sizing, more like "reality sizing", and I didn’t have to worry about sizing up or down. 

For transparency, I’m 5 foot 10 inches and these leggings fit me to the ankle. The longer length of these leggings is a huge plus for me, but not necessarily suited to someone of average height. 

However, the leggings are made of a thick material that I did have a little difficulty getting into. This reminded me of trying to get into a wetsuit, as in there’s a lot of tugging. But although the material is tough to pull on, they don’t feel tough to wear, as the fabric is soft and breathable. True to its name, the compressive high-rise leggings are, well, compressive. They are a snug fit, giving a supported suction feeling across the stomach and thighs. 

Style of the Girlfriend Collective leggings

Girlfriend Collective knows their audience. With its colorful branding and fresh-faced models, the American brand is aimed at millennial women in their 20s and 30s, which could feel alienating for some demographics. I appreciate that Girlfriend Collective doesn’t fear color. The Compressive High-Rise Leggings come in nine hues and I opted for the plum shade. 

How well do Girlfriend Collective leggings perform?

There’s nothing more uncomfortable (or frustrating) than leggings that sag around the waist or roll down when you’re on a particularly fast sprint. But on my first wear, Girlfriend Collective’s Compressive High-Rise Leggings felt as if they could withstand an active fitness routine. They are made with a "recycled high-stretch fabrication" that features a "four-way stretch" suited to an active lifestyle. The leggings also sport thick seams along the crotch and sides, areas that often suffer embarrassing rips when squatting.

Girlfriend Collective leggings maintenance

Buying sustainable clothing is only one part of the story when it comes to having an ethical wardrobe, as laundry day also offers up its own considerations. One of the major issues with plastic-derived clothing is that, when washed, it can leave tiny bits of plastic in our oceans that affect our marine life. Every year, millions of marine animals—like sea turtles, seals, dolphins, and whales—are harmed by ocean plastic pollution.

And so, when it comes to maintaining the leggings, Girlfriend Collective’s advice is simple: wash them in cold water and hang them to dry. They suggest that this method is better for the environment and reduces energy use.

So, are Girlfriend Collective leggings worth it?

I was wrong to underestimate Girlfriend Collective, as the Compressive High-Rise Leggings stand up to many of my old-faithful pairs. The durable material is also ideal for those who tend to wear their leggings out. 

While the cost of these leggings is more premium, it seems that customers are also paying for peace of mind here. Girlfriend Collective takes all of the difficulty out of sustainable shopping by doing much of the necessary research for you. The company is transparent about the materials used and even the steps that it is taking to continue to improve its sustainable offerings.

L'Oréal Blackett

L’Oréal Blackett is a journalist, presenter, and magazine editor specialising in women’s lifestyle (BBC Radio, Bustle UK, Body Confidential, Daily Mirror). She also hosts popular podcast The Edit. Fuelled on coffee and a hip hop soundtrack, you can find L’Oréal sprinting a daily 5K or trying the latest HIIT class. L’Oréal also credits interviewing fitness guru Shaun T in his underwear (long story). She's currently training for her first marathon.