Review: The Guppyfriend Bag

Firstly, what’s a Guppyfriend bag?

In a nutshell, the Guppyfriend is a laundry bag quite like no other. The brainchild of German entrepreneurs Alexander Nolte and Oliver Spies, the Guppyfriend was created as a solution to a disturbing problem: every time we wash clothing made from synthetic fibres (like polyester), trillions of tiny plastic microfibres are released into the washing machine’s wastewater, which subsequently travels through sewage systems to contaminate wildlife and marine habitats in the world’s rivers and oceans. To counteract this, Nolte and Spies came up with the idea of washing synthetic clothing inside a self-cleaning mesh bag. The bag filters out any broken microfibres so that, instead of being washed away with the laundry wastewater, they can be removed and safely disposed of in the household trash. Independent testing shows that the bag retains at least 90 percent of fibres.

So far, so good. The Guppyfriend is on sale in the UK for £25, which, considering the bag is meant to last for far longer than 50 washes, seems like a reasonable price to pay. But does it really work? Does it actually make a difference to the number of fibres released? And just how should you use the Guppyfriend bag? Does it make laundry day even more laborious than it already is? To find out, I put the Guppyfriend to the test.

The Guppyfriend test

The first time I used the Guppyfriend, I adopted my usual carefree attitude to laundry and haphazardly stuffed whatever dirty clothes I could find into the bag, before throwing it into the washing machine. I was quite excited to see the results, fully expecting the bag to be full of nasty microfibres that I could safely throw away. Instead, the clothes inside the bag were soaking wet (despite having gone through a spin cycle) and there were no fibres to be seen. Clearly, I had done something wrong. Sheepishly googling the instructions, I found out through the company’s rather helpful video just how I should be using the bag. It turns out, I should have:

– Put only clothes made from synthetic fabrics (like polyester, acrylic and nylon) into the bag. Clothes made from natural materials like cotton and wool can be placed in the machine as normal, along with the bag – this is particularly important, as otherwise the load will be unbalanced, meaning that the machine may slow down or halt the spin cycle.

– In addition, filling the bag is a no-no; the bag should only be half full, to give the clothes space to move around.

Second time around, I was prepared. I carefully sorted through my clothes, checking the labels to separate natural from synthetic fabrics. I made sure to only fill the bag halfway, and added other clothing to the machine. The result? Beautifully clean clothes that came out damp as they should be, rather than soaking wet. Success!

However, when I inspected the bag for collected fibres, I was disappointed: I couldn’t really see any. Had it all been for nothing? No, say Guppyfriend’s inventors: because the microfibres are so tiny, they’re pretty much invisible to the naked eye, especially at the beginning. In addition, the bag itself reduces fibre loss (by up to 86 percent for clothes made entirely from synthetic fabrics). The more you use the Guppyfriend though, the more fibres you will see: after two to three washes, I began to see small clusters of microfibres gathered in the corners of the bag (which were rather satisfying to remove and throw into the bin).

Only fill the bag half way (and don’t worry about the wrinkles!)

Other useful tips I came across were:

– Never rinse the bag (as this, of course, defeats its purpose)

– Don’t leave it in direct sunlight

– Don’t iron the bag (as soon as it’s used, the bag will become crumpled, which is fine)

The verdict

Would I recommend the Guppyfriend bag? In a word, yes. It’s an inexpensive way of helping to reduce harmful microfibre waste, and, once you know how to use it correctly, it becomes second nature – rather like recycling. I quickly learnt what materials my clothes were made from (which meant, after a few times using the bag, I no longer needed to check the labels). This also felt quite enlightening: it made me more conscious of just how much clothing is made from synthetic fabrics, and made me want to opt for natural, less harmful materials instead. I’ve become more aware of the impact that an everyday task like doing my laundry has, and I’ve started to take other measures to reduce that impact – like turning the machine’s temperature down, air-drying my clothes and choosing eco-friendly laundry detergents.

Five alternative fabrics that are eco-friendly

It’s no secret that textile production is harmful to both the environment and the people involved in the cultivation and manufacturing processes. Textile production consumes 25 percent of the world’s chemicals, such as herbicides, pesticides and fertilisers. A 2010 report by Pesticide Action Network UK put the number of people affected by pesticide use as anywhere between 1 and 41 million each year. The increasing use of synthetic fabrics is also an issue. Polyester, which is made from fossil fuels, is present in 60 percent of today’s clothing – it overtook cotton as the world’s dominant fibre in 2007. A study by ecologist Mark Brown showed that fabrics like polyester, nylon and acrylic release thousands of tiny plastic microfibres when washed, which travel through our sewage systems and contaminate marine habitats and wildlife.

Fortunately, the use of alternative, eco-friendly fabrics is on the rise. We take a look at our top five.

Organic cotton

Cotton is the most pesticide-intensive crop in the world. Unlike regular cotton, organic cotton is made without the use of potentially toxic pesticides or fertilisers that can harm wildlife, rivers and people. Organic production processes also help replenish and maintain soil fertility. Organic cotton is hypoallergenic, so it won’t cause irritation or allergies – it’s especially beneficial for babies and kids’ clothing. In addition, it’s highly durable, and wears down at a slower rate than normal cotton: as it hasn’t been treated, bleached or dyed, fibre breakage is more gradual (so clothes last longer).

Hemp

Hemp has been used to produce a variety of products for thousands of years, and it was one of the earliest plants cultivated to make textile fibres. No harmful insecticides and pesticides are needed to grow hemp, and it requires very little irrigation – compared to regular cotton, it uses half the amount of water and produces between 200 to 250 percent more fibres from the same land. Eight times stronger than cotton, hemp is also known for being UV and mould-resistant, absorbent, lightweight and hypoallergenic. It can be used to make jeans, T-shirts, dresses, accessories and more.

Bamboo

Bamboo has been called an ‘environmental wonder plant‘: it can be grown without chemical fertilisers or pesticides, and requires very little water. It also absorbs more carbon dioxide and releases more oxygen than other plants, and is 100 percent biodegradable. Bamboo has a self-replenishing growth cycle, so it hardly ever needs replanting. It’s known for being super soft, and it’s a great fabric for sportswear, as it’s absorbent, dries fast, and is naturally anti-bacterial.

Lyocell

Lyocell is a cellulose fibre that is most commonly made from wood pulp. Developed by an award-winning team in 1972, it is made using a closed-loop spinning process in which the solvents that are used to turn wood pulp into fibres are recycled again and again – minimising waste. The production of Lyocell also requires less use of energy and water than conventional processes, as well as a reduced use of dyes, and it is 100 percent biodegradable. Fabrics made from Lyocell are known for being strong, absorbent and wrinkle-resistant, as well as super soft and comfortable.

Linen

Linen is one of the oldest textiles in the world – it was even used as currency in ancient Egypt. Because of its lightweight, absorbent qualities and ability to withstand high temperatures, linen was traditionally used in Europe to make men’s summer suits. It’s made from the flax plant, which can be grown without chemicals and which uses less water than other crops. It’s also the most highly productive crop per hectare after hemp. Linen is very durable, and becomes softer and stronger with use, so clothes made from linen will last longer. It’s also biodegradable.

Good Fibres

Infinity Trend uses sustainable value badges to categorise each brand. Our Good Fibres badge is awarded to companies that use materials that come from more sustainable processes. Click here to shop using our sustainable value badge system.

How to buy an ethical wedding dress

The church bells of this weekend’s royal wedding may have stopped ringing, but the topic of Meghan Markle’s dress is still on everyone’s lips. Having worn a bespoke creation by British designer Clare Waight Keller (said to have cost between £200,000 and £400,000) for the church ceremony, the new Duchess of Sussex then changed into a custom-made gown created by eco-conscious designer Stella McCartney. While the majority of us don’t have the sort of budget that allows for bespoke dresses made by the likes of McCartney and Waight Keller, there are ways that us mere mortals can ensure that our choice of wedding gown is an ethical one – without a royal-sized budget.

Five ways to buy an ethical wedding dress

– Look out for designers that use environmentally friendly fabrics or which ensure ethical and fair working conditions. River Elliot‘s wedding dresses are created from peace silks (peace silks are made using a more humane process than conventional silks), hemp-based silks, organic cotton knitted lace and other fair trade fabrics. All of Minna‘s wedding dresses are locally made, with the entire design and handmade production process taking place in its London-based studio. The brand uses sustainable and vegan fabrics, as well as a zero-waste pattern cutting technique, with fabrics being recycled to create the company’s accessories line. Tamman has been making luxury sustainable wedding dresses since 2006. The brand has a ‘fibre to finish’ monitored supply chain and its fabrics, which are made by fair trade artisans, are 100 percent vegetarian and cruelty-free. For those on a smaller budget, Tamman offers a wedding dress hire service.

– Check out the Natural Wedding Company, an online resource for planning an eco-friendly wedding. The website features a directory of suppliers with eco credentials, including a number of UK-based wedding dress designers whose creations are made from organic and fair trade fabrics. You can also find pretty much anything else you’ll need here for your special day, from ethical wedding rings to organic and locally grown wedding flowers.

Go second-hand. Reduce the environmental impact of your wedding dress by opting for a second-hand gown. You’ll also save yourself a significant amount of money on an outfit that you’ll only wear once. This doesn’t mean that you have to settle for some old-fashioned monstrosity or grubby dress: today, the wealth of shops and online platforms selling top-quality, contemporary second-hand dresses is impressive. Websites like Still White facilitate easy selling of wedding dresses between past and future brides (I should know: I ended up buying two wedding dresses as I couldn’t quite make up my mind, and was relieved to be able to quickly sell the one I didn’t want). Oxfam has an online bridal shop with over 1,000 wedding dresses, including designer gowns and brand-new dresses at reduced prices (buy a dress from here and you’ll also be supporting the organisation’s charitable work).

Buy from Brides Do Good. Social enterprise Brides Do Good sells pre-loved and sample wedding dresses donated by brides, designers and retailers. These dresses are seriously gorgeous: designers on offer at the moment include Valentino and Galia Lahav. By purchasing your dress from here, you’ll be helping to eradicate child marriage, as a third of all proceeds go to Plan International or Too Young To Wed.

Buy a sample sale dress. Ex-sample wedding dresses are the gowns that brides-to-be try on in-store, and most bridal shops hold regular sample sales throughout the year. While they will have been tried on a few or several times, sample dresses are often in excellent condition and are considerably cheaper than buying new. I bought my own wedding dress from the London-based Betty McCaul outlet – which exclusively sells sample dresses – and I loved it: it was beautiful and in perfect condition (and half of what I would have paid for it originally).

Click here to browse more ethical and eco-friendly brands on Infinity Trend.

Why ethical clothing companies are better for baby too

As parents, making sure your baby is safe and protected is, of course, a number one priority. Toys and equipment for little ones quite rightly must legally adhere to strict safety standards. But what about your children’s clothes? How do you know that the soft fabric of your newborn’s baby grow isn’t harming their delicate skin?

A 2014 Greenpeace study, in which researchers looked at products from well-known brands like GAP, H&M, Primark and adidas, found that the use of hazardous chemicals in textile production is widespread, even in the manufacturing of children’s clothes. The study reported that some of these chemicals are toxic to reproductive development in mammals or can interfere with the hormone system – and children can be more sensitive to their effects than adults. Commenting on the report, Dr Saman Soleymani, Medical Director at Avecina Medical, says that these kinds of chemicals can “cause rashes, asthma, fatigue, headaches, blurred vision, and the list goes on”. While you may assume that man-made fabrics like polyester would be the sole culripts, it’s not the case: according to the Worldwide Fund for Nature, cotton accounts for 24 percent and 11 percent of global sales of insecticide and pesticide respectively, making it one of the most chemically treated crops.

What you can do

While shopping for adorable outfits for your little ones is always fun to do, how can you avoid buying clothes made with substances that might trigger allergies – or worse – in your children? Look instead for natural fibres, such as organic cotton, bamboo, hemp or linen, that haven’t been produced using toxic chemicals. They’re kinder to babies’ skin, and softer too. It’s becoming easier to buy products made from these kind of fabrics, particularly organic cotton – more and more sustainable clothing companies are cottoning on (pun intended) to the harmful effects of synthetic and chemically processed fabrics.

Can I afford it?

Babies and children grow so quickly, I hear you say, and ethical clothing is more expensive. The cost of sustainable kids’ clothes is often much lower than you might expect, however: UK brand Frugi, for instance, offers organic T-shirts from just £8 and high-quality babygrows from £9, and holds frequent and generously priced sales. Consider also the fact that organic cotton is highly durable and wears down more slowly. Because it hasn’t been treated, bleached and dyed, fibre breakage occurs more gradually and organic cotton can be washed over 20 times before wear becomes evident, while normal cotton will start to wear down after just 10 laundry cycles. So while you might spend a little extra at the point of purchase, it’s more cost-effective – and those little T-shirts and dresses will last longer. Look after the garments well and you’ll be able to pass them down to your next little one or on to friends and family.

What to look out for

Check that brands have official certifications, such as the Soil Association Certification (the UK’s leading organic certifier) and the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). GOTS is recognised as the world’s leading processing standard for textiles made from organic fibres. If a product carries the GOTS label grade ‘organic’, it must contain a minimum of 95 percent certified organic fibres. To be GOTS certified, companies must also process and manufacture their clothes in a safe and environmentally friendly way – for example, the use of toxic heavy metals, formaldehyde, genetically modified organisms, azo dyes and PVC in the production process are prohibited.

A greater impact

Buying from a sustainable brand doesn’t just help protect your own kids. Can you imagine your child working in a factory, dying fabrics, sewing buttons and moving and packing garments, all day long? Of course not. But for many, that’s the reality: an estimated 152 million children are victims of child labour. GOTS-certified brands must meet strict social criteria, such as a total ban on child labour, safe and hygiene working conditions, fair working hours and living wages.

In addition, organic fibres are made without the use of synthetic fertilisers or potentially toxic pesticides – so they’re better for the farmers that grow them, as well as the environment. They also use less water.

What you can buy

Infinity Trend has given sustainable value badges to two brands that sell baby and children’s clothes:

Frugi is a UK ethical clothing brand which sells ridiculously cute outfits for babies and children up to eight years old. It’s GOTS and Soil Association certified, and uses organic cotton and recycled materials in its affordable and durable clothing (for example, the Puddle Buster and outerwear ranges are made from 100 percent recycled plastic bottles). Frugi has received seven sustainable value badges from Infinity Trend.

People Tree is a sustainable fashion pioneer, having become the first clothing company ever to receive the Fair Trade product mark in 2013. It is also certified by GOTS and the Soil Association. As well as selling super stylish clothes for women, the brand has a range of 100 percent organic cotton baby clothes and accessories, including cute baby suits and tiny T-shirts. People Tree has five sustainable value badges from Infinity Trend.

The art of buying less: building a sustainable capsule wardrobe

According to California Closets, we wear only 20 percent of the clothes in our wardrobes, on average. While that figure may sound low, I imagine that it’s a statistic that many people can relate to. I know I certainly can: I would even hazard a guess that, for me, it’s nearer to 10 percent. I return to the same, well-loved pieces again and again – my favourite two pairs of jeans, a few flattering dresses, and a handful of tops, jumpers and T-shirts.

As a teenager, buying new clothes was a weekly ritual. Heading to the shops on a busy Saturday afternoon was my favourite hobby: nothing could quite beat the excitement of possibly finding a new dress or top that would make me feel like my best self. Except that rarely happened. Every now and then it did – I’d become the proud owner of a new item of clothing that I wanted to wear day in, day out, because it made me feel good. The majority of the time however, I ended up with cheap, unflattering pieces that soon lost their shape or their appeal, and were left discarded at the back of the drawer. This isn’t surprising: I was buying clothes for the sake of it, and because I felt like I had to have something new every week.

Over time, I’ve realised the sheer futility of this way of shopping. If we always end up wearing the same items anyway, why don’t we simply invest in those pieces – the ones that we truly love and that truly flatter us – rather than an endless array of clothes that we only buy because they’re cheap? Fast fashion and low prices have of course added to today’s frenzied purchasing habits. Why not buy new clothes every week when a dress costs less than £10? By doing so though, we’re not only contributing to the 235 million items that Britons send to landfill each year, we’re also directly funding companies that pay illegally low wages, provide dangerous working conditions, and damage the environment.

Lori Ankle Strap FlatsOf course, buying less (and buying quality, over quantity) is not a new concept. The term capsule wardrobe was coined by London boutique owner Susie Faux in the 70s. She used it to describe a collection of essential items of clothing that won’t go out of fashion and that can be worn for years to come. The idea is to drastically reduce the size of your wardrobe so that you only have (and only buy) high-quality pieces that you really love, that you’ll wear again and again (and will want to wear in five years’ time), and that properly suit you and your style. While this may mean buying individual items that are more expensive, overall you won’t necessarily be spending more, as you decrease not just the number of clothes you buy but also the frequency.

Don’t be fooled into thinking, however, that high cost always equals quality and sustainability. A brand might not be charging bargain-basement prices, but that doesn’t mean they’re not involved in unethical trade practices.

How to build a sustainable capsule wardrobe

Start by having a good clear out. Be strict. If you haven’t worn something for a year or more, then it’s time to say goodbye. Ferry your neglected clothes off to the nearest charity shop – someone else will be able to enjoy them instead.

– Take a look at what you have left, and consider what it is that you really like. Do you love to wear black skinny jeans? Are chiffon blouses your work go-to? Think about the pieces that you wear again and again, the styles that you tend to gravitate towards, and the colours and cuts that suit you the most. Make a list of no more than 30 to 40 favourite items, including shoes, coats and accessories. Use categories that work for you: you might want to divide your list into workwear, party outfits and comfortable weekend clothes, or you could separate pieces by season.

– Choose styles and colours that you know suit you, rather than novelty items. Red trousers might seem like a fun idea, but you may not feel the same way in a year or two. Opt for classic pieces in versatile hues that you can easily mix and match.

Prioritise quality and buy clothes in fabrics that will last, like wool, silk and 100 percent cotton. That might mean spending more, but if something will endure for five (or even 10 years) rather than one, you’ll be saving in the long-term.

Go sustainable. Vote with your cash and steer clear of damaging fast fashion companies, and instead buy your capsule pieces from businesses that make ethically produced and ethically sourced products. Instead of buying the same low-quality £20 pair of jeans every year from a fast fashion retailer (and replacing them when they inevitably rip), find a sustainable fashion brand that sells high-quality pieces that are made to last.

Ethical fashion: why does it matter?

The human cost

In 2013, Bangladesh’s Rana Plaza building – an eight-storey complex housing clothing factories, shops and a bank – collapsed. Despite cracks in the building having been discovered the day before and staff from the shops and bank evacuated, factory bosses threatened to withhold a month’s pay from workers if they didn’t return the following day. The next morning, seven stories of the building collapsed, killing 1,134 people and injuring approximately 2,500 others.

This tragic event highlighted the dangerous, illegal and often lethal conditions that workers in clothing factories around the world endure on a daily basis. The global fashion industry – valued at a massive 3 trillion dollars – is hugely complex and hard to control. As a result, extremely low wages, horrifying conditions, and both forced labour and child labour are rife. Women and children are particularly vulnerable, as the fashion industry’s supply chain often requires low-skilled workers who won’t or can’t complain about unfair treatment. The International Labor Organization estimates that 168 million children worldwide are involved in child labour.

A 2016 investigation into the European shoe industry found that workers in a footwear factory in Albania were paid just 49p an hour, while employees in Macedonia reported being taken to hospital in wheelbarrows, having fainted from inhaling strong chemicals in freezing cold factories. Human rights charity War on Want reports that a factory helper’s salary in Bangladesh starts at just £25 per month, while 80 percent of workers toil for a minimum of 12 hours per day. 50 percent of Bangladesh’s female garment workers reported being beaten at work. In one factory in India, targets force employees to make an astounding 20 shirts per hour – or one every three minutes.

Fast fashion: the environmental impact

The damage wrought by the fashion industry stretches far beyond the horrifying human impact, however.

Chances are, you’re reading this article while wearing a comfy T-shirt – a T-shirt that will have cost around 2,700 litres of water to produce. Or you might be wearing a pair of jeans: that’s 7,000 litres. Considering that the average water consumption per person in the UK (for drinking, showering, washing dishes, etc.) is 150 litres per day, that means that just one simple pair of jeans equates to 46 days of water use. Overall, the textile industry uses more water than any other industry in the world, apart from agriculture.

In addition, the high levels of pesticides and chemicals involved in producing fabrics and clothing result in severe pollution, with 25 percent of the world’s chemicals used for textile production. The increasing use of synthetic fibres also causes lasting damage. Polyester, for example, is made from fossil fuels. Considering that it’s present in 60 percent of today’s clothing, the resulting carbon footprint from polyester is huge.

What you can do

As people become more aware of the dark side of the fashion industry, some clothing companies are taking meaningful steps to reduce their environmental footprint and improve working conditions. Measures range from ensuring fair wages and providing educational programmes for workers and their families, to using organic cotton (which requires less water and isn’t treated with pesticides and chemicals), and transporting products by sea, rather than air.

Buying your next pair of jeans from one of these companies will help you play your part in reducing the harmful impact on the fashion industry. Don’t assume, however, that well-known companies with solid reputations are always using ethical practices: a 2016 report by Oxfam found that high-street brands Topshop and Zara failed to disclose the locations of their factories, which means that there is no way of checking that the working conditions for their employees are fair.

So before you make your next purchase, make sure you do your research. As a consumer, your behaviour and choices have a direct impact on helping the fashion industry move towards more ethically and socially responsible practices.