Gymshark is a big international brand now known across the world, but how ethical are they? Have they put good environmental practices in place and are they looking to reduce their carbon footprint?
A big question I’ve been asking myself lately – is Gymshark sustainable?
See, as well as my passion for the environment, I have a love of the gym and weightlifting. I own a number of Gymshark products, including t-shirts, shorts and tops. Some of these I’ve bought, some have been presents.
But I now want to know if Gymshark is ethical and how their company performs from an environmental impact perspective. If you’re reading this, I’m sure you’ll have similar questions too.
So, let’s find out about Gymshark sustainability and what I found out during my research.
What is Gymshark?
Gymshark is a UK fitness brand founded by Ben Francis and Lewis Morgan in 2012 whilst at University. Their headquarters are in Solihull, England.
Gymshark sell their products online with no physical permanent shops. As of 2022, they ship to most countries across the world from 13 different websites.
Despite being 10 years old, Gymshark have grown rapidly. This has primarily been fueled by social media marketing and the clever use of influencers.
In 2020, the company achieved the coveted ‘Unicorn’ status idolised by many in the financial world – to go from start-up to a valuation of over $1 billion.
Gymshark Sustainability – How do they get on?
So, let’s talk Gymshark sustainability. When discussing the sustainability of any business, two primary areas need to be considered:
- Environmental impact
- Social impact
According to Gymshark, caring for people and the planet, and their respective futures, is at the heart of the company.
With this in mind, you’d think that Gymshark would have an environmental policy and publish an annual sustainability report.
Not the case unfortunately.
There is very little information on their website about sustainability, and what there is you have to search hard to find it. This makes me think twice whether the planet is at the heart of the company.
They have published a transparency report, which covers a few different areas, so let’s have a look at that.
Gymshark Transparency Report
In 2020, Gymshark published their ‘Our Promise’ transparency report.
I then looked at the 2021 transparency report. Although a few things had changed, the report was almost identical to the previous year.
Amongst the uplifting quotes and broad plans, these two reports covered different areas of the business including:
- Gender Pay Gap – a pay gap of 37% (mean difference) for the year 2021
- Supplier code of conduct
- Supplier list and factory names
- Our Planet and carbon footprint – which assessed the business year of 2018/19.
- Fibres, fabrics and material
The Gymshark transparency report is certainly a step in the right direction but the lack of meaningful update is extremely disappointing. It covers a variety of areas but there is a distinct lack of details and meat on the bones.
The section on switching to zero carbon energy suppliers was the same, as was goal setting, packaging, Higg index information (from the Sustainable Apparel Coalition), and their carbon footprint report – all figures were still 2018/19.
They can’t say things haven’t changed either. In the space of a year, the company has grown massively and increased their revenue by 68% from £260m to £401m in 2021.
If Gymshark were taking sustainability seriously and it was at the heart of the business, they would take their reporting and environmental goal setting seriously too.
The lack of updates and improvements on the sustainability front from Gymshark, makes it seem like an after-thought.
With this in mind, I’d say that Gymshark is not a sustainable company.
Is Gymshark Environmentally Friendly?
To assess whether Gymshark is environmentally friendly, we need to know the things they are, and aren’t doing from an environmental and eco-friendly point of view.
Let’s take a look at some of the key areas in turn.
Let’s start near the end of the cycle with their packaging.
Gymshark use recycled plastic for their mailers, which are also 100% recyclable. This is no doubt better than a pure virgin plastic alternative.
Inside these mailer bags will be product bags that wrap your t-shirt and leggings. These product bags are made from 100% post-industrial recycled content, which includes off-cuts and waste from the factory floor.
As both of these bags are a type of plastic film (like plastic bags and bread bags), they will require a specialist facility to be recycled. Usually, these plastic films are not suitable for home recycling.
These choices are better than pure plastic, so we have to give Gymshark a little tick here. Something that is home compostable would be great too.
Gymshark want every product they make to have a minimal impact on the planet and the environment. A significant part of this will come from the fibres and materials they use, how these are produced and turned into clothing.
In producing gym clothing and apparel, cotton makes up a significant proportion of the fibre used by Gymshark.
Cotton also happens to be one of the most environmentally demanding materials to produce. I wrote a about the environmental impact of cotton pads here. Cotton requires large amounts of water and is often associated with high pesticide use, unless grown organically of course.
Growing cotton is also linked to bad working practice and modern slavery in places such as Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, who are two of the biggest cotton producing countries.
In a good step, Gymshark are collaborating with the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), who are the world’s largest cotton sustainability programme, helping farmers, communities and businesses.
In their transparency report, Gymshark stated they had the aim of ‘sourcing 100% more sustainable cotton by the end of 2020’.
As there is no update here, we don’t know if 100% better cotton has been achieved or not.
Gymshark are ‘friends’ of the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHD) group but not a full signatory.
ZDHD’s mission is for the release of zero hazardous chemicals in the environment across a company’s whole supply chain. Gymshark state they are committed to not using chemicals on the Restricted Substance List, but are not bound by anything.
Gymshark also comply with the REACH restricted substance list to limit their use of hazardous chemicals.
In terms of becoming more sustainable, Gymshark are part of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC). As part of this, Gymshark have access to the Higg Index, which is a suite of tools to improve both social and environmental impact.
These are all good initiatives to be a part of. However, as there are no figures and reporting, it’s no possible to fully understanding what chemicals and materials Gymshark are using to produce their clothing items.
As mentioned above, Gymshark did take a look at some of their carbon emissions for the year 2018/19.
In their 2020 transparency report, the carbon footprint section looked at Scope 1 (direct emissions from the company), Scope 2 (emissions from energy use) and Scope 3 (third party supply chain emissions).
Covering all three scopes is great, but there seemed to be a lack of coverage of full emissions data.
For example, Gymshark only assessed company car travel and electricity generation for their whole scope 1 & 2. In reality, there’s a lot more to cover.
In fairness, their scope 3 emissions looked more thorough. This covered air, sea and lorry freight, flights, waste and water use.
Furthermore, it doesn’t look like a new environmental or carbon report has been done for over two years now.
During this time, the company has grown substantially across the world. If Gymshark really did want to put the planet first, you’d like to think their environmental accountability would be a priority.
As they say, if it doesn’t get measured, it doesn’t get done.
Environmental improvements for the future?
Although Gymshark have goals, e.g. to cut emissions during the ‘final mile’ and to switch to zero carbon energy suppliers, there are no specific targets or timescales for these.
They have also said that they will offset all carbon emissions to become carbon neutral. This would be a good step but it’s not everything. Cutting emissions from source rather than planting trees to absorb carbon in decades time would be a better approach.
Companies like Ecologi help organisations and individuals plant trees and support carbon reduction projects.
Gymsharks lack of environmental clarity and emissions data can be turned around though.
One company who are now acting much more environmentally friendly is Monzo Bank. Monzo have often said the right things but didn’t have many actions in place. They’ve now changed this. You can have a read of my Monzo review here. They are now one of the most ethical banks in the UK.
Is Gymshark Ethical?
Ok, so it seems Gymshark are a little bit fluffy and non-committal when it comes to the environment and sustainability.
But is Gymshark ethical from a social perspective?
Overall, there’s no evidence to suggest that Gymshark are outright unethical. But there’s probably slightly less evidence to suggest they are an ethical business either.
It’s certainly the case that Gymshark could be a much more ethical company by putting more actions in place. At the minute, Gymshark have some good ideas but not much substance behind them. Let’s take a look in a little more detail.
In terms of working conditions throughout their supply chain, Gymshark is signed up to the Fair Labor Association (FLA). The FLA is an international organisation promoting human rights at work.
It’s stated that the FLA did identify potential forced labour issues against the Uighur population in Xinjiang. With this information, Gymshark immediately terminated the work and found another supplier.
Also on labour conditions, there’s no evidence that Gymshark pay a living wage throughout their supply chain and working hours may extend up to 60 hours across the week in exceptional circumstances.
Gymshark do have a policy that prohibits the use of sweatshops and the use of child labour (classed as under 15 years old).
Most of Gymshark’s clothes and accessories are made in China.
Gymshark do supply a full list of tier one (places who manufacture the final products) and tier two (places who provide trims and fabric) suppliers.
This is a good start and it’s good to see transparency here. However, it’d be good to see tier 3 and tier 4 (suppliers that spin the yarn and produce the raw materials).
In terms of materials used, cotton is the most predominant. Gymshark have to source hundreds of tonnes of cotton to manufacture their products.
Cotton is also one of the most environmentally demanding to use (lots of water) and is grown in countries with bad human rights records e.g. Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.
Gymshark have an aim of sourcing 100% sustainable cotton as identified by the Better Cotton Initiative. However, it’s not clear if all the cotton they use is from the BCI.
If this isn’t the case, part of the cotton sourced is likely to come from unethical farms and suppliers.
On a positive note, Gymshark use zero animal products throughout their entire product range. All clothing and accessories they sell are vegan.
It’s great to know their clothing is cruelty free and I hope this continues in the future, although they make no promises about this.
Is Gymshark fast fashion?
Fast fashion can be described as clothing designs that have been produced quickly, cheaply and en-masse after being inspired by the latest trends and catwalks.
Does Gymshark fit the fast fashion bill?
No, Gymshark is not a fast fashion company.
They don’t produce clothing purely based on trends and their products are not that cheap.
Wrap up on is Gymshark sustainable and an ethical company?
Gymshark is doing a few things right. They are a member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, partners with the Fair Labor Association and friends with Better Cotton Initiative.
Their range of clothing is vegan friendly and they package up their products in recyclable materials.
Gymshark still have lots of gaps, questions and a lack of information when it comes to environmental policy, carbon reporting and ethical practices. They say a lot of the right things, but I can’t find much evidence in terms of actions and substance. The finer details are few and far between.
At this moment in time, I think it’s fair to say that Gymshark is not a sustainable and ethical company.
This is not to say they can’t be sustainable and ethical in the future, but we’ll need to see many improvements in how they operate.
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I’m the Creator and Editor of Tiny Eco Home Life. I write and publish information about living a more sustainable, environmentally friendly life. Away from the laptop, I love spending time in nature and with my young family (plus Murphy the dog!). I write and send out the Eco Life Newsletter.