This is the second in a series of posts I am doing about sportswear and its ethics. You can read the first one here, they are also being posted on the new ethical shopping online resource ethicalhighstreet.co.uk which I would recommend that you have a look at as there are some great articles, information and resources there.
Now I am not sure if this truly is the case but it seems like the first item of running specific clothing anyone buys is usually by Ronhill – my scientific study involved asking some people :).
The first pair of running trousers I had were by them, the first pair of running tights, first running t-shirt and the list goes on. I would say it is one of the most popular running brands, in recent times I haven’t been buying much new Ronhill gear (my Sweaty Betty obsession came on strongly) but their clothing is good quality and I have a fair few pieces remaining so I decided to contact them about their ethical policy. I couldn’t find an email for them initially so filled in their contact form. They got back to me quickly to say they were going to email with more information but in the meantime they sent me a link to their manufacturing policy which refers to their partnership with Fair Wear Foundation. I then received a more detailed email a couple of weeks later from their brand director who had actually been visiting their factories over the past couple of weeks.
So first up, who are the Fair Wear Foundation (FWF)? Well they are a not for profit, independent organisation and along with their member companies and factories works to improve labour conditions for garment workers. The improvements made by member companies are tracked and the FWF tries to maximise the efforts made by companies by sharing expertise throughout the foundation members.
The FWF have a code of labour practises and members must comply with it, there are different levels of membership so companies can join at different levels depending upon the level of influence they have on their factories. You can read more about the Fair Wear Foundation by clicking on the link below.
The FWF releases independent reports and any problems found within factories are publicly reported. FWF promotes their members working with the factories to resolve problems rather than ask them to leave factories as this should be the last resort for a company.
Ronhill state that they choose their factories with high ethical standards initially but feel that having the independent audits undertaken by FWF each year helps ensure the standards are maintained, the company then receive reports from audits and they work with their factories on the improvements. Ronhill also conduct their own inspections and during their visits to the factories they review progress against the FWF recommendations and send reports back to FWF. This is particularly positive in my opinion as they are working with the factories to improve conditions and it also shows strengthened relationships in the supply chain.
The FWF publishes annual reports on their website each year on how a brand is doing, there is not yet one for Ronhill as they only joined with the Fair Wear Foundation in July 2012. I am looking forward to reading the 2013 report for them.
Now the one thorny issue for any running or indeed sports clothing company is the fact that sportswear is notorious for not being particularly sustainable. However, as the review that follows points out Ronhill clothing does last and is good quality. I also have to say that as a runner (no wait I used to be a runner *sob*) I do appreciate the benefits of this type of clothing when you are working out and sweating but that does not negate the negative impact producing and disposing of these fabrics has.
Ronhill have responded to these concerns saying that they constantly review their fabric options but being a running brand they feel that one of the most important aspects of their items is that they must perform to the highest level and for them that means they use technical fabrics.
It is interesting to note as well that Ronhill mentions the problem that exists of the expense of some organic options but rather than talking about the consumer mention that it can be difficult to persuade the retailer to consider the increased prices for using these fabrics. I found this particularly interesting as it is often said that people will not pay more for organic clothing but I do not believe these options are offered in all areas, meaning part of this argument is removed. I would welcome a small organic/sustainable section in running shops to start to ensure that the products are of a quality to compete with regular running clothing and give us a wider arrange of choice. I have reviewed the sustainable running leggings that I bought here and that is a major issue for me, any technical items need to meet the needs of the purchaser.
Most exciting of all is the fact that Ronhill are considering a merino mix option for a base layer, costing a little more and it will be mixed with technical fabric but it is a nice step.
Review – Black & Pink Running Top
So onto the review part of this piece. Well as i mentioned above over the years I have been running I have owned various items of Ronhill gear. One of which is the black and pink long sleeved top I am wearing in the picture above. I have had this top for around 3 years and it is showing no signs of giving up on me yet!
It is very comfortable to run in, doesn’t bunch anywhere or rub. It is also a flattering fit, looser around the stomach area which is nice. The fabric is great at keeping you warm but also not letting you over heat on colder day runs. It also gets good marks for being quick drying in the inevitable Scottish showers. Another positive it is one of the easiest tops to take off mid-run without having to stop – maybe it is just me but I hate stopping during my run to take off layers so the fact I can run along and pull this top off means it gets a bonus point from me.
I find it is another top that is worn for most of my sports although it is too warm to wear in gym or exercise class where you are doing cardio, but in my opinion it is a mid-layer top so not really designed for indoors. All in all I am very pleased with this top. My only small gripe would be the colour, which is true of many of Ronhill items – I want more colours than black(this has improved since I bought this top although too much pink – I am a fussy person :))! And patterns too if possible please!
I am impressed by Ronhill and the work they are doing with FWF to improve and maintain the conditions at their factories. The only issue remains the synthetic fibres, this is a tricky issue and I believe that it is up to individuals to make their decisions own on this, I would like to see more natural fabrics being introduced or researched by Ronhill and I will continue to try out more natural fabrics for my sports clothing but I reckon there will always be Ronhill items in my sports wardrobe.
*Thanks to Steve Rothwell and Oliver Carter of Ronhill for answering my questions.
*Disclosure* The opinions expressed in this post are my own and I have not been paid for the review.