By Ivory King
Athletic wear used to be a niche category - leggings and sports bras, yoga pants and fitness tops - but the last few years has seen “activewear” or even “athleisure” become ubiquitous for nearly all occasions. Chalk it up to the casual crowd wanting to look a little more put together than they can in sweatpants and Ugg boots, or to status symbol fashion for those who want to actually be comfortable. Whatever the reason, fitness clothing got popular to the point where it made its way from specialty brands to a lucrative section for mass market labels like H&M or the Gap, not to mention cheaper fast fashion companies.
The combination of popular active styles and fast fashion has some unique ramifications for the environmental impact, especially since some brands incorporate anti-odor technology into their fabrics, often in the form of nano silver. While this has been shown to not be harmful when washing individual pieces, if we are wearing clothes more often than just when we go to a fitness class or the gym, they are getting worn and washed more frequently, as well as worn out and thrown away more often.
Now having made it into the cheap thrills stage of the fashion fad curve, there are still some of these brands promoted as celebrity projects - Kate Hudson’s Fabletics, Beyonce’s Ivy Park via TopShop, and Rihanna’s collaboration Fenty x Puma. While the pieces are affordable, stylish or inventive respectively, the sourcing and manufacturing processes are less than transparent. Fabletics makes some general claims about using recycled fibers, there isn’t mention on the working conditions or environmental practices of their facilities. Puma has set up a supplier standard program and TopShop has taken significant waste reduction measures but neither has a presence of standards certifications on their website to make judgment easy.
So what’s an active wear fan to do? As usual, there are plenty of lists of that cater to your priorities. For the rugged outdoorsy lines, Greatist has culled the most eco-friendly options that really go the extra mile by not only encouraging recycling clothing through donation programs that accept any brand of clothing, but also walk the talk through greening their own facilities. Questionably they do include a water brand - even if it’s completely recyclable, why not just filter your own?
For the leggings and tank top subset, GoodOnYou put together a collection of labels that prioritize natural fibers, recycled materials and sweatshop-free manufacturing. Just keep in mind some of the companies are international, and prices are mostly in AUD. Interestingly enough, they include a sub-brand of Fruit of the Loom, Russell Athletic. Their affiliation with the Bangladesh Fire and Safety Accord points to concerns about safe workplaces, and the listicle does make apparent the possible shortcomings of the lengths that they so far have taken in ethical measure-taking attempts.
With the environmental impacts the fashion industry can have, PopSugar has a slideshow of the most eco-conscious activewear. Among other lines, they feature Rumi X, a sustainable label that experiments with innovative materials like coffee grounds, which the company says absorbs body odor, improves moisture wicking, and increases UV protection. The list also gear like yoga mats.
Though some sites cater to different types of athletes or leisure wearers, depending on your style, a couple of brands kept popping up. Threads 4 Thought launched in 2007 with eco-friendly graphic tees, then from apparel to active wear. Their leggings, tees, sports bras and crop tops are made with organic cotton and modal. The facilities that they work with are either Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP) certified or Fair Trade certified.
Teeki is another line that came up on multiple ethical fitness label collections. Using recycled plastic for its fabric and made in the USA, Teeki also is one of the few brands that stands out as actually having a unique look. With lots of nature and celestial body inspired pieces, they would fit perfectly at a summer music festival as at a yoga retreat. They even take stances on specific political issues - something we haven’t seen among the other companies we have covered for this post. The aftermath of the protest at Standing Rock is of particular import to Teeki.
Wherever you identify on the athleisure spectrum - hardcore athlete or loyal leisure-ist - you’re likely to enjoy comfortable clothing that is sustainably sourced. While some brands specialize in different activities, or have a specific mission that is close to your heart, you’re bound to find a good fit. If not, there’s always those free returns and exchanges!
Written on 5/4/2018