Clothing trends come and go quickly, but a well-chosen wardrobe with quality activewear pieces should last you a long time. Activewear with higher quality, fewer toxins, and less wasteful production methods will be a more sustainable addition to your wardrobe. It’ll also improve your overall fitness experience and health. Selecting more sustainable fitness essentials requires taking the time to understand how activewear is made and its performance characteristics. So let’s dive into the details for how we can buy activewear more mindfully, taking into consideration our environment and skincare.
Sustainability, ethics and health: what to consider when buying activewear
The term ‘fast fashion’ was first used in the 90s. Since then, fashion brands and retailers have opted for using cheap materials and labor to help push prices down. So low in fact that prices are relatively cheaper than all other consumer goods. (1) A journey towards an eco-friendly wardrobe means slowing down our fashion and being more conscious about what they include. Here are our top picks for doing just that:
- Mindful buying
Resource efficiency in the clothing industry starts at the top. Overproduction and unsold merchandise creates a negative impact on the environment, especially where the clothes are produced/discarded. (2) On the consumer side, some pieces of clothing are discarded after just 7-8 uses. (3) Actively look for activewear brands that push for slow fashion and a more meaningful outlook to clothing essentials. Focus on their unique approach to craftsmanship, design, and timelessness to ensure your activewear pieces are made to last.
- Discover natural fibers
By the year 2000, clothing made from synthetic fibers, such as polyester, had already doubled in amount compared to natural fibers like cotton. (4) This has repercussions for the environment as producing synthetic fibers is very energy intensive from burning fuel to power manufacturing facilities. For example, a polyester shirt has a carbon footprint of 5.5kg while that of a cotton’s shirt is 2.1kg. (5) In addition, synthetic fibers release 35% of all microplastics dumped from laundry waste water into the world’s oceans. (6) Synthetic fabrics need to be washed more often than natural ones after use because of their inability to absorb moisture into their fibers. (7) This releases even more non-biodegradable microplastics into our natural habitats. Opt for natural materials like Tencel lyocell, merino wool (important - ensure it's mulesing-free), organic cotton, or hemp in your activewear instead of synthetic materials like polyester, spandex or nylon.
- Better supply chains
Activewear brands should be transparent and provide clear information about how your activewear is made and their impact on the environment and local communities. A good method to analyze this is to look for certifications the brand has earned for every step of their supply chain - from raw materials extraction to packaging and delivery. Another method requires discovering where production is done. A single t-shirt can travel through several continents throughout a brand’s supply chain before being sold. (8) It’s important to receive clear information on where the activewear is being produced, e.g. the EU has stricter regulations for safe and fair working conditions compared to many other regions in the world. (9)
Here are some examples of excellent organizations and companies that help brands improve their supply chain and let you know your activewear is created sustainably from start to finish. The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is a world-recognized certification for organic textiles which have sustainably harvested raw materials and environmentally and socially responsible manufacturing. (10) The STANDARD 100 OEKO-TEX® is a certification which ensures consumers that each component of a piece of clothing’s design contains no harmful substances for human health. (11) The Climate Neutral certification allows brands to offset their carbon emissions through investing in climate solutions like reforestation and renewable energy. (12) Fair Wear brand membership helps ensure clothing production globally follows their Labor Standards based on ILO Conventions and the UN’s declaration of human rights. (13)
- Protect your health
The skin is our body’s largest organ. It helps pump our blood and get rid of toxins in the body. (14) Activewear that sits tightly on the skin during high-performance, high-friction activities can make you come into contact with polyfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) and other harmful chemical compounds, such as quinoline, benzothiazole, and benzotriazole, often found in clothing made from polyester. For example, PFCs make clothes waterproof or stain-proof, but some studies have shown a tendency for them to increase toxins in the liver, disrupt hormones in the thyroid and induce cancers. (15) Search for activewear with natural fibers treated and produced without toxins.
Design, quality and function: performance characteristics you should look for in activewear
Activewear with better design should sit on your body, and in your wardrobe, in good shape for years to come with the proper care. It’s important to match your fitness preferences with the activewear designed for it so it lasts for a longer period of use. For example, read our guide to what kind of fitness you can do in our activewear.
When it comes to designing sustainable, high-performing activewear a technical blend of aesthetics, function and a fair price all come into the mix. Here’s what to look out for:
- Multifunctional design
Discovering what kind of activewear you need depends on your particular body type, the kind of tactile sensation you prefer (smoothness, softness, stiffness) during your choice of high-intensity fitness. Another great feature to look out for in activewear is that it can be used for many different kinds of fitness activities, e.g. yoga, running, hiking, biking. Look for a good match between its production, your aesthetic/mobility needs, and different activities and intensities. Your wardrobe can become smaller and more essential when a single piece of activewear can be used in more kinds of physical activities.
- The environment in mind
Not all activewear performs the same in different activities or in certain environments. Durability is a necessary point in activewear’s design. Explore the information provided by the activewear brand relating to its strength, stretchiness, color fading, and body odor and abrasion resistance when using it in certain climates. For example, in a hotter climate or high-intensity fitness certain fabrics like Tencel™ lyocell tend to inhibit odors and absorb moisture more readily than its synthetic counterparts, leading to less washes and microplastic waste from excessive laundering. It also retains its color and is a highly durable natural fabric. (16) A good match between the climate and your fabric’s design goes a long way in reducing your need to replace your activewear pieces on a regular basis.
- Constant comfort
Wearing uncomfortable clothes and doing a hard workout don’t go well together. Try experimenting with different natural fabrics, such as lyocell or hemp, to see which one suits your skin better. The fabric weight and compression can affect your performance so it’s important to choose something soft, malleable and/or stretchy to enhance your mobility.
- Moving moisture
Breathable activewear with thermal regulation properties (the ability to cool down or warm up the body to maintain a steady internal temperature) is highly recommended. Another benefit of natural fabrics is that they tend to absorb moisture away from the skin and into their core more readily than synthetic fabrics do. (17) This keeps the body cool and dry throughout your physical activity.
- Putting a fair price on it
The cost of creating activewear becomes higher when the entire supply chain is considered. Activewear should be created with fair and safe production and wages, eco-friendly materials, recyclable packing, and free from harmful fuels, plastics, and toxins, which can degrade our natural ecosystems. Slow fashion means putting a fair price on not only our clothing but the rights of workers and the environment. (18)
You’ll be well on your way to selecting a more conscious, sustainable wardrobe with the points listed above. Activewear is the sum of its parts: its sustainability, ethics, impacts on health and environment, multifunctional design and value. Let’s create a demand for more green fitness essentials to help slow fashion take off in the near future.