With the new year here, you might feel a sudden burst of energy to start exercising more, only to realize you need new activewear. Maybe you don’t have enough or your old stuff just isn’t cutting it anymore – whatever the reason, it’s best to purchase from sustainable brands making a positive impact in the world. So many activewear brands are made from virgin polyester fabrics, which is just a fancy term for plastic synthetic clothing. If you know anything about plastic, you know it’s made from crude oil which has to be removed from the natural environment and transformed into plastic in big power guzzling factories. This releases tons of greenhouse gas emissions into our atmosphere, all for the sake of profit. Come January, activewear brands are pumping up their ad campaigns to get you to spend spend spend. I’m sure you’ve heard ad nauseum “new year, new you” by now. But the truth is, this is all a gimmick designed to increase sales. Conventional activewear brands care very little about the environmental cost of their products. That’s why, this January, I decided it’s high time to highlight some eco-friendly activewear brands making real waves in the sustainability department. Here are 8 zero waste and sustainable activewear brands you’ll want in your closet ASAP.
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8 Zero Waste + Sustainable Activewear Brands
What’s so bad about conventional activewear?
For starters, a lot of workout gear is made from polyester. That’s basically a fabric form of plastic, a synthetic material that sheds microplastics with each wear and wash.
Making polyester requires high amounts of energy to produce. The energy required to produce polyester is around 125 MJ of energy per kilogram produced, resulting in 14.2 kg of CO2 per kilogram produced. This essentially means it’s a high-impact process.
In 2015 alone, polyester produced for clothing emitted 282 billion kg of CO2 – nearly three times more than for cotton.
Also in 2015, more than 330 million barrels of oil were used to make polyester and other synthetic textiles – the equivalent of more than 21,000 Olympic swimming pools. Yuck.
Don’t forget, factories producing polyester without wastewater treatment systems can easily release potentially dangerous substances like cobalt, titanium dioxide and antimony right into our environment.
Last but not least, polyester is oil-based plastic, which doesn’t biodegrade like natural fibers. That means if it enters a landfill, it can stay there for several decades, if not hundreds of years.
So, when we don those new sleek looking polyester leggings from big name brands that don’t give a crap about our environment, we’re essentially helping support this vicious cycle. Of course, that’s not so much the consumers fault as it is the corporation making it. Still, we do hold the power to make better, more sustainable choices (for the health of ourselves as well as our environment).
What are some eco-friendly materials that should be in my activewear?
Thing is, if you’re doing any high impact workouts, you don’t want to be wearing cotton. Have you tried to wear cotton leggings while out on a jog? It’ll leave your legs very itchy, for starters.
So, what are some eco-friendly fabrics we can actually count on that have a lower carbon footprint, but also don’t sacrifice performance?
- Recycled polyester, nylon or elastane
- Viscose, lyocell, tencel or modal
- Organic cotton and hemp
Recycled polyester, nylon or elastane
Recycled polyester is a high-performance material that’s sustainable too. It’s usually blended with spandex or elastane to further its elasticity. It’s a great way to take plastic waste and put it to good use.
A lot of recycled polyester is known as rPET, which is manufactored from PET bottles, used garments, or industrial polyester waste. Repreve is also another popular recycled polyester term that’s made out of recycled water bottles. Vita is made by Carvico, and it’s a blended fabric partially made from recycled fishing nets (especially helpful for triathletes and swimmers).
Viscose, lyocell, tencel or modal
All of these fabrics are eco-friendly and derived from natural fabrics, particularly bamboo, cellulose or wood pulp fibers. These are biodegradable and make great fabrics for activewear.
Organic cotton and hemp
These are natural fabrics that are good for lower impact workouts, like light yoga. They’re pesticide-free and biodegradable too, which helps the environment. They’re not as high performance as other materials, but they are pretty light weight and breathable.
Eco-Friendly Activewear Brands
Products: Adult + child activewear (Fleeces, leggings, jackets, sweaters, swimwear, etc.)
Best for: Sport specific activewear (they have stuff specifically for running, mountain biking, climbing, etc)
Size range: XXS – XXL
Sustainability: Recycled materials, fair trade, organic, B corp, eco activism, gives back
I personally adore Patagonia and have four items of theirs in my closet right now. I just began jogging and figured I would invest in some high quality gear, so naturally I chose Patagonia. They utilize recycled polyester in a lot of their clothing.
I personally have the woman’s R2 TechFace Hoody, Endless Run Tights, Cool Trail Tank Top and Switchback Sports Bra. I use and love all four of these on my runs – they keep me warm in the blistering cold, without causing my body to overheat. And they really do wick away sweat! Trust me – I work up a sweat on my jogs, so I need something that won’t make me feel disgusting, and these do the work for me.
I also love how they offer the option to buy used on their website too (which can save some serious $$$). If you’re looking for some high performance gear for snow, surfing, climbing, trail running, mountain biking, fly fishing, or kitesurfing, Patagonia is the place for you.
2. Boody Wear
Products: Women’s activewear (leggings, shorts, sports bra, tanks)
Best for: Comfortable activewear you can live, move and lounge in
Size range: XS – XL
Sustainability: Bamboo viscose, organic cotton, ECOCERT certified, shows positive impact of each item you buy, ethically made, gives back
I personally own some Boody activewear and I really love it – it’s so comfy and high quality gear. I own their Active Full Leggings and Racer Back Tank Top. I’ve jogged in this gear before and let me just say, those leggings REALLY keep me warm from the cold. I don’t feel a thing when I’m wearing them, which is extremely important on a 30 minute jog in 30 degree weather.
What I love most about Boody Wear is that their clothes are affordable and made from bamboo viscose. Their bamboo fabric really maintains its shape even after multiple consecutive wears and is great for sensitive skin, because it won’t cause any irritation. That’s very important while working out!
Products: Adult activewear (crop tops, leggings, tanks, shorts)
Best for: Crop tops
Size range: XS – XL
Sustainability: Recycled materials and packaging, gives back, thoughtful production, wants to launch a take-back and repair program soon
If you’re looking for some cool patterns and bright colors in your activewear, Outdoor Voices might be right for you. They’ve got some nice and cute color options (helloooo red leggings) that will surely make you stand out. I’m in love with their Deep Sea/Surf/Aquamarine leggings – I seriously want these so badly. And it would look so cute paired with the matching crop top.
Outdoor Voices utilizes a bunch of sustainable fabrics in their products, such as recycled polyester and recycled wool. You can easily wear any of their activewear at the gym, taking the dog for a walk, or just lounging about the house – it’s that versatile.
I also love how they only use packaging that’s both recycled and recyclable. All customer shipments arrive in a 100% recycled paper envelopes or recyclable boxes. They’re also piloting a program to replace poly bags (the plastics that protect clothing in-transit) with paper alternatives.
Products: Adult activewear, basics, loungewear, swim
Best for: Unique patterns and prints
Size range: XS – XL
Sustainability: B Corp, sustainable materials, climate neutral certified, thoughtful packaging, WCA-certified ethical working conditions, gives back
If you’re looking for bold, playful, interesting, colorful patterns on your activewear, Wolven is the brand for you. I’m obsessed with their awesome patterns and prints – they’ve got this cool yogi vibe to them that’s both sexy and cool all at once. With so many fun prints, it’s hard to choose my favorite, but I’d have to go with the Zephyr One Shoulder Top and the Zephyr Ruched Crossover Leggings.
Lots of their activewear is made from recycled plastic bottles that would’ve went to waste. It’s amazing how they can weave them into a soft, sustainable fabric that looks amazing. Their pieces are wrapped with a minimal piece of hemp twine and arrive to you in a reusable 100% recycled poly mailer or bio-degradable paper box.
Products: Women’s activewear (leggings, sports bra, hoodies, graphic athletic tees)
Best for: Comfortable and affordable activewear
Size range: XS – XL
Sustainability: B Corp, ethical manufacturing, sustainable materials, plant 10 trees with every purchase, shows positive impact of each item you buy, gives back
TenTree just recently started making an official activewear collection, which is super exciting. Each purchase helps plant 10 trees, hence their name, and they’ve already planted more than 51 million across a handful of countries. The activewear collection they recently launched utilizes recycled polyester. Their pocket leggings look really cool and handy, and I’d love utilizing them on a run.
Products: Adult activewear (leggings, sports bra, shorts, active tees, tanks, socks)
Best for: Basics and comfy activewear
Size range: XS – XXL
Sustainability: B Corp, sustainable materials and practices, ethical production, GOTS certified, low impact website
Organic Basics only use renewable, recycled, natural, or biodegradable textiles. So, that essentially translates into recycled nylon activewear that save water and energy, and Tencel tank tops (made from responsibly sourced wood pulp) you can easily move around in. Along with innovative fabrics, Organic Basics has transparent factories that actually pay living wages. They donate a portion of their profits twice a year to grassroots activists and organizations that address the climate crisis. Personally, I’d really love to try their active hipster briefs because god knows you need good sweat-wicking underwear when you’re working out!
Products: Women’s activewear (tops, leggings, sports bras, tanks, tees, shorts, sweats, outerwear)
Best for: Inclusive size range activewear
Size range: XXS – 6XL
Sustainability: Recycled materials, sustainable packaging, ethical factories, shows positive impact of each item you buy, gives back
Girlfriend Collective not only makes beautiful activewear from recycled plastic bottles, but they’re also one of the only sustainable activewear brands that’s size inclusive. It’s so refreshing to see a brand that promotes body positivity and makes sustainable living accessible to everyone. Plus, they’re really not over-priced either, which is awesome. They’re all about uplifting women from all walks of life and help support BLM and women impacted by covid19. Their packaging is also 100% recycled and recyclable, so don’t throw it away! I personally love their high rise pocket leggings – especially in the color plum – they divert 25 bottles from landfills!
Products: Adult activewear and basics
Best for: Affordable basics + yoga apparel
Size range: XS-XXL
Sustainability: Organic cotton, fair trade, GOTS certified, thoughtful packaging, carbon offset shipping, give back box
I honestly adore Pact and have so many clothing pieces from them in my closet. That includes their leggings – which are great for doing yoga in or taking a brisk walk. While I wouldn’t necessarily reach for them in high intensity workouts, they are super comfortable to the point I wear them as everyday wear too. I specifically have their pocket leggings and go-to leggings, and I can be spotted frequently wearing both.
Pact is always utilizing GOTS certified organic cotton in their clothing, which I adore. Organic cotton is made without pesticides, which is very important to our pollinators! Also, Pact uses paper envelopes made from 100% post-consumer recycled paperboard and plastic bags made with biodegradable plastic. You have the option to offset your shipment too for a few cents extra, which I love. All Pact clothing is made in Fair Trade certified factories that uplift local communities, have safe working conditions, and protect the environment.
What do you think about these zero waste and sustainable activewear brands?
For more health inspo, check out my zero waste granola bars recipe.
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