Athleisure has progressed quickly from the days of arguments over whether or not leggings are pants. Look, now you can get leggings that look professional! There are hoodies with necklines that look like they were specifically designed for work Zoom calls. Athleisure is no longer just for boutique gyms. Athleisure has become part of our everyday wardrobes over the past couple of decades. But, how do you ensure that your athleisure is sustainable?
Athleisure encompasses clothing made for exercise—compressive leggings, moisture-wicking hoodies, breathable tops, and more.
The majority of athleisure is made from stretchy fabrics including nylon, Lycra, and Spandex (also called elastane). For all their usefulness for making our workouts more bearable, they aren’t so great for the planet. These fabrics are produced from oil.
According to The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a fashion sustainability charity, these fibers are not biodegradable and their popularity keeps the fashion industry reliant on fossil fuel extraction. Washing garments with these materials also releases microfibers (tiny plastic particles) into the oceans.
10 Sustainable Athleisure Brands to Add to Your Closet
This might make sustainable athleisure sound like an oxymoron. But several brands are helping steer the fashion industry away from the use of unsustainable materials and business practices. Here are some of our favorites.
Seattle-based athleisure brand Girlfriend Collective was born in response to the fashion industry’s negative impact on the planet. It started with just one product in 2016: high-waisted black leggings made from recycled plastic bottles. They advertised by giving away free pairs through social media ads. The bottles are shredded into tiny particles that are later spun into fiber and then into yarn. One pair of Girlfriend Collective’s leggings is made from 25 post-consumer bottles.
Today, Girlfriend Collective’s line-up has expanded to include sports bras, more leggings, hoodies, and windbreakers. It now also uses Econyl, a recycled nylon yarn made from reclaimed fishing nets and carpets. It also uses cupro, a fabric made from cotton industry waste, to make its t-shirts.
The company also uses recycled, recyclable packaging and works with a fair-trade factory that specializes in eco-friendly textiles. Check it out here.
Adidas by Stella McCartney
UK-based designer Stella McCartney’s eponymous brand is known for its commitment to supporting sustainable initiatives through the entire fashion supply chain, from sourcing materials to how they’re cleaned, spun into yarn, and dyed. The brand famously created a vegan version of the iconic Adidas Stan Smith shoes, made from recycled polyester instead of animal hide. The two brands have collaborated on athleisure collections several times since. The most recent launch features leggings, fleeces, parkas, puffers, and training jumpsuits made from PRIMEGREEN, a recycled polyester made from post-consumer plastic waste, like bottles. Check it out here.
Cotton is one of the most widely used fabrics in the world. But in addition to ties to child labor and exploitation, conventional cotton also has a negative impact on the environment. Boulder, Colorado-based Pact, which makes bedding and towels in addition to leggings, works with organic cotton, which uses 91 percent water. Since pesticide use is banned for organic cotton, farms use crop rotation instead to prevent diseases and pests. Crop rotation is good for the soil in the long run because it helps capture carbon from the air. Pact’s organic cotton is certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), a leading third-party certification for organic textiles.
This Australian swimwear and athleisure brand uses Econyl, a fiber made from nylon waste from the oceans and landfills. It also shies away from fast-fashion practices. Instead, its products are hand-made to order in Melbourne. Fabrics are printed with non-toxic inks and all discarded papers are recycled. Its activewear collection includes leggings, shorts, and sports bras.
Elle Evans donates 1 percent of proceeds to the Healthy Seas Initiative and its products are shipped in biodegradable packaging using SENDLE, a carbon-neutral courier. The company also has a used clothing recycling program for when clothes reach the end of their life cycle. Check it out here.
Copenhagen-based brand Organic Basics uses materials that have a lower impact compared to conventional cotton and oil-based fabrics, including GOTS-certified organic cotton, recycled nylon, Tencel lyocell made from aspen and birch tree pulp, and recycled animal fibers (like wool and cashmere). It uses seamless knitting, which helps clothes last longer and it wastes less fabric. The athleisure collection includes leggings, bras, tees, tank tops, and socks.
It works with factories that work to reduce their environmental impact and lists them on the website, along with their environmental and labor certifications. It also has a low-impact website, which reduces the amount of electricity used. Check it out here.
Threads 4 Thought
Founded in 2006, Threads 4 Thought sources sustainable materials such as organic cotton, recycled polyester, and Lenzing Modal, a fabric made from beech tree cellulose, in its collections. According to the producer, Lenzing Modal is carbon neutral because the production process is integrated with cellulose recovery. Beech trees are a renewable resource and are never cut down. Instead, they’re trimmed down and left to regenerate. Up to 95 percent of the chemicals used in production are recycled. Its athleisure collections feature performance leggings made from recycled nylon as well as recycled nylon. The company uses small amounts of Spandex, but it is working to completely eliminate the fabric.
Threads 4 Thought aims to reduce its environmental impact through its factories, too, which are located in Guatemala and China. According to the company, its factories use less than half the water typically used to make one garment and 80 percent of the wastewater is recycled and reused. Check it out here.
Family-owned Australian brand Boody makes athleisure basics from organic bamboo viscose and organic cotton. The bamboo, which is certified by The Organic Crop Improvement Association, is grown without pesticides and fertilizers and processed in a closed-loop system, so the water is recycled. The fibers are also knit into tubes, saving up to 20 percent fabric compared to traditional cut-and-sew methods. Boody makes athleisure staples like sports bras, leggings, and tops. The brand uses small amounts of Spandex in its activewear. Check it out here.
Based out of California, Groceries Apparel makes basics and athleisure using GOTS certified organic cotton and low-impact, vegetable-based dyes. For example, tie-dye collection is dyed with bark, iron, and flowers. It manufactures its clothing locally in Los Angeles to reduce its carbon footprint and it also uses materials such as eucalyptus, recycled cotton, hemp, and recycled plastic. Check it out here.
Miakoda was co-founded in 2013 by Julia and Laura Ahrens, who created the brand after questioning the scale of modern clothing consumption. The NYC-based brand practices slow fashion; it makes athleisure and loungewear out of sustainable materials including organic cotton, bamboo, soy fiber, Modal, and Lyocell. Its garments are made locally in NYC factories. All of its packing materials are made from post-consumer materials, from cardboard to packing tape and shipping labels. It also uses leftover factory scraps to make accessories like scrunchies and face masks.
Miakoda is working to change the face of fashion. It is currently expanding its sizing to 4XL. In addition to that, Miakoda has made a commitment to be inclusive of size, race, gender identities, age, ability, and more when casting models. Check it out here.
L.A.-based brand Nube has a limited collection featuring bold-patterned compressive leggings and tops made from a blend of recycled polyester and Spandex. Its recycled polyester uses nearly 20 percent less water and reduces greenhouse gas emissions by over 30 percent. Clothing is sewn locally at an East LA factory and dyed with low-impact dyes. Packaging materials are recycled and recyclable. The company works with local artists and students to upcycle its fashion scraps and prioritizing patterns that use less fabric. It is also working on a take-back program for when you’re done with your garments. Check it out here.
Sustainable athleisure clothing is more than just about choosing materials that are better for the planet. The business should also take steps to reduce its environmental impact in its practices, whether through trying to adopt a closed-loop system, offsetting its carbon footprint, or using recycled materials for shipping. And remember, hitting the thrift store is always a great option. Not only is secondhand clothing more affordable, but it’s also a legitimate way to shop sustainably. Good luck and happy shopping!
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