You’re already on board with sustainable fashion, but can eco-friendly activewear live up to the sweat-wicking, high performance standards you require? The answer is a resounding yes. These are the brands to shop from if you’re looking for ethical training gear.
We all know how important it is to change our shopping habits to be a bit more sustainable. But it’s fair to say that when it comes to waste and environmental responsibility, the fashion industry – including our favourite activewear brands – has taken a little time to catch up. Either you snap up a super-cheap bargain, only for your leggings to rip after the second wash, or you spend the big bucks and discover that your kit was made by underpaid workers who were beaten and assaulted in the process.
Given the current climate crisis, we can’t afford to skimp on kits which are going to end up in landfill within a year. Textile waste occupies nearly 5% of landfill space, despite the fact that up to 95% of landfilled textiles are recyclable. Meanwhile, the human cost of more expensive brands far outweighs any style cachet. What’s a gym lover to do?
Thankfully, there’s a plethora of sustainable, ethical, high performance activewear out there. We’re talking crop tops made from recycled bottles. Puffer jackets made from flower-down. Trainers from wool. Forget sweating in Lycra – from now on, it’s all about materials such as modal (beech tree fibres), Econyl (recycled nylon) and coffee ground yarn.
And they’re gaining popularity, fast. According to analysis from Edited, recycled styles accounted for 20% of total activewear arrivals from January to September 2020 vs. 10% in 2019.
We’ve gathered together 16 of the best sustainable activewear pieces – all of which are either made right here in the UK or in factories that have been certified for their fair pay and treatment of workers. Oh, and most importantly, they’re all designed to make you look incredible, feel powerful and perform at your best in whatever activity you’re doing.
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Looking for a new houseplant? Get yourself some of Tala’s kit and you can plant the label – which is made from 100% plantable paper! Simply remove from your leggings or top, plant and watch it grow.
Tala’s collections are for everybody, with each piece designed to make you feel comfortable and empowered to perform. The brand is aiming to create products that are 100% upcycled and, at the moment, claim to be 92% of the way there. The hoodies and joggers are made from a combination of recycled cotton and recycled water bottles, while the neck labels for products are 100% upcycled nylon. All the packaging is recycled and recyclable. Oh, and its factory group has been audited on the wellbeing of the workforce – so you know that the people who made your clothes have been treated decently.
Wool isn’t just for jumpers and scarves – it can also be used to make running trainers. Giesswein is an Austrian family business which uses sustainable, ethical wool to create high-performance clothing. Its focus is on making sure that there’s no waste resulting from its creations. As a result, no scraps are left behind, up to 90% of recycled water is used in production and 100% of the material used comes from renewable sources.
The Merino Runners are ultra lightweight, flexible and antibacterial. The natural properties of merino wool ensure that your feet are warm in winter and cool in summer. Oh, and they’re odour-free; Giesswein claims that you could run without socks and still not worry about any smell. Big claim but we’re 100% here for it.
Looking for eco-friendly, ethically made yoga clothes? Hello, Girlfriend! You’ve got compression leggings that are made from 25 recycled plastic bottles and bras from 11 bottles, while the LITE leggings are made from recycled fishing nets. All the T-shirt and tanks are 100% cupro – a delicate fibre made from the waste the cotton industry leaves behind.
But it’s not just the environmental aspect that makes these kits so badass. The textiles are all made in an eco-friendly factory in Taiwan and cut-and-sewn in their facility in Hanoi which guarantees fair wages, proper working conditions and zero forced or child labour. While those things should be a given, it’s fair to say that Girlfriend Collective is still in the minority.
100 women wear-tested the leggings, suggesting design tweaks to perfect their fit, fabric and performance.
Want a high-end kit that’s designed to last? Look no further than Perff Studio’s seasonless collections which are 100% eco-friendly and made from 50% recycled materials. The aim is to create luxurious but sustainable products via responsible innovation; Perff doesn’t want you to keep coming back for more, but instead wants you to buy an outfit and be able to keep on performing in it year on year. All materials are eco-friendly and manufacturing takes place in northern Portugal, keeping shipping and transportation needs down.
But Perff doesn’t just do gym kits – it also creates garments to stick on after your workout that are office-appropriate and coffee shop ready… meaning that you legitimately live in its clothes around the clock.
Made from Econyl (repurposed nylon), ocean plastics and recycled cotton, Contur’s mix and match sets are as great at tackling material waste as they are at making you feel powerful – in and out of the gym. Its super-soft textiles provide flawless muscular compression, breathability and strong UV protection. Based up in Manchester, Contur is the brainchild of working mum Claire Turpin. She set the company up after struggling to find shape-enhancing activewear to boost her low body confidence as she returned to the gym post-kids.
Not only is the brand trying to position itself as a kind of club celebrating sisterhood and individuality, but the ranges are manufactured in London by a social enterprise.
Since 2015, Nimble has recycled 824,588 plastic bottles. It breaks plastic bottles into flakes before melting them into pellets, which then get spun into yarn and knitted into performance fabrics. But the brand’s not just about recycling; it gives AUS $1 (50p) from every sale to fund projects dedicated to protecting reefs and restoring land. So far, that’s amounted to $35,862 (£18,571).
Of course, Nimble doesn’t claim to be perfect and if you’re concerned about carbon emissions, then buying up gym kit that has to be shipped from Melbourne might not be ideal, so it’s worth being mindful of this.
Grit & Grace
Looking for a gym kit with no air miles attached? Look no further than UK-made Grit & Grace. Designed in Leeds and manufactured in London from recycled fabrics, this brand is challenging throwaway fashion by focusing on made to order and small volume production. Fabrics are sourced directly from ethical suppliers based mainly in Europe and then UK-based manufacturers put them together. Founder Steph has had to battle against serious health issues. but they haven’t stopped her from achieving her dream of creating a sustainable, high-performance brand.
This one is for the athletes – whether you’re a slow parkrunner or a seasoned triathlete. Sundried covers every possible bit of kit you could ever need, from gymnastic rings to velo skinsuits and swimmers.
Founded by triathlete Daniel Puddick in 2015, the brand has two full collections made from sustainable raw materials; Eco Core is made from 100% recycled plastic, Eco Charge from 100% recycled coffee grounds. There’s also a range of biodegradable technical performance T-shirts and all of Sundried’s production is officially low carbon. Oh, and unlike many brands, these guys go up to an XXL – proving that every body can be an athletic body.
Scultura aims to ‘build strength for our planet’. Made right here in the UK, it claims that during garment testing, recycled fabrics actually out-performed virgin yarns during the washing and drying process, colour retention and gym workout testing.
While Scultura is still working on becoming 100% sustainable and circular, it asks customers not to dispose of any activewear bought from them; instead, the team will recycle it for you and, in return, they’ll send you a discount code.
Versatile, recycled and built to last – that’s Finisterre Active’s mantra. Base layers are made from 80% merino blends, while leggings and outer tops are made from recycled fabric (75% recycled polyester with 25% elastane). For over 15 years, Finisterre has been making clothes that cause as little environmental impact as possible.
In 2018, they scrapped all single-use, non-degradable plastic and now its sustainable packaging commitment covers everything from the swing tags (attached to the clothing with string) to the bag you receive your order in. It also offers a repair service and you can meet the people who make your clothes online. Because of this commitment to the environment and transparency, Finisterre became a B Corp company last year – meaning that it’s morally and legally committed to prioritising responsibility to the environment and society at every level of its business.
Deakin and Blue
Looking for ocean-friendly cossies to hit up the beach in? Want swimmers that’ll have you gliding down to your local lido? Sick of swimsuits that don’t support boobs above a C cup? Hello, Deakin and Blue. All of its swimwear is made from 100% regenerated nylon fibre made from post-consumer waste like old fishing nets and industrial plastic. They’re all made in London, with materials coming from partners who pay fairly, use chemicals safely and minimise waste where possible. Lots of swimsuits struggle to look their best after a year of regular swimming, but these fabrics are twice as resistant to chlorine, sun cream and oil as standard Lycra – meaning that they’re built to last.
Deakin and Blue isn’t just about environmental responsibility. Its whole brand is built around inclusivity and making women feel supported. There are no airbrushed, sexualised models in its campaigns and its unique sizing system is designed to offer a comfortable, sculpting fit whatever your shape or size – with cup busts ranging from AA to HH.
Pangaia’s motto is in the name: Pan = ‘all-inclusive’, Gaia = ‘Mother Earth’, so it follows that they’re the experts in earth-friendly, gender neutral activewear. Recycled cotton tracksuits, seaweed fibre T-shirts, flower down puffer jackets, botanical dyes, compostable packaging…you name it, Pangaia has thought of it.
Pangaia’s scientists have taken 10 years to perfect their FLWRDWN technology; created with wild flowers and a biopolymer. It’s a cruelty-free alternative to goose and duck down and is fully biodegradable. All textiles are given a peppermint oil treatment (famed for its antibacterial properties) to ensure garments stay fresher for longer and don’t need to be washed as often – saving on water, energy and time.
Coffee beans have been recycled into all kinds of things. You can get coffee cups made from recycled coffee grounds (KaffeeForm). Coffee logs to burn instead of burning wood (Coffee Logs). Shoes made from recycled coffee (Rens). And now, you can get activewear base layers made from a unique yarn created with recycled coffee charcoal.
Acai’s NILIT Heat technology offers sweat-free thermal insulation to keep you at the perfect temperature while you work out. The brand specialises in outdoor trousers and accessories and sends all of its products out in fully compostable packaging.
MoveBeyond’s garments are made from blended modal fibres – a semi-synthetic fabric made from beech tree pulp. Because it’s plant-derived, that means it’s 100% biodegradable, uses fewer chemicals and up to 20 times less water to produce. Even better, modal is supposed to last longer than other fabrics and is shrink and pilling-proof. MoveBeyond then dyes this fabric using fibre reactive dyes – low impact colour which contains no toxic compounds or heavy metals and again, requires less water in the rinse process.
All kits are shipped in satin bags, 100% recycled boxes and recycled papers. The brand is based in the USA and is working on shipping to more destinations soon, but you might want to wait until you or someone you know finds themselves in the States and who can bring some pieces back for you – saving on double air miles!
PUMA X First Mile
It’s not just smaller brands that are working to create sustainable collections. PUMA has teamed up with First Mile to create a line that is not only made from recycled plastic but is also rooted in social change.
The First Mile is a network that works to strengthen micro-economies Taiwan, Honduras and Haiti by collecting, learning, shredding and recycling plastic bottles into yarn which then is used to make trainers and garments.
So far, the PUMA and First Mile programme has diverted an incredible 40 tonnes of plastic waste from landfills and oceans - and that’s just for the products made for 2020. That’s the equivalent of almost 2,000,000 plastic bottles.
Every item in the collection is made from at least 83% recycled yarn.
‘The more we can connect that last mile with the first mile, the easier this sustainable movement will be able to continue,’ says Kelsey Halling, Head of Partnerships at First Mile.
We couldn’t agree more.
Reformation has long been a stalwart of the sustainable fashion scene, but it recently launched its first ever athleisure range, Ref Active. The range is divided into two classifications: EcoMove, designed with your HIIT workout in mind, and EcoStretch, which is perfect for yoga or Pilates.
Everything within the athleisure collection is made sustainably: Each piece is made of Repreve, a material that uses 100% post-consumer recycled plastic bottles that are fully traceable from plastic to finished product. Producing the fabric uses 45% less energy, 20% less water, and 30% less greenhouse gas emissions than virgin polyester, according to the brand.
London-based sustainable brand SOS Activewear uses material from regenerated ocean plastic and discarded fabric scraps to their workout gear. Their products have been designed to empower any workout, focussing on timeless designs, reliability and functionality to push your training forward with every wear.
“I’ve made it my mission to offer a reliable, premium activewear brand to anyone and everyone that is looking to make their wardrobe more conscious without sacrificing style, functionality or quality. SOS products are made to fill you with confidence, power any workout and support you and the planet simultaneously,” says founder Bronte Simm.
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Images: Getty, courtesy of brands
Miranda Larbi is the editor of Strong Women and Strong Women Training Club. A qualified personal trainer and vegan runner, she can usually be found training for the next marathon, seeking out vegan treats or cycling across London on a pond-green Tokyo bike.