A woman wearing purple leggings, a blue sports bra and white jacket stood outside.

Sustainable activewear: “I found high-quality, lightly-used gym kit from these second-hand retailers”

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While second hand clothes shopping has exploded in popularity in recent years, many still draw a line at buying previously-worn activewear. But it’s now possible to buy high-quality, pre-loved workout clothes to help the environment while saving you money.

The most sustainable clothes are those that already exist. Yet, when we need a new sports bra, shorts or pair of workout leggings, we’re probably more likely to invest in a brand that calls itself ethical or sustainable before considering buying those items second hand, thanks to the sweat stains, baggy crotches and unappealing odours that spring to mind.

But it’s time to think again about second hand activewear. It’s now possible to get high quality, lightly used or upcycled activewear for a decent price from places other than the regular second hand platforms (Ebay, Depop and the like).

The urgency of the climate crisis and our need to cut back on buying new clothes is well accepted by this point. Around 336,000 tonnes of used clothing goes to landfill annually in the UK, according to WRAP’s Love Your Clothes campaign, and activewear is particularly harmful for the environment. Most gym gear is made from synthetic fabrics like nylon, polyester and spandex, which are non-biodegradable, shed microplastic particles when washed and require huge amounts of energy and water to produce.

One company helping to make the fitness industry more sustainable by not adding to the number of garments already in existence, is Goodfit. Founded last March, Goodfit buys and sells a curated collection of second hand, like-new activewear from desirable brands like Lululemon, Girlfriend Collective, Sweaty Betty, Nike and more, for up to 60% off the RRP. Its stock consists of unwanted PR gifts, new-with-tags flea market finds, items from other second hand sellers, its own customers and other “unique suppliers”, says Chloe Howard, Goodfit’s founder and a marketing consultant based in London.

“There are no sweaty crop tops or worn-out leggings in our kit. Our products are brand new, or like new, and ready to be worn, or reworn, after a thorough deep clean by our team,” Chloe says. When an item arrives at your door in sustainable Goodfit packaging, you wouldn’t necessarily even know it had been previously owned by someone else.

At the beginning of 2019, Chloe vowed to buy no new clothes for two years and soon realised how easy it was to buy everything from wedding outfits, to office wear and even bed clothes, but gym clothes were much harder to find. “Everyone wants quality activewear, even more so now. It’s why so many of us pay a lot for it. But, with fast fashion becoming a bigger environmental issue every day, I saw an opportunity to slow this down.”

Most Goodfit collections sell out on the day they’re released, so they’ve started a permanent shop to keep up with customer demand in between collections. Leggings and long-sleeved running tops have been the most popular items so far, while Girlfriend Collective and Patagonia always sell out in minutes. Later this year, Goodfit will be partnering with brands, top gyms and boutique studios (when they reopen) to encourage people to consider buying second hand activewear and also make the donation of activewear much easier for customers.

ReRun Clothing, a family-run company based in West Sussex, also sells high-quality second hand gym kit, and strives to raise awareness around textile waste within the running community. “The most sustainable item of clothing is the one that already exists,” says Charlotte Jalley, who co-founded ReRun with her husband, Team GB 24hr Ultra runner Dan Lawson.

A woman wearing purple leggings, a blue sports bra and white jacket stood outside.
Sustainable activewear: would you buy pre-worn kit?

They acquire stock from word of mouth through running clubs, shops and runners themselves, and most items arrive in very good condition, she adds. “Our aim is to keep items in use, so we make an effort to put as much as we can out for sale. We’ll clean, de-bobble, upcycle and repair garments.”

Given that many activewear items will re-live us and our children, they have many years of wear in them, Charlotte says. “Give second hand activewear a try. Prolonging the life of a piece of clothing by just nine months reduces its waste, water and carbon footprint by 20–30%.”

Black leggings and the outerwear brand Karrimor are endlessly popular on ReRun, followed by anything by Nike and Adidas. “ReRun has grown consistently and steadily,” adds Charlotte. “The timing is right and there are many runners and outdoor enthusiasts who appreciate being able to buy second hand sports clothes.”

She points to Worn Wear by Patagonia, The North Face renewed, Revivo by Vivibarefoot, Beyond Retro and Play it Again Sport in Wales, as other great initiatives working to extend the life of sportswear, as well as the regular second platforms including Facebook Marketplace and Ebay.

While many people have yet to be converted by second hand activewear, those who’ve already made the switch say they’ll never go back to buying new. Since coming across Goodfit, Sarah Jakeman, 28, an accountant in Worcester, only buys pre-loved workout clothes. She’s bought everything from sports bras to dog-walking coats from the site.

“It’s a really good way to refresh my activewear without forking out hundreds of pounds. The environmental impact is also really important and it’s great to know you can buy sustainable products but not miss out on big brands or quality,” she says.

Sarah recommends that others shift their mindset when it comes to second hand activewear. “I wonder if people think the items won’t be clean or they will be people’s old, see-through, holey and out-of-style gym leggings. I think people still equate second hand with ‘used’ or ‘dirty’ rather than considering them as pre-loved and well cared-for.”

Charlotte Clitherow, 29, an executive assistant from London, has been buying previously-worn activewear for about a year, much more recently than she’s been buying other categories of clothes second hand. So far, she’s purchased items by PE Nation and Girlfriend Collective from Goodfit, “all at a fraction of the original price and in such good nick,” she says. “Unlike Depop and eBay, where I always feel I need to check an item is genuine before I purchase something, buying on the Goodfit is easy because I trust the source. I’ll never buy new again.” 

Friends she’s told about her newfound love of second hand activewear have raised the question of hygiene, but Charlotte says that Goodfit have alleviated her concerns on that front. “They wash each piece before sale, so you know it’s arriving to you clean.” She also likes to clarify the several different versions of “second hand”: from “new with tags” to “used,” which allows you to tailor your search to your preferences.

Even at a size 8 – which tends to be well-catered-to in charity shops – Charlotte says she’d never previously had much luck buying activewear second hand – until finding Goodfit, where she was surprised to see current-season items with the tags still on. “So many people buy activewear and either never wear it, or wear it lightly before realising it isn’t right for them, so it feels silly to rule out so much just because someone’s owned it before. I’d much rather rescue a piece than see it go to landfill.”

Charlotte continues: “The cost on the environment is so great that it makes sense to prioritise buying second hand where you can. For me, saving money is a bonus. As with normal clothing, I like buying activewear brands that I wouldn’t be able to afford new.”

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