As activewear continues to make its way into daily wear, there is a growing number of companies eager to facilitate our casual ways ethically and sustainably. Many companies with a focus on outdoor sports are often the most enlightened about sustainability, presumably because they have a personal stake in not wanting the environment to be reduced to garbage. That’s good news for us because it means we have lots of choices when it comes to ethical and eco-friendly activewear and athleisure apparel!
What to look for in ethical and sustainable activewear
Natural fibers: You can find brands made stylishly with a blend of organic cotton or hemp and a little bit of synthetic fiber for stretch. Organic natural fibers are not only better for the environment, they release odor better than synthetics. Also look for merino, which is the most sweat-wicking and odor-fighting — so much so that you don’t have to wash it after you exercise in it. Just hang it up to dry.
Recycled synthetics: Natural materials can get soaked in an intense workout. If that bothers you, go for recycled when choosing synthetics. Just grab yourself a Microfiber Filter to attach to your washing machine or a Guppyfriend bag to catch the microfibers that inevitably break off so they don’t end up in our waterways. And don’t worry: recycled plastic clothing is not inherently toxic, no matter what the wellness influencers say.
Performance: It probably goes without saying, but you want activewear that’s actually high-quality so it’s comfortable enough to get your sweat on and won’t tear in the middle of a workout. Customer reviews are a great place to check for performance.
Environmentally-conscious manufacturing: The processes involved in creating textiles, especially high-performing ones, are often pretty harsh on the environment, using lots of water, chemicals, and energy, and leaving behind waste. Look for brands that are using more earth-friendly processes that reduce their impact.
Non-toxic dyes and finishes: The dyes used to color your standard pair of leggings aren’t good for the earth—or you. Look for natural and/or non-toxic alternatives and certifications.
Fair labor and transparency: As with everything you buy, check for fair labor practices. Look for brands that prioritize transparency (do they tell you where their apparel is made?) and certifications like Fair Trade and SA8000.
Here are our favorite ethical and sustainable brands to shop for activewear and athleisure
If you’ve been around the earth-friendly yogi scene at all in the past few years, chances are you’ve at least heard of Girlfriend Collective. Their ingenious launch technique to sell their leggings to everyone at cost combined with their radical inclusivity and transparency makes them a popular choice for conscious consumers. Their leggings, bras, and shorts are made from recycled plastic bottles and old fishing nets, along with OEKO-TEX certified safe dyes. Everything is made ethically in an SA8000 certified facility where workers get 125% of the local minimum wage along with things like free catered lunch, exercise breaks, and health insurance. Be sure to grab Girlfriend Collective’s Microfiber Filter, to stop the microfibers from your recycled garments from getting into our waterways!
Ably’s clothing is unique because it’s made with natural cotton and then treated with Filium® technology. Filium® is an eco-friendly treatment that makes any natural fabric repel liquid and resist odor without sacrificing softness or breathability… which means no sweaty pit stains and a lot less odor (and laundry). You can read Alden and her husband’s review of how their Ably apparel held up while traveling here.
Alternative Apparel’s tees, tanks, and sweats are made in WRAP certified facilities out of eco-friendly materials like organic cotton, recycled polyester, and low-impact dyes. They use water-conserving processes, oxo-biodegradable mailer bags, and have implemented a vendor recycling program.
Buying used is the most sustainable and affordable option, and thredUP is the largest online secondhand store out there. In their activewear section, you’ll find brands like Lululemon, Adidas, Nike, Athletic, and more.
For your basic leggings, tanks, and tees, PACT uses only natural, certified organic, long-staple (aka super soft) cotton without any toxic dyes. Plus, everything is made in Fair Trade certified facilities.
Manduka uses fabrics made from GRS, OCS, and OEKO-TEX certified recycled polyester, organic cotton, and/or plant-based material like hemp or Tencel. Their fabrics are designed to increase air flow and stretchiness for your utmost comfort. They are committed to transparency (even with regard to the parts of their company that aren’t 100% sustainable). You can also shop their eco-friendly yoga mats and towels, cork blocks, and other gear and accessories.
Icebreaker uses mostly natural OEKO-TEX certified merino wool, with the goal of completely eliminating all synthetics in their products by 2023. They establish long-term relationships with their merino growers in order to ensure strict animal welfare. The company is committed to transparency and regularly audits their factories for things like waste management and human rights labor practices.
Made out of materials like organic cotton, sustainable bamboo, merino wool, and recycled polyester, tasc Performance creates activewear for men and women that is moisture wicking, anti-odor, UPF 50+ protection, and more.
A sustainable fashion pioneer, People Tree has been partnering with Fair Trade producers, garment workers, artisans, and farmers in the developing world to produce ethical and eco fashion collections for over 25 years. Their activewear is made mostly of certified organic cotton.
Known for being high performing and super comfortable, Outdoor Voices uses recycled fibers in many of their pieces (though not all, so make sure to check!)
Shop Yoga Democracy for tops, shorts, and leggings made from recycled polyester and nylon. They use a low-energy, zero-water process, non-toxic dyes, and donate 10% of their net profit to environmental causes worldwide. Garments are sewn in California by responsible fabric manufacturers.
Teeki manufactures everything in the U.S. out of fabric made from recycled water bottles. Teeki or Yoga Democracy are great choices if you are looking for a more colorful and free-spirited vibe.
prAna has a wide variety of active apparel options for men and women, along with yoga mats, headbands, and other sustainable accessories. prAna is a Textile Exchange member and bluesign® systems partner and they use materials like organic cotton, hemp, recycled wool, responsible down, and recycled polyester. Their traceability has been meticulously documented and everything is certified Fair Trade too.
Boody creates basic activewear out of sustainable bamboo. They have a host of eco and ethical certifications, from ECOCERT and OEKO-TEX to FSC and WRAP. Plus, a portion of their profits are given back to fight malaria in Africa.
Yogavated pieces are made in United States out of recycled scraps that come from big box retail brands across the country. All of their scrap material is collected during production and repurposed for hang tag strings, free head bands, reusable rags, dog beds, and more.
A leader in sustainability for the past four decades, Patagonia carries a wide variety of activewear for men and women, whether you’re going for a hike, climb, ride, or yoga class. Their apparel is made with fully or partially recycled and natural materials and sewn together in fair trade factories.
Threads 4 Thought makes activewear for men and women made from organic cotton, recycled polyester, and Lenzing modal. In addition to their fair working conditions and water conservation, they also use profits to support the International Rescue Committee.
Groceries Apparel makes active and loungewear out of natural materials like organic cotton, eucalyptus, hemp, and linen, along with recycled plastic and cotton. They operate their own factory in Los Angeles so they can keep a strict eye on worker wellbeing, as well as cut down on waste and increase traceability.
Athleta, Gap’s athletic wear brand, is a certified B Corp, which is working its way toward more ethical and sustainable processes. As of July 2019, they report that 60% of their materials used are considered sustainable, with the goal of 80% by 2020. They’re working on reducing water use and waste as well, in addition to increasing the amount of women they empower through fair trade practices. You can learn more about their sustainability practices and goals here, and just make sure to check the fabric before purchasing to make sure it’s eco-conscious!
Don’t forget to capture your microfibers!
Many of the brands above use recycled materials, which is awesome because it means less plastic clogging up our waterways and landfills and less non-renewable virgin materials used. But, you still have the problem of microfibers that slowly break off and enter our streams and oceans when you wash your clothes. To cut down on the amount of microfibers that shed off your activewear and into the water, try using one of these tools:
If you have your own washing machine, grab this Microfiber Filter from Girlfriend Collective that easily installs onto your washing machine and can capture microfibers from any of your synthetic laundry. It’s only $45.
If you don’t have your own washer, the Guppyfriend Washing Bag is a great option as well that can be used at the laundromat or taken with you for travel. Put your synthetics right in the bag, which will filter out microfibers. It’s only $30.