Environmental emissions are questioning the daily choices of every athlete. Sportswear is part of fast-paced fashion due to the heavy wear of the activewear garments and constantly changing trends, creating a huge environmental burden. Many brands are little by little taking the transition into sustainable production, and some has already declared themselves completely sustainable. From a customer's point of view, it is still difficult to identify an ethical brand, as many companies use sustainability as their advertising slogan. So how do you identify a high-quality sportswear brand on this jungle of empty promises and advertising? We wrote you a short introduction to the best sustainable materials for sportswear to help you to choose the most sustainable option.
Traditional Natural Materials
Cotton is a natural material we use in everyday life. As a sportswear textile, cotton is not very technical, but works as a soft and comfortable material, for example, in many yoga garments or as part of technical textiles. The functional properties and durability of the cotton garment can be increased by adding some spandex to the textile. Traditional cotton production requires enormous amounts of pesticides that have a huge environmental impact and pose a health risk to those who work around it. Cotton can be breed also more ethically without a massive amount of chemicals, but the process is much slower and therefore not as effective from the business perspectives. The manufacturing process also requires a tremendous amount of water, but many ethical brands have found ways to optimize their manufacturing process to reduce water usage. So always choose organic cotton to prevent extra environmental burden.
Bamboo and hemp are traditional substitutes for cotton and are slightly more ethical than cotton. Bamboo is fast-growing fibre without insecticides and pesticides and does not require replanting. Bamboo also transforms easily into yarn without great water usage and contains natural moisture-wicking properties. Bamboo is often found in soft garments. However, the development of bamboo into soft yarn is a long process in which bamboo often passes through a heavy chemical process. One example of chemically processed bamboo is a material called Bamboo Rayon. The chemical process is commonly used to turn bamboo textile into soft silk-like material. To preserve the natural characteristics of bamboo, some producers have started to use the lyocell technology (brand name TENCEL®) to transform bamboo into a soft textile. The lyocell is known of manufacturing the eucalyptus yarn and has lately been developed to preserve bamboo characteristics also in the bamboo textile production. Bamboo is known as the soft and comfortable material and has often been used in underwear material. For its soft qualities, bamboo can be used in yoga wear, after workout garments, in base layer sets and trekking clothing. Always choose naturally produced bamboo or Lyocell. Read more about bamboo here.
Hemp has been used in the textile industry for thousands of years. It is the most sustainable and durable option also for naturally sourced activewear textiles. Hemp provides natural UV-protection, but also holds its shape, stretching less than any other natural fibre. This prevents hemp fabric used in upholstery, demountable panels, acoustic panelling or as wallcovering from stretching out or becoming distorted with use. Growing hemp is also more sustainable than cotton and bamboo. It grows more densely, needs no pesticides or herbicides and returns almost 70% of the nutrients it takes back to the soil. The manufacturing process of hemp textile can be done organically through a mechanical process that requires no chemicals. Despite that, some companies produce hemp fabric chemically, in a process that is much more harmful to the environment, but faster and cheaper to create. So again, when choosing your hemp garment use only sustainable brands.
What comes to the heavy wear of activewear, the most used materials are often made of synthetic fibres due to their long-lasting properties. There are many disadvantages of synthetic fibres. Synthetic fibres are made from synthesized polymers or small molecules, the compounds that are used to make these fibres come from raw materials such as petroleum-based chemicals or petrochemicals. In addition to the environmental burden of petroleum-based chemical production, the constantly changing trends and lack of recycling makes synthetic materials as one of the worst environmental pollutants. Clothing brands are little by little acknowledging the issue with petroleum-based materials creating different alternatives for synthetic materials. One of these alternatives is using recycled materials.
Recycled polyester has boomed in the last decade due to the new innovations. Repreve is a high-quality material made out of recycled water bottles. Some brands are starting to use Repreve in a few of their products, and many smaller brands have established their whole production only around recycled polyester. A generic version of Repreve, commonly referred to as either PET™ or RPET™, is a material that offers a similar fabric content without the brand name.
Another option is Vita™, made by Carvico. This blended fabric is partially made from recycled fishing nets. It’s mostly suitable for water sports and as an alternative for lycra used to add elasticity to the fabric.
Other Sustainable Options
The sustainable textile industry is developing with a fast-pace, today we have fabrics made of recycled pineapple peels up to different variations of wood-based materials. There are several brilliant innovations used for transforming waste into durable activewear. One of these is Cupro. It is a regenerated cellulose fibre derived from cotton linter. Cotton linter is the short downy fibre that enfolds the cotton seeds. The unused fibres are not used in cotton production and are usually thrown away, but this fantastic resource can be transformed into Cupro.
Cupro is made in Japan to strict Japanese standards with absolutely no factory pollution. The production process is not releasing anything into the environment using only clean water systems. As a material Cupro is smooth, hypoallergenic, anti-static fabric with great resilience, especially in higher temperatures and can be machine washed and dried with no harm to the structure. The breathable fibre with micropores that quickly absorb moisture and release it to the outside making it a fantastic fabric to regulate body temperature by effectively reducing clinging and transporting moisture away from the skin. This outstanding material feels like a second skin making it a perfect fabric for activewear with amazing technical properties.
Another great alternative is Tencel™, the sustainably sourced natural wood-based fibre. This durable and easy to care material is also soft, breathable, lightweight and gentle against the body. Tencel™ has amazing properties with the balance of softness and great supporting compression. Made from the natural cellulose found in eucalyptus wood pulp. The fibre is economical in its use of energy and natural resources and is fully biodegradable.
Finally, another new fibre, called Micromodal®, is extracted from Beechwood which is sustainably grown in Europe. Beech trees are ecological as they grow by rejuvenation. Meaning that the trees propagate themselves and no artificial irrigation or planting is required. The Micromodal® fibres are produced using Swiss Edelweiss® fibre technology. It is a "symbiotic" production process where the raw material is generated at the same site as the modal fibre itself, in a meticulous closed-loop system. The process conserves energy and is entirely non-toxic process creating a fully bio-degradable thread. Micromodal® is the finest of all the Modal® family, making the most lightweight and comfortable garments. It is super soft and has the breathability of Cotton. Therefore, it often requires synthetic materials to its side to provide more technical workout garments.
In some sports, wool garments are also a great addition. Usually, we see wool garments in trecking clothes, winter sports garments and after workout outfits. However, nowadays many brands are using wool also as part of activewear collection, in yoga wear, running clothes or even in a gym workout — this due to the brilliant features of wool. It is breathable, keeps you dry, makes you warm and odour resistant. The natural grease of the wool makes the fibres antibacterial and even dirt repellent. Doesn't it sound amazing? But how about the durability? In more technical wool fibres. Merino, known as soft fibre, has all the features of the wool, but it is also extremely fine fibre, enabling it to bend far more than traditional, more coarse wool fibres. Making Merino fabric naturally elastic, breathable, both warm and even cool due to its moisture-wicking abilities, static resistant, odour resistant, stain-resistant and machine washable. Even finer wool than Merino wool and traditional sheep wool is Cashmere. The stronger, lighter, softer, and approximately three times more insulating than sheep wool, this yarn is the met in some luxury garments, and therefore often a bit more expensive. When looking for woolly sportswear, it is tremendously important to choose sustainable brands to ensure the well-being of the animals.
Naturally, it’s more expensive for vendors to produce garments in an environmentally friendly way, as well as pay their workers a fair wage. Many brands are making this possible by optimizing company structures and processes to enable an environmentally friendly way. As a customer it is good to question the sustainability of the brand across the production chain, taking into account the origin of materials and the production process, employee well-being and transportation, and storage. In addition to choosing sustainable activewear, buy only garments you really need and recycle the finished garment correctly to ensure your sustainable habits.
We at Garmendo are doing our best to help you to choose only carefully created, durable and fully sustainable activewear. Please let us know if you have any wishes regarding our selection! View our selection here.
Hello, I live un Switzerland and I am trainglot to find sports clothing for running but I cannot find any brand or store that specializes on natural and sustainable textiles? Do you know any local or international source?
Thanks in advance for your answer,
What are wonderfully informative article, I hope enough people take note, and implement it, I’m also interested in Vegan materials.
Thank you for your precious comment. Bamboo, Modal and Tencel can be all transformed into fiber with mechanical process with no use of chemicals. You are right, that most manufacturers use chemical process to break down the raw material into fine fibres saving time, money and resource.
Sustainable brands are using eco-friendly manufacturing processes as mechanical pulp and fiber process, or chemical process using only chemicals that are free of toxins. Luckily, we have also chemicals that are kind for nature, and increasing amount of eco-friendly manufacturers. To ensure the toxic-free products favor eco-certified products as Manduka and Vyayama.
hi the semi synthetics here (bamboo, modal, tencel, i understand from manufacturers all go through a petrochemical step or steps to break down the natural fibers (pulp). i noticed this information isnt included here but think its important.