From HIIT workouts and spin sessions to daily errands, we demand a lot more from our activewear than we used to. And there’s no sign of this slowing down. In fact, the athleisure industry is expected to grow by $80.74 billion by 2026.
But there’s a darker side to some of our favorite stretchy fabrics, and the implications of this booming industry means the environment is taking an unnecessary hit. Nearly 85 percent of all textiles end up in landfills or burned each year, and the fashion industry as a whole is responsible for an estimated 10 percent of global carbon emissions and 20 percent of all wastewater.
What’s more, approximately 35 percent of microplastics found in the ocean are from laundering synthetic fabrics such as polyester (one of the most popular fabrics used in activewear), according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)—that’s the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles entering the ocean every year—all through the washing machine.
A small step we can take towards protecting our environment is purchasing eco-friendly and sustainable products, which means looking for companies who are committed to harvesting resources without depleting or damaging them. Factoring in the manufacturing location and condition, materials that are used, dyeing processes, reputable certifications earned, and the quality and lifespan of the items you purchase can all contribute to easing the load on our planet.
To get you started, here are six sustainable activewear brands we can get behind.
Based in: Sweden
Ethics: Replenishing Panama forests, eco-friendly delivery & ethical manufacturing
Best for: Matching activewear sets
Size range: XS - XXL
STRONGER uses 75 percent recycled polyester to create breathable, quality pieces. By limiting the usage of new textiles, STRONGER aims to reduce their environmental impact and is committed to continuously finding new ways to be a part of the solution.
This company is dedicated to compensating all carbon emissions produced by customer deliveries (and returns) by donating a portion of their proceeds to replenishing forests in Panama.
Based in: Seattle, WA
Ethics: Eco-friendly materials & #BlackLivesMatter initiatives
Best for: Size-inclusive activewear
Size range: XXS - 6XL
As a pioneer in sustainable activewear, Girlfriend Collective is constantly improving the ethical standard in which their clothing is made.
Items are made with up to 90 percent recycled plastic water bottles, and Girlfriend Collective provides impressive sustainability reports outlining the number of water bottles diverted from landfills, CO2 prevented, and water saved for each unique product in their shop.
With global stats showing that just one percent of all clothing is recycled, Girlfriend Collective is part of the change. While their quality products promise to live many, many years in your wardrobe, Girlfriend Collective encourages customers to recycle unwanted items back through ReGirlfriend, a program that shreds and reuses materials for new collections.
Based in: Los Angeles, CA
Ethics: Partnered with Climate Neutral & OEKO-Tex Certified Recycled P.E.T.
Best for: Activewear & swimwear
Size range: XS - XXL
Wolven is on a mission to make sustainable sexy—and they mean it. For every Wolven order, 1 lb of ocean-bound plastic is collected. Not only is Wolven producing activewear as eco-friendly as possible, they’ve also partnered with Climate Neutral to offset their carbon footprint and deliver products with the lowest possible impact on the environment.
Wolven activewear uses OEKO-Tex Certified Recycled P.E.T fabrics that produce 79 percent less carbon emissions than their virgin counterpart. Plus, the fabric derived from discarded water bottles is ultra-soft, quick-drying, and odor-resistant, making it perfect for your sweatiest workouts through to coffee with a friend.
While Wolven admits there is no perfect eco-friendly solution to packaging, all orders arrive tied in a minimal piece of hemp twine in a reusable, 100-percent recycled poly mail or biodegradable paper box.
Based in: New York, NY
Ethics: WRAP-certified factories, recycled materials & giving back 10 percent of profits
Best for: Casual wear
Size range: S - XXL
Wholesome Culture is a women-run company looking to spread kindness to others and the environment through eco-friendly clothing designed to be a conversation starter. With 10 percent of profits committed to animal rescue and environmental organizations (all the details can be found on their website), each product is made to live up to the company’s values.
Items are crafted with recycled nylon made from waste such as fishing nets or fabric scraps, and use eco-friendly, water-based ink. Wholesome Culture is dedicated to human rights using only WRAP-certified factories—you can track exactly where each product was made directly on their website.
Wholesome Culture also has a strict do-not-shred policy and donates all extra pieces to women in need.
Based in: Hood River, OR
Ethics: Sustainable sourced fabric & clean dye-houses
Best for: Luxury activewear & cashmere staples
Size range: XS - XL
Vyayama activewear uses KALABLAK™ Tencel® and printed Tencel® fabrics made from sustainably harvested eucalyptus that don’t require added chemicals to wick moisture from your skin or prevent bacteria growth. The biodegradable fabric is certified 100-percent safe for the wearer by the European Oeko-tex Standard 100 and is extremely durable—meaning you won’t need to purchase as often.
By using fabrics knitted in the same area as garment production, Vyayama also reduces product transportation and its negative impact on the environment.
Based in: Regina, Canada
Ethics: Ethical manufacturing, sustainable materials & 10 trees planted per product
Best for: Simple graphic tees, loungewear & activewear
Size range: XS - XL
Since first appearing on Canada’s Dragon’s Den in 2013, tentree has planted over 55 million trees and become widely known for their commitment to planting 10 trees for every item purchased—the company plans to plant one billion trees by 2030.
While tentree’s primary focus is to plant mangrove trees (the most efficient carbon-sequestering trees) in Madagascar, the company provides detailed information about why, where, and how many trees are being planted around the globe at any given time. They continue their transparency by publishing their production analysis, which outlines their manufacturing impact and efforts to more than eliminate their carbon footprint.
The buttery soft inMotion activewear line is made of 79 percent recycled polyester and made to stand up to serious sweat. The eco-friendly drirelease® and zinc-based additives control odor, moisture, and bacteria from the spin bike to running errands.