As activewear continues to make its way into daily wear, there are a growing number of companies eager to facilitate our casual ways ethically and sustainably. I have found that 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.
Textile choice is, of course, paramount to athleticwear performance. I myself do not do a lot of vigorous activity so I prefer natural fibres like cotton and wool over polyblends; however, I realize these textiles are important to people who like sporting the sports. As we know, when choosing petroleum based textiles, look for recycled fibres if possible. Secondhand items are also a good choice and I can tell you there is a lot of unused athletic equipment and apparel out there, just check eBay.
This list isn't exhaustive so feel free to leave your favorite ethical activewear brands in the comments.
This brand has really expanded its offerings lately, so remember them when you need soft and durable natural fabrics. Their alpaca and pima cotton fabrics are produced by their partners in Peru. Design, dying, and development takes place in the US and fair labor factories in Guatemala and the Dominican Republic cut and sew the designs. Men and women can shop Alternative Apparel for pants, tees, tanks, and a whole yoga section called Move.
The Icebreaker line includes underwear, mid layer garments, outerwear, socks, and accessories for men, women, and kids available in more than 3000 stores in 43 countries. Icebreaker relies on nature's design of merino wool rather than petroleum-based textiles. They are open about their sustainable ideals and a Baacode system even allows you to trace your item back to the sheep station where it came from. I bought an undershirt from Icebreaker a few months ago and it kept me warm, but comfortable throughout this long winter. I would highly recommend it over the Uniqlo Heattech that I used to wear. Even though it's wool, the ultralight options are suitable for hot weather and will help regulate temperature, wick sweat, and resist odors better than manmade fibres.
LVR is designed and handmade in Los Angeles, California, working with factories and dye houses with high standards of ethics. They utilize low-impact dyes, organic cotton blends, hemp, certain types of rayon made from bamboo, recycled polyester, and modal with respect to the environment. LVR donates a portion of their revenues to a wildlife rescue center in Guatemala called ARCAS and makes monthly donations of clothing to the Downtown Women’s Center in Los Angeles.
PrAna is a Textile Exchange member and bluesign® systems partner. They use organic cotton, hemp, and recycled polyester to create products specifically for climbers and yogis. Their traceability has been meticulously documented — read more here. Find apparel, activewear, equipment, and accessories for men and women on their website.
This brand blurs the line between fashion and yoga apparel with their fair trade, organic offerings sizes 0-16. This Green America Certified business uses organic fibres, low impact dying, and supports non-profits like the Waterwheel Foundation. Read more about their practices here.
Bamboo, unlike some brands claim, is not inherently eco-friendly. It takes a lot of chemicals to turn bamboo into a textile. If a brand doesn't take steps to recapture the water, it can pollute and cause problems. However, I am including this brand because vegan shoppers might be looking for alternatives to wool and petroleum-based textiles. Tasc Performance takes such care in their production process that the resulting fabric is certified Oeko Tex 100. Find products for a range of activities on their site.
This is not apparel, but it's one of the coolest things I've seen recently. Uncharted Play is a social enterprise designed to show the world that play can inspire innovation. Nearly 1.2 billion people around the world lack access to reliable electricity, which has been linked to lung cancer and disease, perpetual poverty, low rates of education, high rates of infant mortality, and greenhouse gas emissions. Uncharted Play's products generate clean, grid-free energy powered by play. With every purchase, Uncharted Play gives one child access to their energy-generating play products and their Think Out of Bounds curriculum.
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Look for biodegradable or recyclable equipment like yoga mats and balls.
This post contains affiliate links, which means I get a small commission if you buy anything through the link (it doesn't change the amount you pay). I only include brands that I believe in, that I would use myself, or think might be of interest to you.