10 Sustainable Activewear Brands Worth Breaking a Sweat In
The Best Sustainable Activewear Brands
With images of plastic straws in sea turtles noses, polar bears wandering on tiny blocks of ice, and baby koalas barely escaping wildfires blowing up on social media, more and more consumers are looking to make environmentally conscious buying decisions to reduce their individual impact.
Maybe you started biking to work once a week, adopted a plant-based diet, or cut back on single-use plastics. And while these relatively simple lifestyle changes can help cut carbon emissions that cause global warming, there's still more you can do.
Another way to amp up your efforts? Reducing your fast-fashion habits. The textile industry uses nearly 100 million tons of non-renewable resources every year, and producing plastic-based fibers (think: polyester, acrylic, nylon, and spandex that are typically used in low-cost apparel) requires approximately 342 million barrels of oil every year, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a charity focused on accelerating the transition to an economy that aims to eliminate waste and continuously reuse resources. That’s enough oil to fill 21,755 Olympic swimming pools, btw. Synthetically grown cotton doesn’t fare much better for the environment, either, as it requires roughly 200,000 tons of pesticides annually.
Buying clothing that’s been produced with sustainable fabrics—including recycled polyester, organic cotton, and other plant-based materials—and techniques can help mitigate these problems. But sustainability isn’t just about reducing the harm done to Mother Earth—it also involves promoting social welfare, fair labor practices, and inclusivity. Translation: The people making your clothes should factor into your purchasing decision, too. (Learn more about how to shop for sustainable activewear.)
Since activewear is typically made from synthetic fabrics such as polyester and nylon to keep you cool and sweat-free, it’s also one of the easiest categories for you to begin reducing your closet’s environmental impact. To get started, turn to these sustainable activewear brands that have hit the green mark in regards to materials, working conditions, production methods, and more.
The activewear brand that’s been flooding your Instagram feed is much more than bold and bright workout sets—it’s also a champion of sustainable clothing. Instead of creating new plastic to use in its leggings and tees, Girlfriend Collective turns to materials that are already available and ready to take on a new life, including recycled polyester and cupro, a waste product from the harvest of cotton.
The fabric is colored with eco-friendly dyes, and the wastewater from the process is filtered to prevent any dyes and stray fibers from getting into waterways. From there, the fabric is cut and sewn in a Vietnam-based SA8000 certified factory, which guarantees that there is no forced or child labor, there are safe working conditions, and workers receive living wages (meaning they can afford a decent standard of living, including food, water, housing, education, and all other needs) and have the right to unionize. Finally, Girlfriend Collective’s garments are shipped straight to your door in 100-percent recycled packaging that can be recycled again.
The sustainable activewear brand doesn’t sacrifice style with its low environmental impact, either. The compressive high-rise leggings (Buy It, $68, girlfriend.com) are made from 25 recycled post-consumer plastic bottles, meaning more than two-thirds of the squat-proof pants are composed of recycled polyester. Pair the leggings with the 100-percent-biodegradable, cupro-crafted Perfect Tank (Buy It, $26, girlfriend.com), which has a muscle-tank cut designed to keep you cool while you sweat.
To activewear brand prAna, sustainable clothing respects the people and the planet, and it sure lives up to its values. The company was the first North American apparel brand to produce Fair Trade-certified clothing, which means that the factories have safe working conditions, maternity leave, fair pay, no child or forced labor, no harmful chemicals, and more. To promote transparency and allow its customers to decide if the manufacturing is up to their personal standards, prAna makes a list of all of the players in their supply chain publicly available online.
As for the clothes themselves, some breezy tops (Buy It, $35, prana.com) are made with Organic Content Standard (OCS)- or Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)-certified organic cotton, which is grown using chemical-free pesticides and fertilizers and uses less water than conventionally grown cotton. The hoodies (Buy It, $89, prana.com) are crafted with recycled wool, which is reclaimed from textile waste or discarded garments and doesn’t require additional dyes to achieve the ideal color. Other pieces, such as the bra tops (Buy It, $59, prana.com) and workout tanks (Buy It, $49, prana.com) are made with recycled polyester.
Threads 4 Thought
Founded in 2006, Threads 4 Thought is on a mission to set higher ethical and environmental standards within the fashion industry—and help you look cute while doing it. The activewear company is creating sports bras (Buy It, $58, threads4thought.com) and leggings (Buy It, $88, threads4thought.com) made from recycled polyester and recycled nylon fishing nets, as well as workout tanks (Buy It, $48, threadsforthought.com) from organic cotton, that leave a smaller environmental footprint than other garments made with synthetic fabrics. Threads 4 Thought also uses innovative eco-friendly materials such as Lenzing Modal—a compostable, biodegradable fiber derived from the bark of beech trees—in pieces such as the lightweight Connie Jogger (Buy It, $68, threads4thought.com). (Before you buy a sports bra, follow these steps to ensure it's the perfect fit for you.)
Aside from the materials used, Threads 4 Thought also holds its factories up to rigorous standards in regard to workplace conditions and environmental impact. Every supplier must allow workers to air any grievances, and no employee can work more than 44 hours during a regular workweek. On the environmental front, suppliers must aim to reduce water use, which has already had significant impacts: On average, the factories that produce Threads 4 Thought's clothes use less than half of the water per garment than is typically used in production, and more than 80 percent of wastewater is recycled and reused.
The brand is focused on innovating its current production practices to reduce future impact too, and they have plans to implement new technology that dyes fabrics in a closed-loop system (meaning there’s no waste) that uses 95 percent less water and no chemicals.
Miakoda New York
What Miakoda New York lacks in eye-catching designs it makes up for in its praise-worthy sustainability practices. Some of the brand’s monochromatic yoga clothes, such as the Athletic Moon Bralette (Buy It, $60, miakodanewyork.com) and High-Waisted Leggings (Buy It, $98, miakodanewyork.com) are made from GOTS-certified organic cotton and bamboo, a renewable resource that efficiently takes in carbon dioxide and helps mitigate climate change. The result: seriously soft and eco-friendly clothing that wicks away sweat when you need it most.
Other products, including the Unisex Tee (Buy It, $62, miakodanewyork.com) and French Terry Joggers (Buy It, $92, miakodanewyork.com), are partially crafted from lyocell, a material produced from the cellulose in wood, cotton scraps, and other plant-based materials that’s both soft and strong. (Related: Black and White Workout Clothes You Need In Your Closet)
Miakoda New York doesn’t overlook the ecological impact of its production methods, either. Each garment is made in New York City factories that abide by the Worldwide Responsible Apparel Production (WRAP) regulations, which ensure workers are paid at least minimum wages, provided benefits, and have the right to unionize.
Patagonia just might be the star player on #TeamSustainability. The outdoor clothing and gear company uses recycled materials—including cotton, polyester, nylon, down, cashmere, and wool—in 72 percent of its products. Plus, all the cotton used in its clothing is organic.
To color fabric made from synthetic materials, Patagonia turns to solution dyeing, which involves adding pigment directly to the molten plastic solution before the fiber is made. This process uses 90 percent less water and emits 96 percent less CO2 than a conventional batch dyeing process, which ultimately helps reduce the impacts of climate change, including flooding from a rise in sea level, extreme heat, and ocean acidification.
The workers involved in creating its activewear are supported too: Two-thirds of its products are sewn in Fair Trade-certified factories. What’s more, since 1985, the company has donated one percent of total annual sales to environmental nonprofits around the globe through its self-imposed tax known as 1% for the Planet.
The apparel company is also exploring waterless dyeing processes to further cut water usage, and by 2025, it’s aiming to be carbon neutral and ensure all apparel is made from 100 percent recycled, reclaimed, or renewable resources. In the meantime, shop eco-friendly wears such as the Lightweight Pack Out Tights (Buy It, $99, patagonia.com) and the Cross Beta Sports Bra (Buy It, $45, patagonia.com).
Rooted in the idea that “we are one,” the leaders behind WE-AR recognize the interconnectedness of all people, companies, and the choices they make, which is why they infuse environmentally sound practices into every aspect of the brand’s offerings. The sustainable activewear company uses organic cotton, bamboo, Lenzing Modal, and TENCEL—a branded type of lyocell produced from sustainably sourced wood pulp—across collections, including the Cross Back Organic Bra (Buy It, $48, we-ar.com) and Tri-Ka Bamboo Leggings (Buy It, $75, we-ar.com).
To reduce waste on the production level, WE-AR continuously improves the efficiency of cutting its fabrics and upcycles unavoidable fabric scraps into hair ties, jewelry bags, and more. Natural and plant-based dyes are also used to reduce water and energy consumption, along with environmental harm. As for the social responsibility component of sustainability, the clothing company ensures working conditions are safe and hygienic, workers are paid a living wage, and they have the right to form a union.
Small scale retailers aren’t the only places you can score sustainable activewear. Athleta is a Certified B-Corporation, making it legally required to consider the impact of its decisions on its workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment. The result: Sixty percent of its materials are made from sustainable fibers (think recycled polyester, TENCEL, organic cotton, and Econyl, branded type of recycled nylon), and the company is aiming to increase this proportion to 80 percent this year.
Athleta has also worked to help two of its factories obtain Fair Trade certification, as well as established Gap’s Personal Advancement and Career Enhancement (PACE) program at 14 of its factories, which has helped 3,212 women receive technical training needed to advance in the workplace. (You *have* to see Athleta’s ad with the world’s oldest yoga teacher.)
To make shopping for eco-friendly activewear a breeze, Athleta dedicates entire categories on its website to sustainable clothes, like the Match Point Skirt (Buy It, $69, athleta.com) and Cloudlight Relaxed Muscle Tank (Buy It, $44, athleta.com)
By purchasing activewear from U.S.-based Nube, you’re not only supporting the environment, but you’re also supporting artists and designers around the world. On top of using recycled polyester-based fabrics, applying low-impact, non-toxic dyes, and sewing the clothes in its own studio in East Los Angeles, the sustainable activewear brand partners with creatives to craft prints inspired by the environmental crisis. The resulting designs are showcased on Nube’s leggings and cropped tanks, and five percent of profits from every item sold are given to the artist.
Next on Nube’s to-do list: Developing a take-back program in which you can send off your worn down Artifact Leggings (Buy It, $95, nubeusa.com) and Current Cropped Tank (Buy It, $45, nubeusa.com) to be transformed into new products. (You’ll love these eye-catching printed workout leggings too.)
Based in Boulder, Colorado, Pact is making sustainable activewear adorable and accessible. The Go-To Leggings (Buy It, wearpact.com) are made with GOTS-certified organic cotton and crafted in a Fair Trade-certified factory, yet sport a $35 price tag. The same goes for the Modern Racerback Sports Bra (Buy It, wearpact.com), which will cost you just $25.
Since fabrics blended with spandex are more difficult to recycle, Pact also offers a 100-percent organic cotton collection featuring lightweight tees, hoodies, and—wait for it—sweatshirt dresses (Buy It, $60, wearpact.com). Get ready to wear loungewear all day, every day. (Related: Sporty Athleisure Dresses for Working Out and Beyond)
With its sweat-wicking activewear and durable shoes, Merrell is making it easy to look good while doing good. The brand’s TENCEL Tank (Buy It, $30, merrell.com) and Trek TENCEL Full Zip (Buy It, $99, merrell.com) are both largely composed of TENCEL and REPREVE, a branded performance fiber made from recycled materials including plastic bottles. But Merrell’s biggest eco-friendly draw is its Gridway sneaker collection: The kicks’ knit upper are made from recycled yarn, while the supportive base is made from recycled ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA), a foam commonly used in footwear. Even the outsoles are constructed with recycled rubber.
As a member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, Merrell looks to the Higg Index—a group of tools that helps companies accurately measure and score their sustainability performance—to guide its focus on sustainability and determine which practices can be made more sustainable. Translation: The company is ready to make changes that continue to support the environment, its workers, and you. Currently, it’s looking to use water-saving techniques like solution dyeing.