Yes, I’m a registered dietitian and my blog typically offers recipes and tips to fuel your busy lifestyle. But, the focus of my business is sports and fitness nutrition, so I know most of you reading this are also purchasing workout clothes. I already have a post one realistic tips for a sustainable kitchen and have a guest post coming later this month on how the environmental impact of excess animal agriculture isn’t about carbon emissions. So, why not use my influence to raise awareness of the best sustainable activewear brands?
What About Thrifting for Sustainability?
While I have made some thrift purchases via ThredUp for Cooper (we scored an amazing winter coat for $14, for example), and I hear there’s a lot of great options on those sites for clothing that is new with tags, I personally don’t want to be wearing workout clothes that other people have been heavily sweating in. So, while I firmly support thrifting to reduce the immense textile waste, for activewear I turn to brands that have sustainability as a part of their core values.
I also encourage everyone to wear their clothes until they are truly past their prime quality wise, and to just purchase higher quality items that will last longer. This reduces waste and excess production and purchasing. For example, while I am not promoting them at all as an eco-friendly brand, and believe their quality isn’t what it used to be, I have several Lululemon items that I’ve been wearing for about 10 years.
Often times, choosing higher quality pieces can also mean the people producing your clothing were paid a fair wage and working in an ethically appropriate environment. I’ll get into one standard to help you recognize this below.
Are all B-Corp Certified Companies Eco-Friendly?
While I love that brands like Athleta (mentioned below) are B-Corp certified, and seek out the B-Corp label for many other purchases, too, sustainability isn’t the only factor considered in their certification process. However, they are looked at the entire company’s social and environmental impacts. This means looking past whether the article of clothing you’re purchasing is made of recycled fibers and organic cotton to considering LEED certification on company buildings, economic sustainability for employees and communities, and social justice factors for workers and customers, plus more.
But, since 100% of a company’s practice don’t have to fit into these categories, you may find a yogurt that has ingredients from factory farming, and a clothing item that isn’t sustainably made since the rest of the company’s practices are positive enough to overshadow those. So, I’ll give tips below on what to look for as a guide (but not end all be all) when purchasing from B-Corps. Remember, it’s important to be flexible and realistic. We need everyone making imperfect lifestyle choices, not just a handful of people making perfect choices.
The Best Sustainable Activewear Brands
When considering what qualified as the best sustainable activewear, I take into consideration not only materials that items are made from, but also what’s going on behind the scenes with sustainable wages for workers and sustainable practices in factories and manufacturing.
I have to start with a shout out to Athleta. As a major brand for athletic wear, they set their first public sustainability goals in 2017 and now have over 60% of their materials made from recycled or sustainable fibers. By the end of 2020 they’re goal is to reach 80% while also increasing to 25% of products made with water-saving techniques. They’ve also diverted 70% of their waste from landfills. What I like the most is that they are also constantly working bring the P.A.C.E program, an initiative by Gap to support women in the global apparel industry, to more and more of their factories while also transitioning some to Fair Trade Certification.
On top of those reasons, I’m listing Athleta first because even if every clothing brand had the same sustainability initiatives and practices, this would still be my “go-to” store when I purchase workout clothes and athleisure, too. Whether it’s sports bras, running shorts and pants or yoga leggings and tops, this is usually the first place I look.
I also have been buying at least a couple of pieces of “real clothing” each season. This includes what I call my “travel pants” since they’re always what I grab for a road trip in the car or a plane ride, spring through fall. I have them in the olive color and they’re still super versatile. We even got my sister an awesome rain jacket recently and if I needed a new winter coat, I’d probably get one from here since they are on trend, sustainable, and don’t use real feathers.
I don’t remember how I first stumbled upon GoLite sustainable activewear, but it was likely in an article about sustainable clothing! Since then I’ve fallen in love with their casual joggers, running pants, and even their wind-shell. While I would view their performance athletic products as being designed more for runners, hikers, and outdoor fitness, I wear my running pants for weight training sessions and even dance fitness classes, too!
Over 90% of GoLite’s products are made with recycled materials, predominantly plastic bottles, but you’d never know it. Like some other companies I’m covering in this post, all of their recycled clothing is ethically made with fair trade practices and they partner with factories that pay fair wages and offer a safe, nondiscriminatory environment.
I can attest to their items being very high quality. I do recommend sizing down versus up if you’re a female who tends to run between sizes, especially for pants! I was lucky enough to be gifted their award winning eco-friendly wind-shell for running and hiking, which I highly recommend, and they were kind enough to provide a discount code for 25% off of full priced items. You can enter KELLYJONES at checkout for any purchases (not only your first), but be sure to look at the top of the webpage to see if there’s a better deal running on the banner before entering that code and assuming it’s the best one!
I’m a big fan of New Balance for running shoes and weight training shoes in terms of their performance. I feel confident purchasing their products knowing they’ve long claimed to produce their products with social, economic and environmental sustainability in mind. While it may seem basic, New Balance is committed to supporting basic human rights (unlike many other popular shoe brands).
They also help suppliers invest in energy efficiency and carbon reduction initiatives while actually following safe waste guidelines to ensure they aren’t polluting water, as many companies do. They’ve also reduced energy use in production by close to 30% and they’ve committed to sourcing 100% of their electricity from renewable energy by 2025. By signing the UN Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Change, New Balance will also reduce all greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030.
In terms of other running shoe companies, while I was pleasantly surprised to find Adidas commit to 100% recycled plastic (polyester) by 2024, I’m still unsure about their labor standards. Some sources claim their workers are still paid unlivable wages, while their website says they “aspire” for workers to earn enough for basic needs. Their statement also says “we do not determine what factories pay their workers” but “as a buyer we influence a factory’s ability to pay it’s workforce (via)… prices we pay for products and by sourcing and buying products responsibly”.
PACT Organic Athleisure
Our whole family wears Pact clothing multiple times per week. I may be using athleisure incorrectly, since it more refers to super fashion forward athletic-inspired clothing, but Pact makes cute and comfortable staple pieces for our wardrobes that pair well with other pieces we own. From Cooper’s joggers, shirts and the cutest toddler boxer briefs, to Tim’s shirts and sweats, and my zip ups and casual dresses, we’re big fans.
Without making their items a ridiculous amount of money, Pact uses organic cotton, which uses 91% less water to produce! It also dramatically reduces pesticide use, since genetically engineered cotton is made to resist pesticides so that heavier amounts can be sprayed. Past that, all Pact items are Fair Trade, their packaging is compostable, and they use all non-toxic dyes. While they don’t have a wide line of items for my workouts, Pact makes up so much of my casual and comfy wear!
Beyond yoga is one of the top in trendy yoga and fitness wear due to their colorful styles and buttery soft material. In addition to being a body positive activewear line that seeks to empower women of all shapes and sizes, ethical practices are incorporated throughout the layers of the brand.
While not all garments are made with recycled materials, the company does commit to responsibly sourcing their materials and does use some recycled materials in their clothing and facilities. When it comes to responsible sourcing and a commitment to ethical standards for their workers, Beyond Yoga ensures all of their global manufacturing partners are WRAP certified – which stands for worldwide responsible accredited production. Additionally, a portion of sales from their amazing maternity collection goes to supporting underprivileged moms-to-be.
Others Sustainable Activewear Brands
While I haven’t personally purchased any of their products other brands that show up when you search for the best sustainable activewear include, Outdoor Voices and The Girlfriend Collective. It may also go without saying that Patagonia has been leading the charge in sustainability for decades! Additionally, Threads for Thought is a brand I have a couple of products from, but haven’t purchased from in years, solely mainly because there are just other options I’ve found fit my body a bit better.
I’d love to hear what brands you purchase that have sustainability and social-justice practices in mind! Please share the best sustainable activewear you choose in the comments.