It's no secret that over the last few years we've become far more eco-conscious. Slowly, brands are changing their processes to be more sustainable. From the way they are manufactured, through to the shipping process and the materials they're made from.
The fashion industry is one of the world's largest polluters. Textile waste and greenhouse gases emitted during the manufacturing process pollute the planet, while chemicals and plastic are entered into the soil and the atmosphere, damaging crops, animals and impacting human health.
As consumer demand for more environmentally-friendly products increases, as does the range of sustainable clothing available, however, within sportswear, this is still a rare find.
If you're looking to purchase some new sportswear that is friendlier for the planet and better for those who produce and grow the raw materials, then yes, ZOUMA should be the one for you (wink, wink). But we know we can't cater for everything, so if you're browsing elsewhere there's a few different fabrics to look out for.
In order to help, we have collated our expert guide to materials for sustainable sportswear. We talk you through each material, its advantages and why it is effective for exercise gear.
Keep reading to find out more!
What to Look Out For
If you are looking for a new workout outfit that is kinder to the planet and made from fabrics that are more sustainable, there are some key features to look out for. Firstly, look for garments that are recycled, reusable, recyclable or biodegradable as this reduces waste. Any fashion should be ethically produced, with workers paid fairly for their craft in order for it to be socially just.
The supply chain should also be efficient, with as little as possible CO2, water and energy emissions during the transportation process.
1. Recycled Polyester
Polyester is a great material for activewear, and recycled polyester is even more sustainable. Usually, to make it stretchier, the material is blended with elastane or spandex. Another name for this type of fabric is rPET, and it is usually made from industrial polyester waste, used polyester garments and plastic PET bottles.
One advantage of this fibre is that it is affordable and durable and can be more functional than many natural fibres on the market. Compared to natural materials, polyester uses less land and water to produce. Studies have, in fact, shown that recycled polyester can reduce energy consumption by as much as 50% and can reduce carbon emissions by over half.
Using recycled polyester is a great idea as it saves garments that are already manufactured from simply being sent to landfill. Instead, they are repurposed into new clothing as polyester has a great reputation for being recycled without negatively impacting the quality of the cloth.
It is important to note that the recycling process can be costly, and due to this, prices for these garments may be higher.
Nylon is another popular synthetic fabric often used in sportswear, as well as swimwear. It is one of the most high-performing and technical fabrics on our list and is also environmentally friendly if recycled. Similar to recycled polyester, recycled nylon is often blended with a stretch fabric such as elastane or spandex to help with fit.
Recycled nylon comes from a variety of sources such as carpet, fishing nets, scraps from fabric and post-industrial waste such as landfill plastic and plastic waste from the ocean. Therefore, it not only stops more waste products heading to landfill, but it also cleans up the environment.
When it comes to the production of the fabric, the recycled version of the product uses much less water and power compared to fresh, newly made nylon. Studies have shown, in fact, that for every one ton of nylon produced, recycled nylon uses around 7 barrels less of oil and reduces CO2 emissions by approximately 5.7 tonnes.
Look out for Econyl and Repreve Nylon when shopping!
Bamboo is great for the environment because it grows naturally and quickly without the use of harmful pesticides or insecticides that can damage the surroundings. On top of this, the plant does not require large amounts of water to grow and it is naturally moisture-wicking, making it great for workout kit.
Turning bamboo into yarn can be a complex process that can involve heavy chemicals so it is important to check what kind of bamboo fabric that the clothing is made from. Chemically processed bamboo such as rayon and some materials with bamboo in it such as viscose use these heavy chemicals in their manufacturing process. Instead, look for bamboo fabrics such as Tencel, that use Lyocell technology, which utilizes eucalyptus yarn instead of the heavy chemicals in their production process.
Look out for Tencel when shopping.
4. Organic Cotton
Cotton is a very popular fabric when it comes to sportswear. It is generally kinder to the environment as it uses natural fertilisers and pesticides and is non-GMO instead of relying on chemicals that can damage the landscape. Organic cotton uses around 88% less water and requires far less energy to produce, so is a far more sustainable product than standard cotton.
The production of organic cotton also has a great impact on the farmers and growers, who are paid a fairer wage and work in better conditions than those growing traditional cotton. Organic cotton farmers are also not exposed to the harmful chemicals from fertilisers that can have serious impacts on their health.
In order to create excellent sportswear, organic cotton is usually blended with spandex to allow it to stretch and have a better fit.
5. Merino Wool
Winter sports enthusiasts will be familiar with the use of wool in sporting garments as it is a great warm material that is perfect for the ski slopes, or trekking trails. Recently, however, it's become a more popular staple in other types of sportswear clothing from running gear, to yoga pants. This is because of the many advantages that wool has over other fabrics. The material, for example, contains an element of natural grease – this cannot be felt by the wearer, but it does make the fabric dirt repellent and anti-bacterial, leading to a cleaner feeling when exercising.
Merino wool is extremely high quality and is known for its soft texture. It can be easily blended with other fabrics and is naturally breathable, allowing the body to perspire when exercising. The naturally flexible fabric keeps you warm in the cold, but cool in the heat due to its moisture-wicking properties. Merino wool is also resistant to odours and static and can be easily washed in a machine, making it a great activewear choice.
Compared to traditional wool from sheep, merino wool is up to three times more insulating and is of a finer, higher quality, making it a more expensive option, but worth the cost. It is vitally important when choosing sportswear made from wool to consider the brand and how it has been made as this will ensure the animal’s welfare.
There are many different fabrics available on the market that can create functional and stylish sportswear while reducing the burden on the environment.
However, in order to hold brands accountable, it is important to question a brand’s sustainable choices not just the materials that their sportswear is made from, but how they treat their employees, where their products are produced, and how they are transported.
When shopping for sustainable sports apparel, remember to choose pieces that you are likely to wear for a long time too!
At ZOUMA, we are fully committed to creating carefully curated, durable, sustainable sportswear, that is not only environmentally-friendly, but practical.