The sustainable Irish and international brands creating activewear and gym gear that are kinder to the environment …
If I am lacking a little motivation, I dress in activewear. I find something strangely reassuring about the skintight feel of compressed leggings or the support of a good sports bra. My mood brightens in these clothes: I feel ready to take on the day or, as we trudge further into 2021, the year. It seems I’m not alone in this: Allied Market Research reports that the global activewear industry is expected to reach nearly $547 billion by 2024. Clearly, we all enjoy the placebo effect of an athleisure ensemble.
However, for clothing items dedicated to personal care and wellbeing – items that encourage us to get out and appreciate the natural world – activewear is unconscionably detrimental to our environment due to its reliance on synthetic materials such as polyester, spandex, nylon, and acrylic. From oily beginnings as a non-renewable resource, to its energy-intensive and chemical-reliant manufacturing, to the leaching of microplastics into our oceans with every wash, most activewear – while wonderful for our motivation, self-confidence and performance – is quite literally rubbish for our planet.
Yet trying to avoid synthetics by opting for cotton alternatives is equally dubious. While cotton activewear might prevent microfibre leaching, its production comes with its own environmental issues, requiring 2,700 gallons of water to produce a single cotton T-shirt. Cotton farming remains a large polluter due to widespread pesticide and insecticide use, yet in spite of this, only one-third of harvests are used for textile manufacturing. The remaining two thirds are discarded.
Typically, this is where I would suggest secondhand clothing options or some crafty upcycling technique – anything to discourage you from buying new! However, while my caveat of “don’t buy if you don’t need” remains firmly in place (and my use of need here is literal), for once I am not going to bemoan the buying of new clothes: my penchant for preloved does not extend to the world of Lycra. In the sweat-filled and porous arena of teeth-clenched exercise, even I baulk at the thought of hand-me-down leggings.
Yet buying new doesn’t necessarily mean buying virgin. Many companies are repurposing nylon or recycling plastic waste that would otherwise have ended up in landfill or oceans to create functional and funky sportswear that eliminates waste at all levels of the supply chain. Girlfriend Collective is one such business, turning single-use plastic into comfortable and affordable workout gear, with every pair of brightly-coloured leggings made from 25 recycled plastic bottles. In a wellness world often accused of being exploitative, exclusive and elitist, Girlfriend Collective is not only lauded for its low environmental impact, but equally their efforts to ensure ethical working conditions and size inclusivity in an industry in which most ethical activewear ends at a size 18. As a pastel-outfitted devotee, I can confirm the whole Girlfriend experience – from your order’s arrival in 100 per cent recycled and reusable packaging to their everyday wearing – is a joyful celebration of comfort and empowerment.
TALA is also creating durable and supportive (and stylish) activewear from waste materials. What I like most about TALA is the innovative packaging – 100 per cent recycled plastic, recyclable and even plantable, with every clothing tag containing seasonal seeds to plant and grow – and an in-depth listing of not just the location of their factories but the products each factory makes. This level of transparency, coupled with a breakdown of the materials in each item of clothing, means you can make an informed decision not just about what you buy but from where.
If you would like to avoid plastic-based clothing altogether while still sidestepping the quagmire that is cotton production, I am delighted to tell you that you have choices. Many of them. One option is to support female-founded and small Irish business, Organic Movement (pictured, above). OM creates beautiful yoga sets from organic and ethically sourced cotton, drastically reducing water consumption and offering an ideal opportunity to support local. Speaking of yoga, if you’re looking for biodegradable yoga mats, Holdereight are an Irish company selling hand-drawn and stunning natural rubber mats that are 100 per cent biodegradable and machine washable.
Grown is a brand creating beautiful organic cotton T-shirts and sweatshirts designed and made in Ireland. Pieces made from certified 100 per cent organic cotton are for the days when activewear is donned more for the aspiration to activity, rather than its execution, when your yoga is less ashtanga, and more an excuse to practice deep breathing prostrate on the floor. Grown garments are PETA-approved and Fair Wear-certified and, for every item bought, Grown plants – and pledges to protect – one native tree right here on our splendiferous isle.
But the future can be bolder than cotton! From lyocell, to hemp and cupro, there are many natural textile solutions that are as kind to your skin and your workout as they are to the earth. Bamboo is cotton’s rightful superior as a performance fabric due to its antibacterial properties, natural stretch and softness, breathability, and minimal production needs. BAM is a UK company specialising in bamboo-based clothing whose dedication to environmental protection is illustrated in its aim to achieve zero waste to landfill, zero pollution and zero wasted water by 2030. Having bought some BAM T-shirts for my mother’s birthday (she wears them almost daily), I can confirm they are durable, beautiful and dangerously comfortable.
For me, choosing, buying and wearing of activewear is about the pursuit of “feelgood”. Activewear is both the vehicle and the driving force that encourages me to reach a personal best – physical, mental, or spiritual. This piece might lead you to the activewear choice that will give you the confidence and resilience to tackle whatever obstacles, exercise-related or otherwise, the next few months may bring.
If you would like to avoid plastic-based clothing altogether while still sidestepping the quagmire that is cotton production, I am delighted to tell you that you have choices. Many of them.
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