From sports bras, to performance tops, to basketball shorts, workout clothing is often made from synthetic fibers, aka plastic — so is it possible to find sustainable athletic wear? Fortunately, there are plenty of brands making fairly eco-friendly clothes appropriate for exercise, sports, and active lifestyles. By shopping from brands that use recycled synthetic fibers, organic natural fibers, and ethical and sustainable production methods, it’s possible to keep the impact of your athletic wear wardrobe low.
Here are a few of our favorite brands that ethically and sustainably produce athletic wear for men, women, and more.
London-based luxury activewear brand, Contur, makes its exercise clothes (including leggings, sports bras, vests and biker shorts) out of 100 percent ECONYL, a synthetic fabric made from recycled fishing nets. Contur works to minimize its use of chemicals, plastic, energy, and water as much as possible, while manufacturing everything locally in London to keep its environmental footprint low. The brand offers worldwide shipping, and it uses fully recycled and biodegradable packaging materials.
Dazey LA prints its clothing in small batches in Los Angeles, and the brand’s adorable workout gear (including leggings, biker shorts, and sports bras) are made from 50 percent organic cotton and 50 percent recycled polyester. Dazey is all about slow fashion, hand making clothing, producing zero waste, and treating and paying workers fairly. In addition to the Dazey website, you can find the brand’s ethically-made workout gear and other clothing in Anthropologie stores.
Activewear company dk active offers basic-yet-trendy active clothing for men and women, including inclusive sizing and maternity sizing. The company uses regenerated nylon, organic bamboo, and organic cotton, which are OEKO-TEX Standard 100 certified. The factory also meets all Australian standards for ethical clothing manufacturing, ships in compostable packaging, and manufactures its clothing in Australia (but ships to the U.S.). The company's Brisbane HQ also runs on solar energy.
Girlfriend Collective recycles plastic bottles and discarded fishing nets to make sports bras, leggings, athletic shorts and skorts, sweatshirts, and more. Founded by married couple Ellie and Quang Dinh, Girlfriend’s trendy workout gear comes in sizes from XXS to 6XL, as well as maternity sizes. The brand’s clothing is manufactured in a Hanoi, Vietnam factory that is SA8000 certified, pays fair wages, provides safe work conditions, and does not have any child or forced labor. You can read more about the Girlfriend’s sustainability and transparency here.
Groceries Apparel sells stylish leggings, matching bralettes, sweatshirts, and more that are perfect for low-impact exercise, many of which are tie dyed with vegetable dye. Groceries Apparel uses materials like eucalyptus, recycled plastic, hemp, and recycled cotton, and the company manufactures everything in its Los Angeles factory while making efforts to minimize waste and environmental impact.
Athletic wear company Headsweats offers both men’s and women’s exercise clothing made from REPREVE, a popular fabric made from recycled water bottles. Headsweats uses the recycled material to make men’s and women’s performance T-shirts, cycling jerseys, cycling caps, headbands, beanies, face masks, Ultra Bands (gaiters), and even custom apparel.
Fair Trade Certified company prAna is all about “clothing for positive change,” and has partnerships with a variety of organizations dedicated to making fashion more sustainable. The company sells men’s and women’s performance tops, sweatshirts, tanks, pants, and more, designed for yoga or other athletic ventures.
Woman-owned brand Reflex One sells exercise clothes that are cruelty-free, vegan, and made from recycled materials, with the planet in mind every step of the way. Reflex One sells women’s athletic shirts, vests, sports bras, leggings, and biker shorts, all of which are composed of recycled polyamide made from recycled plastic bottles. Reflex One donates 5 percent of profits to the Bee Foundation, and founder Kavita Basi also founded Ration.L, a vegan, gender neutral shoe company.
Best known for swimwear, Summersalt now offers a wide selection of women’s activewear and athleisure in inclusive sizing and adorable patterns, ranging from leggings to sports bras to cropped hoodies. Summersalt uses recycled polyester (made from plastic water bottles), recycled polyamide, Tencel, Tencel modal, and cupro, and many of the brand’s swimsuits and activewear are treated with UPF50+. Summersalt was founded by Lori Coulter and Reshma Chattaram Chamberlin, and the website features a directory of hundreds of Black-owned businesses.
Wolven Threads uses OEKO-Tex Certified recycled PET and carbon neutral modal fabric to make its clothing, which includes leggings, sports bras, and men’s athletic shorts. The brand, known for its bold and funky patterns, is a 1% Percent for the Planet company, Climate Neutral Certified, and has a goal to “Make Sustainability Sexy.” Wolven’s clothing is “ethically made” in a factory in China that is certified by WCA for labor, pay, safety, environmental practices, and more.
Secondhand athletic wear is also a great option.
Buying secondhand is one of the best ways to reduce the impact of clothes shopping — and don’t worry, a simple machine wash will kill any germs from a garment’s previous owner, even when it comes to workout gear. You can score some seriously great deals on high-end athletic apparel by scouring the racks of your local thrift store, or by searching for specific brands on secondhand fashion websites like Poshmark, Depop, and thredUP.