Perhaps unbeknown to you, your favourite pair of leggings or that racerback singlet you love aren’t usually great for the environment. Standard leggings, the ones you wear from workout to coffee, are usually made from nasty synthetic materials such as polyester, nylon or lycra.
Synthetic fibres are made from fossil fuels and are much more energy intensive than natural fibres. Due to their synthetic nature, they’re non-biodegradable and can take up to 200 years to decompose, if at all.
Synthetics also release microfibres, otherwise known as small plastic particles, into the water when washed. Microfibres make their way into the ocean, are digested by fish and then introduced into the human food chain. In other words, if you eat fish, you’re likely to be consuming harmful plastic particles that will outlive you.
Polyester, which is made from petroleum, is the same substance used to creates plastic water bottles. One of the reasons why polyester is a favourite material among many exercise brands is due to its wrinkle-resistant nature, durability and drying efficiency. Unfortunately, though, it’s at the cost of the environment.
And, if you thought it couldn’t get worse, the production of nylon produces nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
Thankfully, there are solutions.
Recycled polyester, otherwise known as rPET, is now being used in activewear. It is made from post-consumer recycled plastic such as water bottles, containers and second-hand polyester garments. One brand leading the rPET charge is Patagonia, an American clothing company at the cutting edge of environmental activism and sustainable supply chains.
According to the Patagonia website, using recycled polyester lessens the the dependence on petroleum as a source of raw materials. It also reduces waste, “thereby prolonging landfill life and reducing toxic emissions from incinerators. It helps to promote new recycling streams for polyester clothing that is no longer wearable”.
The rise of sustainable brands
With the fashion industry waking up to the harmful effects of synthetic fibres on the environment, we’re seeing a rise in sustainable and ethical fashion brands such as NAGNATA. Founded by Australian sisters Laura May and Hannah Gibbs, NAGNATA is a premium fashion and lifestyle brand designed for modern movement and studio-to-street style.
The sister’s aim to redefine value and challenge the rampant consumerist culture that currently exists with fast fashion offers a breath of fresh air to the industry. Finally, a brand that’s not purely driven by minimising margins and churning out clothes for a higher profit.
The duo – who develop all their own knit fabrications and test different yarn blends and constructions until they reach a textile that feels good against the skin – have created an alternative to recycled polyester: “zero-yarn-waste organic cotton technical knitwear”.
Using 85 per cent certified organic cotton with 15 per cent spandex or nylon to hold the construction together, the range is knitted to shape then linked at the seams, resulting in zero-yarn waste.
Their artisanal collection focuses on upcycling old embroidered fabrics and dresses and transforming them into new bags and clothing. They visit the factories, makers and collectives they work with globally, support the indigenous communities who supply their textiles and build personal relationships with the teams developing original NAGNATA products. From start to finish, NAGNATA is committed to minimising the waste of raw materials in fashion production – and is doing so with style.
Indigo Luna is an Australian ethical yoga, swimwear and linen brand. The small, family-run business champions quality, transparency, eco-consciousness and sustainable manufacturing processes. Dedicated to slow, thoughtful creation, Founder Kathy McCarthy’s main focus is on reducing unnecessary impact on the planet, while providing an alternative to mass production and fast fashion.
Indigo Luna’s garments are made in simple shapes with beautiful earthy tones and are crafted from recycled, organic or sustainably harvested materials. The collections are purposely created in small runs with plans to run out of stock and minimise the excess stock problem. With each item cut, sewn or dyed by hand, every person involved in the production of Indigo Luna creations works in comfortable and safe conditions.
So what does it mean to be sustainable? Indigo Luna’s entire collection is made from either organic cotton, sustainably harvested eucalyptus trees (otherwise known as TENCEL) or recycled materials. The brand’s yoga range is made from Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified organic cotton, the highest regulator of organic cotton in the industry.
Indigo Luna’s nylon products, including its yoga leggings, are created from Italian recycled ECONYL, a material harvested from discarded fishing nets, or REPREVE recycled nylon from plastic bottles.
So there are brands out there offering sustainable, eco-friendly, ethical activewear options, you just need to know where to look. With time, hopefully they’ll pave the way forward and set new standards for the industry.
- Consider why and what when it comes to buying new.
- Support sustainable and local brands.
- Choose natural fibres.
- If choosing polyester or nylon, look for recycled options.
- Email the sustainability department of your favourite companies and ask them for more eco-friendly products.
Tennille Ziegler is a wellness, sustainability and eco-travel writer who’s always daydreaming about her next adventure. A lover of health, mindfulness and crafting the perfect life balance, Tennille adores sharing her latest findings at @tennillemia.