The environmental challenges of activewear Eco-friendly fashion is a growing trend.
Consumer demand for ethically sourced fabrics has surged – from sustainable cotton plantations to vegan-friendly alternatives for leather, the market has seen a significant move towards fashion and accessories that are kinder to our planet.
How can activewear be bad for the environment?
Unfortunately, one of the biggest challenges facing ethically-minded consumers is how to find activewear that isn’t damaging the planet. Activewear still makes up a significant portion of the world’s fashion market.
The global economic changes during the COVID-19 pandemic have seen some sections of the fashion market slow down significantly. However, activewear sales have been less adversely impacted, as it seems a large number of people are still keen on keeping fit. They are now simply doing so from the comfort of their own homes! The popularity of online workouts such as the P.E with Joe Wickes series are a testament to the fact that the world at large is still very much embracing exercise. However, this can present a problem for eco-conscious fashion consumers.
An awful lot of synthetic activewear is made primarily of some kind of plastic. This is quite understandable in many ways; after all, lots of the properties of commercial plastics are just what we need in activewear – it’s tough and very durable. Products enhanced with plastics have a lot of elasticity, allowing them to bend and stretch, but they still return to their original shape. This winning combination of flexibility and strength makes synthetic plastics a lifesaver for fashion designers looking to engineer a great sports bra, or for any activewear company trying to produce a pair of leggings that will withstand the elements, as well as your lunges!
Why is plastic such a problem?
For starters, plastics don’t break down easily. This durability is what makes them a popular choice in all kinds of consumer products. However, it does also mean that when a piece of synthetic activewear meets the end of its natural life, it is most likely to end up in landfill, and potentially stay there for hundreds of years. In contrast, natural fibres such as cotton break down far more easily, making them less of a burden on the planet. Plastic pollution is also a hazard for our oceans. Many people will have seen the sad images of birds and animals trapped in plastic rings or choked-up shorelines littered with plastic debris. While activewear is unlikely to pollute the oceans in quite such a visual way, it is worth thinking about the fact that all plastic production will have some level of waste products.
Thousands of tonnes of tiny plastic particles are released into the ocean and the air every day from plastic production plants. Even tiny particles can disrupt the food cycles for birds, fish and whales. The long term impact of plastic on our sea creatures is undoubtedly horrific.
Are there any sustainable alternatives?
Luckily, there are a number of brands who are working to buck the trend and provide environmentally-friendly activewear that won’t blow your budget. There are now some stylish solutions that fashion-conscious fitness fanatics will enjoy wearing. From all-natural rubber, through to brand new fabrics engineered entirely from wood pulp, there is a growing range of innovative products now reaching the mainstream market.
An additional upside to this is that the brands producing these eco-friendly alternatives are also starting to look hard at their production practices, meaning many are also emphasizing the need to treat workers fairly, particularly where production is reliant on workers in developing countries. This focus on ethical working practices goes hand in hand with saving the planet for many consumers.
This eco-friendly trend isn’t confined to niche designers either – some of the biggest brands in the activewear market are getting on board. Adidas has partnered with Parly to make use of discarded plastics that would otherwise have ended up being dumped in the ocean, instead turning them into trainers. Meanwhile, Patagonia has brought out a selection of t-shirts which are made from between 50 and 100% recycled material, showing that activewear really doesn’t need to rely on products that are damaging our planet. As brands increasingly recognise the importance of protecting our planet, we will hopefully see the tide turn for good; out with plastics and in with these amazing, eco-friendly alternatives!
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