Sustainable yoga and active wear
As I glance around my yoga class it feels as if I am being advertised to by well known sports and yogawear brands, whose logos are printed prominently on the backs and butts of my fellow yogis. And I must admit that I too am one of the culprits, wearing my 5-year-old yoga pants of a well known sports brand. But now that these are coming towards the end of their for useful life, it is time for me to find a sustainable version to replace them with.
Active wear has long been under the spotlight for ethics in supply chain, with a number of companies facing strong public criticisms and well-run activist campaigning on sweat shop labour, particularly in the manufacture of sneakers. This has lead many prominent companies to lift their game and improve labour standards in their supply chain, which certainly is to be applauded. However, the fabric choices are far from sustainable, and labour standards are still not ideal. We have a long way to go before I am comfortable supporting mainstream sports brands.
What about yoga brands? Do yoga wear brands do things differently to sports brands? Yoga has a strong focus on ethics and living the principles of non-violence, which also includes making ethical choices in how your lifestyle and business impact on people and the environment. So you would think that they would do things a bit differently to the mainstream. It is surprising then, that some of the most prominent yoga wear brands use harmful synthetic fibers and are not transparent about labour standards in their supply chain. Some brands include an ethical framework by donating a percentage of their profits to a worthy cause, but this effort is only half-hearted if ethics are ignored throughout the supply chain. Unless ethics and sustainability principles are upheld throughout all the practices of a company, I am not comfortable supporting or recommend their products. With more and more labels showing us that profitable business can be done whilst meeting the highest standards of labour ethics and environmental sustainability, why would we accept anything less?
Thankfully there are a number of ethically produced sustainable and active wear options so we needn’t expect anything less. Here are my picks for ethical and sustainable yoga and active wear options, to keep you active without lowering your ethical standards.
Icebreaker is best known for their outdoor and hiking wear made from New Zealand merino wool, however they also produce a range of yoga and running/fitness wear to rival products from the top sportswear brands. Merino wool is a high performing fiber that naturally regulates body temperature, allows your skin to breath, wicks sweat away from your skin and is naturally odor-resistant. Icebreaker fabrics are dyes using low impact dyes, all products are ethically produced and packaged in cardboard printed with low impact inks. The company has a comprehensive discussion of ethics, including the treatment of the animals that grow the fiber on their website. Icebreaker produce a large range for both women and men, and the range is searchable by activity type, making it easy for you to find the active wear to suit your preferences. These are the tights I have my eye on to replace my well-worn unsustainable ones:
Australian-based yoga wear label Birdii produce a range of simple but stylish organic cotton yoga clothing in red and black. The products from the small label are sewn by trained dressmakers in their own home, and my inquiries have confirmed that the garment workers receive a fair wage for their work as well as flexible work arrangements that allow them to take care of their children at the same time.
While I can appreciate the style in their yoga tops, I personally have not felt comfortable in a mid-drift since my teens (I enjoyed them in the 90s, but am happy to leave them to others now). However, their simple yoga pants and shorts are ideal for yoga practice or the gym. My personal favourite is their Fairy Wren yoga skirt which can also be worn as a top. It is the perfect accessory to allow you to wear your yoga gear out to social occasions before or after class without feeling under-dressed.
3. PACT Apparel
US-based PACT Apparel produces a range of sweat-shop free organic cotton basics, many of which could easily be worn to yoga or on your run. Their leggings, camisole, tanks and t-shirts would be best suited for this, but also don’t look like sports gear (because they aren’t technically) and can also be incorporated into your regular wardrobe. A versatile wardrobe is a sustainable one. Here I am wearing PACT clothing for yoga:
I find their products suitable for yoga, or a short run, but more avid fitness buffs might prefer the performance of merino, such as used by Icebreaker. PACT Apparel products come in plain colours, but if you like to add a bit of personality to your workout gear, they also come in vibrant prints, such as this one below:
Washington-based Etsy seller Intertwined Designs offers a range of hand-made Earth friendly clothing in sustainable fibers such as hemp, soy and organic cotton. All fabrics are dyed using low-impact dyes and low impact bleaching processes to ensure minimal environmental impact. The clothing are hand-made to order, which ensures that there is no unnecessary manufacture of garments. Intertwined Designs sell a range of high quality garments, including yoga wear, basics, dresses, and children’s clothing. These hemp and organic cotton yoga shorts would be perfect for the yoga studio.
US-based sustainable sportswear and uniform manufacturer Kenai Sports Wear develop textiles made from recycled plastics which are sewn into a multitude of sports uniforms for colleges and organisations across the US. Their range is also entirely manufactured in the US. Unfortunately they do not sell to individual customers, but if you require some new uniforms for your sport team and you want them to be sustainable, you may be interested to contact them for a quote.
Melbourne-based label Avila Activewear produce a range of stylish clothing for an active lifestyle, designed to be worn throughout the day, as well as for your workout. Ethically produced in Australia, the clothing are made with a range of sustainable fabrics, including merino, organic cotton, modal and wool, which are all dyed using either eco-friendly dyes-stuffs or low-impact chemical dyes. The company also uses bamboo and viscose, which naturally derived fabrics but aren’t fabrics that I recommend buying if there is an alternative available.* The company is dedicated to sustainability and works to ensure that high quality garments are designed whilst minimising the environmental impacts of production.
This is a glimpse of their latest collection, and you can find many more styles to suit activities from gentle yoga to intensive workouts at their website.
*Notes on fabrics: Bamboo and viscose are naturally-derived fibers that require intensive chemical processing to produce, and are usually not produced on a closed loop systems. This means that fabric production often results chemical waste that can be avoided by selecting other fabrics. However, both bamboo and viscose are less harmful than conventional cotton and synthetic fibers. For more details on the environmental impacts of both bamboo and viscose. You can also refer to Fashion & Sustainability: Design for Change or Sustainable Fashion & Texiles: Design Journeys
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