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The Varsity Player
👫 : Men + Women
🌎 : Sold online and in Patagonia stores worldwide.
💸 : Approx $30 – $150
🌐 : patagonia.com
WHAT WE ❤️
Textile: Organic cotton, responsible wool, recycled polyester and tencel: covering all their bases.
Labor: Fair trade certified at their sewing facilities.
Environment: Bluesign certification means they’re trying to ensure safe chemical use. They also reuse and recycle material scraps.
Innovation: Repairs and upcycling options are available for Patagonia products.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW
Patagonia’s been on the “varsity” team for a while now, meaning not only just a diversity of products but also more projects and efforts to improve the supply chains that make all these items. With their sagacity also comes humility about what they do and where they need to improve; and so in that same vein, what we’d like to see next is even more innovation on their intentions for their business model and size – how big does a responsible company get? How many pieces of clothing do they make each year and yet continue to use resources sustainably?SHOP NOW READ MORE
Performance (and) “Art” leggings
👫 : Women
🌎 : Sold online only, ships internationally.
💸 : ~ $70
🌐 : samanatayogi.com
WHAT WE ❤️
Textile: Recycled polyester and recycled nylon with a water based print.
Labor: Decentralized production in the main countries where they sell, the UK and Australia.
Environment: Water based print formulations, recycled fabrics and plans to reuse and recycle scrap material.
Innovation: Artisans design the leggings to tell stories about places, people and their cultures – the brand either pays a fee upfront for the design or does a profit share with the artist.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW
Having only launched their Kickstarter in 2015, they’re still a young and unproven company but they are already setting a high bar and have intentions to strive for more. We’d like to see them strive for better pay conditions for the workers in their supply chain – while minimum wage laws are more closely monitored in Australia and the UK than in other parts of the world, they do not guarantee a living wage. They’ve also got a 22% elastane blend, which helps you move, but – word to the wise – that elastane is made from petroleum 😕SHOP NOW READ MORE
Workout wear, stylish wear and jump-in-the-ocean wear
👫 : Women
🌎 : Sold online only, ships worldwide.
💸 : Approx $65 – $120
🌐 : elleevansswimwear.com
WHAT WE ❤️
Textile: Recycled nylon called econyl made from post consumer and pre consumer waste makes up their athletic wear – this same fabric is used in their swimwear. This means you can jump right in the ocean after a workout 🙂 and that this athletic wear is sea-worthy.
Labor: Sewn by the founder and one hire in Australia who makes a living wage, drinks tea and loves the office cat 😻
Environment: They encourage less washing and drying and tell you how to do it. They also use their scraps from womenswear to make a kids line!
Innovation: Their garments are made to order, reducing waste, and they also have a take-back service to make sure the clothing is handled responsibly.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW
This brand is also a young buck by our standards. We want to see them maintain these same standards as their brand grows.SHOP NOW READ MORE
As transparent as they come
👫 : Men + Women
🌎 : Sold online only, ships worldwide.
💸 : All for $88
🌐 : fibreathletics.com
WHAT WE ❤️
Textile: Recycled polyester mainly but some organic cotton, too. They use a cool environmentally friendly treatment called chitosante, made from a biomass that provides the performance properties including antibacterial, biodegradability, odor-resistance, breathability and fast drying/wicking, all while being non-toxic.
Labor: Their jackets and shirts are made in the US of A at a factory in Chitown, and the brand is a member of Chicago Fair Trade.
Environment: Certified low impact dyes and recycled materials. Read on about how they’re ensuring high performance athletic wear without using chemicals.
Innovation: Traceability on everything – even their zippers (!) – and this chitosante treatment sounds like the future to us.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW
Chicago Fair Trade isn’t the same as Fair Trade Certified. Also right now, with only two main products on the market, these guys don’t have all the offerings we’d like to see – but we’re excited to see them get started!SHOP NOW READ MORE
NIKE AND ADIDAS DIDN’T MAKE THE TEAM
We had 90 brands nominated for this category (here’s the the full list), but not a all of them made the team.
Based on concerns regarding size, transparency and labor rights, Nike and Adidas didn’t make the APPROVED list for Athletic Wear, but we’d like to recognize them for making huge strides in innovation.
Here are some of their innovation highlights:
Nike launched its ColourDry technology in 2012, a process that dyes fabric without water. In 2015 the brand produced 600,000 yards of fabric using its colordry process, saving 20 million litres of water.
The brand has a Materials Sustainability Index which gives its designers product information on 57,000 different materials, supplied by 741 vendors. The brand used its Manufacturing Sustainability Index to launch the MAKING app which enables the sustainability performance of materials and products to be measured in a consistent way, helping designers – both inside and outside of Nike – to make informed decisions about the materials they choose.
The Adidas brand utilized DryDye technology in the manufacturing of its products in 2012 with a limited collection of 50,000 t-shirts. Dry Dye is a polyester fabric dyeing process that uses no water, 50% fewer chemicals and 50% less energy than the traditional fabric dyeing process. with a limited collection of 50,000 t-shirts. Since then, the product offer integrating DryDye fabric has steadily increased, reaching four million yards of DryDye fabric produced by the end of 2014, and saving 100 million litres of water.
In September 2015, Adidas announced Sport Infinity, their plan for a new breed of sporting goods that will never be thrown away. Instead, football creators will be able to constantly reimagine and recycle their products using an inexhaustible 3-D super-material. The brand states that every gram of sportswear will be broken down to be re-moulded again in a waste-free, adhesive-free process.
For the full scoop on Nike and Adidas, check out their brand pages on Project JUST. And if you think we missed a brand, please leave us a note in the comments section below.VIEW NIKE VIEW ADIDAS
A FEW NOTES ON ATHLETIC WEAR
1. Researching and assessing athletic wear brands was no walk in the park.
It was really hard because of the multiple issues we had to wrap our heads around, particularly with respect to types of materials and chemicals used in production. This also means that there are a ton of issues for the brands themselves to think about, to truly make a sustainable product. Which is also probably why, TBH, we didn’t find many who were truly thinking about sustainability and ethics holistically, let alone trying to operationalize it or actively improving their practices across the board… Which leads us to note #2…
2. There aren’t as many brands and as much of a product range as we’d like to give our community for our APPROVED list.
We’re sorry about that, but we’re hopeful that other brands whose designs and performance we love will be inspired to consider using recycled fabrics, low impact dyes, non toxic chemicals, etc. and being more transparent about their supply chains.
3. But there are a few shining stars.
And we’ll walk you through the brands we’ve selected and the criteria we measured them up against, so you can see exactly how they’ve been evaluated and why they’ve made the cut. We also have a section on Nike and Adidas (on the bench!) – two of the world’s largest active wear brands – to recognize how larger brands are making big strides in product innovation.
4. And there is plenty of hope for the future!
As a final note: many of the brands selected for APPROVED are very young with limited product ranges, small teams and shorter supply chains – which equals less stuff for a brand to worry about. Great for them but hard to judge against brands with wider product ranges and more supply chains. We like to think of them as rising stars among varsity players. We recognize that as a brand grows and scales its production, it becomes harder to stay true to its original commitment to sustainability, but we’re willing to take a bet on these rising stars and want to champion their commitment to sustainable and ethical production from the start.
We were thrilled and so honored to have an all-star committee for Athletic Wear, with serious sustainability and production chops 💯 They are:
Co-Founder & Chief Impact Officer
Former Head of Sustainability Strategy
Digital Content and Communications Director
Brooklyn Fashion+Design Accelerator
Context + Style Expert
Assistant Professor of Fashion Design and Sustainability
Parsons School of Design, The New School
Chief Product Designer
Project JUST Committee Member
Project JUST Committee Member
Before we do a deep dive into any brand, we look at the environmental and social practices of each of the nominated brands and whether or not they share enough information for us to research. In some cases, brands are doing great work from an environmental perspective, but share little or nothing on their labor practices, and vice versa – which isn’t enough to get them shortlisted. In addition to looking at how transparent the brand is, we also consider availability, accessibility (size and price) quality and aesthetic. Unfortunately, even if a brand self identifies as ethical but doesn’t share how, we can’t shortlist them for in-depth research.
Here are the APPROVED Athletic Wear Criteria:
DO NO HARM
The brand has thought holistically about our 8 research categories:
- Size and business model
- Transparency and traceability
- Labor Conditions
More about what we mean by each section here.
ATHLETIC WEAR CONTEXT
Each brand we selected has thought specifically about issues that were raised in our research into athletic wear production. Apart from certain standards like living wages and working conditions that we expect across categories, two issues stood out for us in the context of athletic wear: raw materials and chemicals. We’ve summarized these issues in a table below, and if you’re really interested – we’ve also made the full context research framework available here.
The brand is innovative in its approach and is moving the industry in a positive direction. They’re creating new techniques and standards to spread new and better practices.
Sprint towards the right fabrics
Full disclosure: there was a great internal team debate about whether natural or synthetic fabrics are better to get active in, which we believe is reflective of opinions outside of the Project JUST team, as well. And although we recognize that natural fibers are always better for the environment, we also hear the argument that it’s pretty difficult to run 29 miles in just organic cotton.
And so, we got to know our fibers really, really well. Here’s a handy list to better understand these materials – whether we’re looking for a pair of high performance running shorts or comfortable yoga leggings.
Cotton is a super thirsty crop that uses a ton of water to be produced. To add to that, conventional cotton in particular also requires heavy use of herbicides and pesticides that badly harm soil and water sources, and frequently also the farmers who apply the chemicals themselves.
Better Cotton: in 2013 through the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), WWF was able to help farmers reduce water usage by 39%. BCI also encourages farmers to use drip irrigation which is estimated to reduces water usage by 50%.
Organic cotton: farmers do not use chemical pesticides at all when growing organic cotton, and use natural techniques to ward off insects and threats. This makes it both less dangerous and more sustainable for both the people growing it as well as the environment.
The agents used to make polyester are petrochemicals, which incur a high ecological and social cost of oil exploration and extraction. Nearly 70 billion barrels of oil are used every year to produce polyester (!). The transport of oil also requires a lot of resources, adding to their carbon footprint. Polyester uses twice as much energy to produce as cotton.
Recycled polyester (rPET): Uses materials already in existence for its production, i.e. post-industrial fibre waste and post consumer plastic. rPET also produces far less emissions than does the production of virgin polyester. But keep in mind, it’s still more energy intensive to recycle PET into a fiber than to use organically produced natural fibers.
Like polyester, the agents used to make nylon are petrochemicals, (see above). Producing nylon is also extremely energy intensive: 1kg of fabric consumes 150 MJ, compared to 109 MJ for polyester and 50 MJ for cotton. The production process also results in the emission of nitrous oxide, which is an extremely potent greenhouse gas.
Recycled nylon: Produced with materials already in existence, i.e. pre-consumer industrial waste, and post-consumer waste like fishnets, carpets and textiles. Also requires much less energy to produce than virgin nylon, but uses the same amount of energy as virgin polyester.
The shearing process for wool production can be extremely harmful / painful for sheep. To add to that, in some cases sheep are treated with injectible pesticides, or bathed in pesticides, to control for parasite infection. The cleaning / scouring of wool also produces an effluent with a high suspended solids content + pollution index, which can result in the pollution of water sources.
Organic wool: Sheep graze on land not treated with pesticides, and are not dipped in synthetic pyre-thoids or organophosphates (technical speak for harmful chemical pesticides).
Responsible Wool Standard: “A voluntary global standard that addresses the welfare of sheep and of the land they graze on. On farms, the certification ensures that sheep are treated with respect to their five freedoms and also ensures best practices in the management and protection of the land.”
Kick those chemicals out of your system • 📷 : VOGUE
Many of us also require a high level of “performance” out of our athletic wear, and look for products and fabrics with qualities like anti-microbial, anti-odor, wicking or even “high performance blend”. But let’s make sure we know the effects of many of the chemicals used to produce these magical properties. Here are a few to keep in mind that are particularly problematic, if not downright frightening 👀
Triclosan, used as a coating for antibacterial and antimicrobial fabrics has been shown to call cancer in mice.
Nanoparticle Silver, used in anti-odor and antimicrobial activewear (but not tested for consumer safety!) has been potentially tied to endocrine disruption, and according to the NIH “produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife.”
Antimony, present in 80-85% of all virgin Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) aka Polyester, gets released into the environment during the production process, and has been proven to cause irritation of the respiratory tract and interference with our immune systems.
Per- and poly-fluorinated chemicals (PFCs) such as PFOS and PFOA can be really harmful due to their hormone disrupting properties, with impacts on the reproductive system and the immune system.
Phthalates, used mainly as plasticisers (or softeners) in plastics, especially PVC are also known for toxicity and their hormone-disrupting effects.
Handbags and Leather Goods! 👜 Submit your nominations here by September 12.
Project JUST does not receive any compensation for our research and selection of APPROVED lists.
To continue to provide you, the shopper and member of our Project JUST community, with credible research and analysis, we have partnerships with some of the APPROVED brands to serve as their affiliate. Once and only if a brand is selected, do they have the opportunity to participate in our online shop and we at Project JUST receive a small percentage of the sale if a reader discovers and chooses to shop a APPROVED brand. This allows you to directly shop from sustainable, ethical APPROVED brands and allows Project JUST to continue our due diligence and research work. If you have any questions or comments about our partnerships with APPROVED brands or Project JUST, please send them to [email protected].
What do you think?
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5 thoughts on “Seal of Approval: Athletic Wear”
What about prAna? They claim to be environmentally friendly, but I havenâ€™t seen any reviews of their process.
We actually tried to look further into Prana and were finally able to connect with their team after the list was published. We plan on taking a closer look in the New Year! Thanks for the suggestion!
Fantastic project, and very honorable!
I do not understand number 3! Does that mean that Nike and Adidas are not ethically responsible?
Thank you for the information!
Hi Angie! Thanks for your comments ðŸ™‚ Iâ€™ve checked in with Jacinta, our Head of Research, about your question and hereâ€™s what she says:
“Nike and Adidas are two of the worlds largest brands, and based on our concerns regarding size, transparency, labor rights and environmental practices, neither Nike or Adidas made our list for Athletic Wear. Both brands are making some advances in the areas of social and environmental responsibility, which we applaud, however we could not find enough information to demonstrate that they are going beyond the status quo in both of these areas. That being said, we do want to recognize them for making huge strides in innovation, and leading the industry forward in areas such as waterless dyeing and recycling waste materials. You can read up on all the information we have reported on their brand pages here: Nike + Adidas.”
Hope this helps! Feel free to email us on [email protected] as well, if you have any more questions or feedback for us.
Love your site! Any insights on lululemon or lou and grey (owned by Ann Inc)? Thank you!