Ethical activewear: How your workout gear can help save the planet

Is it time to give your workout wardrobe a sustainable revamp? Here’s why ethical activewear is the coolest way to work up a sweat.

With nine out of 10 Australians gravitating towards eco-friendly products, one of the latest things to receive a sustainable makeover is activewear.

So what is ethical activewear? Who’s buying it? And what should you look for?

If activewear was big pre-pandemic, lockdowns and working from home meant sales of this particular type of clothing have surged since early 2020, and there has been a rise in the demand for ethical or sustainable sportswear.

Produced in a way that takes into account everything from workers’ rights to the impact materials and production processes have on the environment, more and more activewear brands are going ethical.

For Danielle Kay, founder of Australian-made-and-manufactured activewear brand, dk active, going down the ethical route became the obvious choice when she was in the research phase.

“When I visited factories overseas on fact-finding trips, I found and saw so many things that didn’t sit right with me, everything from the wastage that I observed to the environment that people were having to work in,” Danielle says.

“I knew I didn’t want to be a part of it if my brand was only going to contribute to more pollution or if I wasn’t going to be able to go about it the right way.”

After a lot more research and learning, Danielle launched her environmentally responsible ethical activewear brand in 2017.

Why choose ethical activewear for your workout?

Julie Mathers, founder and CEO of Flora & Fauna, Australia’s largest retailer exclusively selling eco-friendly and cruelty-free products, says ethical activewear has inherent appeal for a growing number of consumers.

“Being more aware of how clothes are and can be made is driving people to look for better alternatives,” Julie says.

“We want to know where our clothes come from and who’s making them so sourcing is a big driver of ethical clothing, including activewear, along with the materials used, too.

“We’re all becoming more aware of the impact of certain materials, certain dyes and microplastics in clothes.”

Danielle agrees, saying she believes people are spending more time considering what they’re putting on their body and being conscious of the environmental impacts of their everyday lives.

“And I also think that the active and leisure space has become a wellness space and more of a considered health category, and ethical credentials go hand in hand with that.”

As for the specific reasons why a consumer might choose to ensure their activewear is ethical, Julie says it varies.

“It really depends on personal values,” she says.

“We all have things that are important to us – some people want organic cotton, others want Australian made, others want recycled and others want vegan.”

Key things to consider when buying ethical activewear

Regardless of why you’re personally passionate about buying and wearing ethical activewear, if you’re keen to make sure your next purchase fits the bill, it’s important to bear three things in mind.

  • Beware of ‘greenwashing’. “Just like beauty and skincare products, it’s important to ensure there’s no greenwashing going on,” Julie says.

“So if a pair of running pants claims they’re made from recycled bottles, are they? Can you be sure?”

Check that the brand you’re interested in has the appropriate certifications for the claims being made.

  • Check out the detail. As well as looking for certifications, pay attention to brands that go the extra mile.

For example, as well as being made of eco-friendly materials, dk active uses plastic-free, compostable packaging and 100 per cent carbon-offset delivery partners.

And its Brisbane-based headquarters runs on solar.

“Our hang tags are also made out of recycled paper, our care labels are made from recycled water bottles and we send any fabric scraps back to the mill to be turned into fabric again,” Danielle says.

  • Consider the quality. Julie says that whatever motivates you to buy ethical activewear, something we should all be looking for is quality.

“We need to halt the rise of fast, disposable fashion and look for quality clothing that you’ll want and be able to keep for years.”

Written by Karen Fittall.