Our Journey Towards The First Plastic Free Leggings

Iron Roots fabric close up

We would love to make leggings, but can't yet. Why is that? You might ask … Well, that is a tale of materials, dedication, and innovation. 

What are leggings?

Leggings are like trips to another continent; they’re usually expensive, everyone wants them, take pictures in them, and they are not the best for the environment. 

The great part of (high quality) leggings is that they shape themselves to your body, so you’re less dependable on the design of a product if it fits you well or not. Leggings have become a staple in sportswear over the past few years and there is no slowing down in sight, which is also why we want to make them part of our collection.

But, there is a problem with that plan. As you know, with Iron Roots, we never want to use plastics as the raw materials for our sportswear. With leggings, this becomes pretty tricky sadly. 

Leggings header

What are leggings made of

Leggings are a wonderful product to use, but their sustainability is not that pretty. Usually, leggings are made with elastane/spandex, a type of plastic, which has an unmatched ability to stretch. I don’t know what some people wore to their yoga sessions before leggings were a thing, but they were certainly not as stretchy and figure following as leggings are.

Usually, elastane/spandex is mixed with either more synthetics like polyester and nylon, or cotton. While the percentages of elastane in a fabric might be low, it wreaks havoc in recycling processes, which is one of the main reasons we stay away from them. Besides that, because the recycling of plastics is still tricky, a lot of virgin oil is needed to make leggings. 

Polyester yarn factory

Alternative materials for leggings

Right now, it is not possible to find leggings that don’t contain a form of elastane or something similar. Sorry for getting a bit technical here, but this is of major importance. There are products that are bio-based but not biodegradable and vice versa. But something that is both biobased and truly biodegradable (home compostable) is not on the market right now. While some brands claim that their leggings are biodegradable, usually that involved a synthetic elastomer that has been treated, so that it degrades better in the soil, but never completely and certainly not in any marine environment. 

This makes it difficult for us, as we don’t want to step away from our mission of using 0% plastics, so we have to dig deep to find out what materials are suitable for our and the planet’s needs. This is a journey we have already been on for the past 4 years, but we are sure that we will find a solution. Even if it takes 4 more years, the mission is more important to us than short term gains. 

Impact of leggings on soil

Plant based leggings

One thing we are currently working on is trying to create our own materials that we can use to create leggings. In true Iron Roots fashion; if it’s not there, let’s create it. This might involve a near impossible journey, but we are determined to create something that is as adaptable as elastane and as compostable as plants themselves. We are able to set the first steps in this direction, thanks to multiple grants, funds, and partners, including ImpactCity and the MIT grant from the Province of Zuid Holland. 

If you know anyone or are yourself interested in helping out with this adventure, you’re more than welcome to let us know!