More than 90% of all sportswear is made from plastics like polyester and nylon. This is mainly because it is cheap to produce and can be molded into any shape imaginable. Since the ’80s more and more companies have switched to exclusively using synthetic materials for activewear. Besides it being made from oil, there is another big drawback with synthetic sportswear, which makes it not sustainable.
Microplastic in activewear
Every time when you wash plastic activewear, tiny pieces of plastic (microplastics) get released. These can end up in our oceans, where they stick around for a very long time, accumulate in fish, and can end up in humans.
It is not yet clear what effect these plastic particles have on humans, but new research on this will come out in the coming years, as the pollution keeps stacking.
A large trend these days is using ‘recycled polyester’ in activewear. The biggest misconception here is that this recycled material comes from, for example, t-shirts and that they can be recycled to t-shirts again. This is sadly not true. The recycled plastic sportswear that you see is usually made from PET bottles and sportswear isn’t recycled into other sportswear due to technological issues and costs.
The PET bottles usually come as post-consumer waste (i.e. they have been used), but there are cases of these PET bottles being mixed with virgin plastic and then sold as recycled material. Besides that, recycled or not, synthetic sportswear still releases microplastics. So ... is sportswear made from PET bottles sustainable? We don’t think that it solves the real problem, but it might be a good step in the right direction to make people more aware.
Sportswear without polyester/plastic
While it is true that many sports products can be made from natural materials, there is a limit to it. Sustainable, natural materials like hemp, beechwood, eucalyptus, and organic cotton can be used to make products like t-shirts, joggers, hoodies, sweaters, and shorts. These kinds of sportswear can currently be all made from natural materials because they don't need to be really stretchy or tight on the skin.
For really stretchy sportswear (e.g. leggings, sports bras, socks) there is a sneaky piece of plastic needed. It’s got many names: elastane, spandex, lycra, but they all have the same goal; make fabrics stretchy. This invention was done in 1959 and has since been rooted deeply in all kinds of sportswear.
At this moment there is no (water) biodegradable version of either material available and thus not all sportswear can be made from natural materials. We, and some other brands, are actively looking for the alternative and there are some promising developments in this area. So if you’d like to stay up to date, you can sign up for our newsletter here.
Alright, that was it for this blog! If you have questions, comments, or suggestions for another blog, leave a reply!
Team Iron Roots