The best ethical activewear brands for stylish gym goers
We all love wearing sportswear (both in and out the gym), and there are few activewear brands out there right now with a cult status like Gymshark. I’ll admit, I myself have been tempted – the company’s influencer marketing campaign is second to none. But I had to wonder: how ethical is Gymshark?
A quick look on the company’s website reveals nothing about the company’s code of conduct or sustainability goals. Delving deeper into Gymshark’s Good on You score is especially worrying, with a firm ‘we avoid’ score. And they are not alone in failing to secure any conscious credentials. Activewear (with its reliance on plastic and other synthetic materials to wick away sweat) is definitely a tricky category for ethical fashionistas to navigate. That’s before we even begin to take the hellish factory conditions where lots of these garments are made into consideration.
But good news! There are ethical activewear brands out there. In fact, here in the UK we are fortunate to have plenty of alternatives to companies like Gymshark and their questionable ethics. After all, why shouldn’t gym gear be equally stylish, practical and ethical?
What makes an activewear brand ethical?
If you’re a long-time reader of my blog then you’re probably already well-versed in the difference between the terms ethical and sustainable in the conscious clothing world. But for clarity’s sake, I’ll explain how the term ‘ethical’ can apply to your gym clothes.
At its core, ‘ethical’ considers the workers behind the garment, not just at the sewing stage but every step of the production process. In short: no ‘sweatshops’, but structurally safe factories where workers are paid a living wage. To be truly ethical, these workers also need to be awarded what are very basic employment rights. You know, things like maternity and sick pay, a right to form a union, and the opportunity to call things out if conditions become inhuman. These conditions should apply to those in the earlier stages of sourcing and producing the fabrics too.
There’s a few different approaches from activewear brands as to how they ensure their products are ethically produced. They might work closely with carefully vetted factories in Asia, where these companies ensure stringent third party auditing is carried out. Or they could work with trusted factories in Europe, such as in Portugal, which is known for its ethical and sustainable fashion practices.
One of the biggest factors in keeping things ethical is transparency. Every brand featured in this post provides reports on its manufacturing processes and code of conduct, so we as consumers can buy with confidence.
Which fibres are best for planet-friendly workout clothes?
As I’ve mentioned, activewear proposes a particularly challenging issue as far as sustainability is concerned, as modern synthetic fabrics are key to keep us feeling fresh when exercising. But like all spheres of the conscious style landscape, there’s some great innovators working to create effective workout gear with minimal impact on the planet.
To keep that post-workout stink at bay, many of these ethical activewear brands have added an anti-bacterial coating to their exercise gear. However, as sustainability is key with these guys, this is always in the form of low-impact chemicals that have been tested both for their effectiveness and planet (and skin!) friendliness.
The most popular sustainable fibres for activewear includes:
- rPET – recycled polyester, made from post-consumer plastic bottles
- Bamboo – a plant that grows in abundance, which is renowned for its moisture-wicking abilities
- Organic cotton – cotton grown without pesticides and 80% less water than its conventional counterpart (I provide a much more detailed explanation of what organic cotton is here).
The best ethical activewear brands to shop right now
Just to let you know – there are other ethical and sustainable activewear brands available to buy in the UK out there, but to keep this list short(ish) and interesting I’ve not included every single one. There’s a few I skipped due to the quality appearing to be lacking (looking at you, Tala), or because they are just too expensive for your average eco-conscious gym goer to afford (like Stella McCartney or Silou). I’ve also skipped brands with very small collections, or ethical companies who’ve just dipped their toe in gym gear.
With that said, here’s the ethical activewear brands I can’t stop raving about.
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You’ve waited long enough. Pockets are here — for phones, wallets, snacks or for when you don’t know what to do with your hands. *We’re donating 20% of today’s net proceeds to @feedingamerica COVID-19 Response Fund, which helps food banks across the country serve the most vulnerable people in our community during this crisis. From all of us at girlfriend, we hope you’re staying safe <3
Average cost for a two piece activewear set – £86 (plus US to UK delivery and customs charge)
I’ve shared my love of Girlfriend Collective before, and this was the first ethical activewear brand I stumbled across. Girlfriend Collective is known for its use of recycled plastic bottles to craft the polyester needed to make its gym leggings and sports bras. The brand also uses a fabric called Econyl, which is made from recycled fishing nets and other waste that would otherwise be discarded into oceans and landfills. It’s not just the sustainability side of things that Girlfriend is totally nailing: the company’s website has the most comprehensive code of conduct I’ve come across. While they don’t have a UK online store, they do ship here from the US. You’ll also find Girlfriend Collective gym clothes at third party retailers in the UK, such as Edinburgh boutique Treen.
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Exciting news! 😁 As part of our Spring Collection launch, it's time to introduce you to the NEW PRINTS for our Bamboo Leggings! Scroll through to check out some of the new prints: Fluidity, Woodblock, Balance, Varkala & Flourish! 😍 Which is YOUR favourite? Head to our site to browse the rest of the prints! #BambooClothing #Leggings #YogaLeggings #Sustainablefashion #YogaPants #Fitness #Adventure #spring
Average cost for a two piece activewear set – £75
Good old bamboo crops up again and again in the sustainable activewear category, and its core to the story of BAM, also known as Bamboo Clothing (who would’ve guessed?!). I was immediately drawn to the Enduro Leggings in jazzy ‘Flourish Print’, as I’m shown wearing in the cover photo of this post. But what’s the deal with bamboo for workout clothes, exactly? Well, not only is growing this wonder plant great for balancing carbon emissions, but bamboo fibre is three times more absorbent than cotton and offers UV protection to boot. BAM has some pretty sizeable environmental goals its working towards, including becoming ‘impact positive’ towards people and planet. More of this please, clothing brands!
Average cost for a two piece activewear set – £126
Unlike the other names on this list, Organic Basics isn’t strictly an activewear brand. What this company does offer, however, is a range of basics in natural and organic fabrics. This extends to gym gear, with Organic Basic’s SilverTech range of leggings, sports bras, t shirts, and underwear. These garments are crafted from recycled nylon, and treated with a safe, recycled silver salt called Polygiene. This stops the growth of bacteria on the fabric, keeping you feeling fresh no matter how much you sweat. Organic Basics is perfect for all you style minimalists out there, offering simple, clean styles in neutral tones.
Average cost for a two piece activewear set – £61
Apex Gray is a new brand to me, but boy am I glad I stumbled upon these guys on Instagram! Similar to other brands on this list, these guys craft their sustainable gym gear from fabric made using recycled plastic, called Eco-lite. The fabric is designed to be fully squat proof, which makes it perfect for both weight lifting and yoga. Additionally, fabric offcuts are crafted into headbands to minimise waste. Apex Gray is also one of the most affordable brands on our list (definitely on-par with the likes of Gymshark!), and these guys are really passionate about creating quality activewear that lasts.
Carrot Banana Peach
Average cost for a two piece activewear set – £88
Natural, organic fibres are key to this British brand, who make activewear out of bamboo, soy bean (!), aloe vera (!), and cotton. Carrot Banana Peach is primarily designed with the yoga sect in mind. However, the company’s website allows you to ‘shop by motion’, which highlights the best activewear for running or gym-based workouts, as well as the key yoga-focused collection. Carrot Banana Peach also provides handy guides to its unusual fabrics and their benefits. Did you know soybean fabric is lovely and cosy, or that aloe vera is UV resistant? No, me neither!
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This #internationalwomensday meet our latest “Wow Woman” the wonderful Michele Pernetta! ✨👏💙 Michele brought #hotyoga to the UK and is the Founder of one of our favourite London studios @fiercegraceyoga 👌🏻✨ We sat down with Michele to find out more about her incredible Yoga journey, why staying true to your core is key and to get advice on how you can be the best yoga teacher for your students. 🙏 Click the link in our bio to check out Michele’s inspirational interview – one of our favourites to date! #asquithlondon
Average cost for a two piece activewear set – £105
All my bright and colourful ladies put your hands up! Asquith is definitely an ethical activewear brand for you. This is another yoga-centric brand, although the leggings are 100% opaque and therefore ideal for squatting too. Loungewear is another category this company is nailing, with its comfy sweatpants and matching slouchy tops. All of Asquith’s products are ethically made in a single factory in Turkey using sustainable organic cotton and bamboo. Good stuff all round!
Have I missed any ethical activewear brands you feel simply must be included in this list? Feel free to share them with me on Instagram – @Styledbyalicex
Sweat happy, you ethical beauties!