Now we know that tiny plastic microfibers from that fleece shed with each and every wash. One study found these plastic microfibers in 67% of the fish studied + bound for human consumption in California. Polyester, nylon, and lycra/spandex are fabrics woven from long, thin plastic fibers (derived from crude oil). While these fabric innovations may make great performance fabrics for our workouts, they may not be so great for our health or the health of the planet in the end. These chemical compounds are hazardous in production and will be with us long after we are finished with them.
While polyester seems to be the most common fiber when it comes to athletic wear, natural fiber options are (not surprisingly) cropping back up in many ethical circles. It is difficult to replicate the elastic nature of lycra or spandex desired in much athletic clothing, so it can be tricky to find 100% natural fiber active wear. I was able to find a few options, however. It can take a little digging to find the 100% natural items even on some of the websites listed here, but it is possible. When these workout pieces have reached the end of their usefulness as clothing (and then rags), the bits of elastic could be cut out and they could be composted.
Pansy :: organic USA grown cotton :: sewn in California :: tops, bottoms, bras
Rawganique :: organic cotton tops, bottoms, bras :: elastic free options :: sweat-shop free :: men's + women's
Ibex :: some 100% merino wool pieces :: "responsibly" sourced + sewn :: men's + women's :: men's cycling :: some pieces made in the USA
Base Range :: organic cotton :: made in Portugal :: sweatshirts, sweatpants + tees
Noble :: organic cotton sewn + dyed in Tennessee :: sweatshirts, tees, + sweatpants :: women's + men's (used to be Victor Athletics)
Smartwool :: some 100% merino wool tops + leggings :: knit in Vietnam, so I'm not sure about the fairness of the labor conditions:: women's + men's options
Pact :: organic cotton :: fair-trade :: well-priced :: some tanks for women + some men's tees are 100% organic cotton
Patagonia :: in addition to some organic tees, I found an organic cotton/tencel tank :: sewn in a monitored, Vietnam factory :: men's options as well
Tracksmith :: this top is made from cotton/rayon in New England (USA)
Jungmaven :: hemp + organic cotton tees + sweatshirts :: made in the USA :: women's + men's
If the goal is to buy an entirely compostable garment, I would caution about the probability that these pieces are sewn with polyester thread in order to increase durability. I tried to mostly avoid picturing items with zippers, snaps, elastic and grommets, because they would also not be compostable (but could be cut out before composting).
One way to avoid all of those items (choose cotton thread) would be to sew your own activewear out of organic cotton, hemp, or wool with the help of one of these sewing patterns:
Grainline Studio :: Linden sweatshirt
True Bias :: Hudson sweatpants :: for men + kids too
Fancy Tiger :: Adventure tanks
Hey June :: Sloane leggings
So Sew Easy :: leggings
Purl Bee :: City gym shorts :: for girls too
Fehr Trade :: a variety of athletic wear patterns :: some for men too
Conscious Clothing :: made in Michigan, organic fibers
Gaia Conceptions :: made in North Carolina :: organic fabrics, plant dyes
Free Label :: natural fibers :: made in Canada
Synergy Clothing :: paying living wages :: organic cotton :: GOTS certified
Patagonia :: recycled + organic fibers :: growing fair-trade collection
Athleta :: currently has a collection of pieces focused on sustainability :: some fair-trade :: some natural + organic fibers
Albion :: "committed to the environment :: "using earth friendly materials" :: "fair labor practices"
Purusha People :: made in the USA :: playful pieces including an "organic" collection
From :: fair-trade :: organic cotton, merino wool :: transparent supply chains :: UK
Live the Process :: ethically made in the USA
Girlfriend Collective :: new collection coming this spring :: transparent
Threads for Thought :: fair-trade :: organic cotton + recycled polyester
Shift to Nature :: fair-trade :: organic fibers + bamboo :: Australia
LVR :: made in the USA :: organic + recycled fibers
Beyond Yoga :: designed + made in Los Angeles, CA
Onzie :: mostly made in the USA :: will provide list of made in USA pieces if contacted
Prana :: there is a focus on organic + sustainable fibers :: some items are fair-trade
Outer Known :: many pieces made from reclaimed fishing nets :: some fair-trade pieces :: men's
Share Hope :: leggings :: owned by a nonprofit that invests all profits into the lives of garment workers
Akrovita :: made in California
Heroine Sport :: a lot of made in the USA pieces
Nau and Icebreaker have a focus on natural fibers, but the sewing origins are not apparent from their websites. Icebreaker does state, "we go out of our way to make sure all of our sewing and finishing is undertaken in an environmentally and socially responsible manner."
Tracksmith used to be made exclusively in New England, but now they "find the best global partners", so I'm not sure about the fairness of the labor conditions in regards to the foreign made pieces.
All photos are from the brands' websites. I will link to this post on the ethical brands page, so it will be easy access when needed.
Sweat on, friends!