The best eco-friendly activewear for the ethical runner

The sports and fitness clothing market is tipped to surpass $230 billion in worldwide sales by 2024. Beyond helping runners to stay comfortable, activewear has become fashionable daily wear.

But our choice of running apparel impacts more than just our own comfort. Our love of activewear is contributing to the fast fashion epidemic and increasing waste. But runners can buy better by researching and supporting ethical activewear brands.

Felicity Ross from Earth Runner says that for activewear to be considered ethical the brand's supply chains should be fully transparent and legally compliant.

"A few years after starting to run I became more aware of my environmental footprint, and I wanted to make more conscious choices in all aspects of my life," says Ross.

"I found that there were some great brands out there designing and manufacturing more ethical activewear and thought it would be helpful to consumers to bring these together in an online marketplace."

Eco exercise

When Ross started Earth Runner, she spent a long time pondering what makes an ethical brand and conducted plenty of research.

"Some of my local stockists such as Dharma Bums and d+k are accredited by Ethical Clothing Australia, meaning they have undergone an assessment and are committed to ensuring their onshore production is transparent and ethical – a great step in protecting the rights of workers involved in the supply chain," she says.

In the initial Earth Runner range, Ross sourced brands that are working with fabrics that are more environmentally friendly than the traditional polyester and Lycra staples.

"There are some exciting things happening in the sustainable activewear and fashion space, but we have a long way to go to understand the environmental impacts of many of the materials used to make our running clothes," she says.


Quality assurance

Choosing to buy and run in ethical activewear doesn't mean you have to sacrifice technical performance – but you might have to do a little more research says Ross.

"Choosing a fabric that is more eco-friendly can be tricky because there are benefits and drawbacks to all fibre types," she adds.  

"Many people assume natural fibres are the best option, but they still need to be treated, dyed and transported, and all these factors impact our environment."

She says organic fabrics are a better choice as they have been grown without the use of toxic chemicals. However, she cautions that cotton is a crop that requires high quantities of water.

"I personally love some of the fabrics hitting the market that are made from recycled content," says Ross.

"It's a creative initiative that puts existing waste to good use, whilst reducing the reliance on natural resources.

"I've got some compression tights by First Base Clothing that are made from recycled polyester...and Sydney label OORR (Out of the Rat Race) are producing cycling apparel from used coffee grounds and recycled plastic bottles."

Know your brand

Ross says the following brands are winning the ethical activewear race:

The Kusaga Athletic 'future fabrics' are really innovative due to their high-performance qualities and low impact to the environment.

Sydney label First Base Clothing perfectly combines the elements of style, performance and ethics.

Elle Evans Swimwear is a Melbourne-based brand that makes beautiful active and swim pieces to order from recycled ocean waste.

How to tread lightly

Ross offers the following tips to help runners make better purchasing decisions next time they need some new running threads:

  • Look after your clothes

There's plenty of things we can do to help the planet even before we've decided to buy new gear. Repair, recycle, upcycle and even swap clothes with your running mates.

  • Run past the bargain bin

Shop mindfully and resist the temptation to go for the biggest bargains. Think before buying. Have a closer look at the quality of the fabric and the workmanship and invest in a smaller number of high quality pieces as opposed to several cheaper garments. We can all do our bit to counter the fast fashion epidemic.

  • There's an app for that

If it's time for some new gear (don't worry – I get it!), the good thing is there are now some great resources out there to help us make better choices. The Good On You ethical shopping app gives brands a rating based on people, planet and animals. There are also certifications such as Ethical Clothing Australia and B-Corporation that provide us with assurance that these brands have transparency in their supply chains and are legally compliant.

  • Pass on the event t-shirt

Often running event t-shirts are mass-produced and not sourced ethically. Next time you enter an event, opt-out of buying or taking a race tee.

The goal of one day completing an ultra-marathon inspires running fanatic Laura Hill to clock up the kilometres each week. With a day job in the corporate world, Laura loves nothing more than lacing up her runners and hitting the pavement to clear her mind and challenge her body.

Follow Laura Hill on Twitter