The Eco-Consequences of Your Favorite Workout Gear

The tab for this Google Doc has been open on my computer all morning. Until now, I have not dug into writing about the eco-consequences of my favorite workout gear this morning because I have been busy online shopping for nice athleisure wear. My sister sent me an email notifying me that one of my favorite brands, Prana, was on sale at the online Moosejaw, a store akin to REI. I like to argue that I am the Baci sister who does not have a shopping addiction, but my credit card would beg to differ in this moment. 

eco-consequences of workoout gear

For the past number of years, but most intensely in the past couple of months, I have been giving more thought to my own consumption of goods. Through documentaries such as Plastic Ocean and conversations with environmentally minded colleagues at work, I have been contemplating my own eco-consequences on the planet. 

In a conversation with a colleague earlier this year, she noted that nylon takes hundreds of years to break down. I had to take a pause; I had seen nylon on the label of so many of my clothes. Some of the apparel that we all love to sport so much now—whether it be to hang out for some Netflixing, head to the grocery store, or meet up for a low-key brunch—is athleisure wear. Nylon is included in so many athletics clothes since it is soft, mildew-resistant, and dries quickly. 

What are the eco-consequences of clothing on the environment? 

In an article for Vox entitled, “More than ever, our clothes are made of plastic. Just washing them can pollute the oceans,” Brian Resnick explains that the materials that make up 60 percent of our clothing worldwide contain plastics. Fabrics made with polyester, nylon and acrylic are leading to plastics pollution in our oceans just when we wash our clothes; fibers get into the water system, thus contributing to the microplastic pollution that ends up part of our food chain. In essence, it seems, we are eating what we wear. 

What should I be buying and wearing then? 

There are eco-conscious brands out there, and some are producing super cute stuff to lounge or sweat in. An article in The Good Trade names 10 brands to consider “with fair trade and ethical labor practices, [using] natural and recycled fabrics, [are] USA-made, and [adhere to] limited and conscious production.”

I loved what I saw when I clicked the link for Alternative Apparel—so much comfy soft and sustainable loungewear. I was stoked when I found out that Boody is sourcing sustainable bamboo from China, my host country, to make their sleek and sexy fitness numbers. I was jazzed to learn of the company Threads 4 Thought because in addition to using sustainable materials, “they partner with the International Rescue Committee to help provide a better life for those living as refugees.”

That Prana order that is heading to my parents’ house in the States, I feel pretty good about it, too. They have a number of sustainability initiatives, including using organic cotton, recycled wool and are dedicated to social responsibility in manufacturing. If you order online, the package will arrive to your door using more paper than plastic as well, though there is a carbon footprint in that plane or delivery truck that must get it from factory to home. If you, like me, also have between one and 17 items of Lululemon clothing in your closet, they do have a foot in the door with sustainability, but could be doing better

If you want to continue to seek out companies working on socially ethical and environmentally sustainable practices, look for corporations that are BCorp certified, like Athleta. Certified BCorps “are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment.” 

What about all of the clothes I have that are not sustainable? 

To be honest, I have not yet checked the labels on all of my clothes to count the number of sustainable versus unsustainable fabrics. I am a little nervous about what I will find. What I will dedicate myself to is using them until the ends of their lives, or entering them into a clothing swap, rather than simply disposing of them into a dumpster when I tire of them. 

As an expat, clothing swaps have proved a way to freshen up our wardrobes abroad without buying into the easy online platforms that deliver fun, but cheaply made clothing right to your door, with tons of wasteful packaging to boot. 

Digging in to this whole topic has me asking a couple of questions: What heirlooms do I want my bloodline to inherit? What legacy do I want to leave behind? 

These are big questions, and while they come with big actions, I am beginning to take baby steps. If you throw small stones into a still lake, they ripple far and wide. I hope that you might join me too, and so step by small step we might together make a big difference in the earth that our nieces and nephews, and our own children, inherit.

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About Jamie Bacigalupo

Having first traveled from her hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota, to live in Quito, Ecuador, she decided to give the East a run and is now a resident of Shenzhen, China. She earned her degree in Communication Arts/Literature and Communication and Secondary Education from Gustavus Adolphus College and is enthusiastically exploring Asia by teaching abroad. She digs hanging out with her students by weekday, and relishes finding new restaurants to eat authentic Chinese food and finding new hiking paths on the weekends. In addition to sticking her nose in a book to recover from an intense workday, Jamie also loves exploring all manner of flavors in the kitchen, especially when she is whipping up some recipes for her friends and family.