Activewear Brands Step up Sustainability Efforts in 2021.
A focus on sustainability has not wavered, despite current global challenges. According to Helen Palmer, head of materials, knits and textiles for WGSN, consumers are seeking “sustainable, trans-seasonal and hard-working fabrics that last for active lifestyles” with firms including Adidas, Patagonia and Intidex on stride to hit milestones (specifically for 100 percent recycled polyester efforts) in the coming years.
The trend consultant also noted in her February 2021 “Sourcing Trends” webinar that the active industry is driving fabric choice in other areas of fashion, with eco-coatings, bio-based materials, recycled fibers, protective elements (ie. anti-abrasion, climate control and antiviral/antimicrobial) and zero waste elements proliferating.
Here are three brands succeeding at raising the bar in sustainability in the activewear space.
Luxe Active: Cor
Cor’s eco-luxury activewear is “100 percent ethically made by hand in Los Angeles,” according to a release from the brand designed for medium and high impact activities including cycling, yoga and running. Made-to-order garments are crafted with deeply saturated colors and digitally printed patterns (airy clouds, ombre stars) to make pieces stand out. Each one is laser-cut for the perfect fit and use bonding technology for seamless integration and made for movement. Asha Kai, Cor’s CEO, stated that “The brand’s zero-waste/zero-inventory model challenges the traditional manufacturing status quo, reducing its carbon footprint by 95 percent and avoiding the use of chemical-based washes or water.”
Kai further explained that the 100 percent waterless production process relies on durable laser bonding and ultra-fine hand-stitched detailing rivaling the most elite couture. “It is a lean, digitally-based production model in which peerless performance meets lasting quality - and removes the need for a middle man in the sales process.”
Started in February 2021, Cor is a sister company of Ultracor, which is billed as luxury activewear embodying high-performance technology. Ultracor pieces including the Hypersonic Luna Bra employ compression technology which improves motion, oxygenation to the muscles and promotes blood flow to enhance overall performance.
Everyday Active: Headsweats
Known in running circles for its performance hats and accessories, Headsweats now aims to be a player in apparel. 2021 marks the launch of Headsweats’ new Active Line, a women’s collection of long sleeve tops, singlets and Eco Ultra Bands all made with Repreve fabric, plus also leggings and tanks.
“We are making our way towards our goal of offering 100 percent recycled products,” notes Magui Martinez-Pena, Headsweats sales manager. The company began using Repreve two years ago in performance tees and cycling caps.
“We got the idea to display the number of bottles used in each individual shirt prominently on the back” which has been successful in that it “translates a large-scale effort into a personal, tangible reminder of each individual’s contribution to sustainability,” says Mike McQueeney, president of Headsweats.
McQueeney considers sustainability a part of the brand’s DNA, with a 100 percent vertically integrated manufacturing facility in El Salvador fit with solar energy panels, an advanced water recycling system and biomass energy production. “Sustainability is a big deal. It helps drive our business decisions,” he explains, “as more big name brands take the sustainable approach, it feels genuine from the environmental standpoint.”
Outdoor Active: Royal Robbins
“At Royal Robbins, we take a holistic approach to sustainability, considering the impacts at each stage of product development,” said Kaytlin Moeller, sustainability manager for the firm. “By building products with durability and timeless styling we create garments that will last our customers longer…we know the best way to reduce impact is to ensure products hold up for many years.”
The firm’s goal is to reach 100 percent preferred cotton and 80 percent recycled or bio-based polyester by 2025. The company partners with Looptworks to make excess material into new items and established Royal’s Rewear program to take back used items at the end of life.
“Consumer trend reports show that more people are looking for activewear, especially outdoor activewear, and want products to purchase they feel good about,” Moeller said. For Spring 2021, the team transitioned its best-selling Expedition collection to 100 percent recycled material. By switching to recycled polyester for the Expedition Ripstop, Royal Robbins reduced energy use in material production by 51.19 percent and CO₂ emissions by 58.60 percent. Each shirt upcycles approximately nine (roughly 16.9 oz.) bottles.