The wellness boom of the past five years has had a cataclysmic effect on a lot of stuff.
Aside from getting 'cheese' made from coconuts, trading the pub for spin classes and allowing a device on your wrist to harvest your data with the insatiable hunger of a mosquito, what you wear to workout in has become something that people think about.
Last year, the active wear market was worth approximately £230 billion globally, according to Mintel. This figure is expected to rise to upwards of £270 billion by 2020, and, like the rest of the high street, each season brings a new low-cost collection. You can see how this fuels the industry: when a fresh pair of leggings are £5.99, they become an easy lunch time buy.
But what if you knew that in countries such as Indonesia, textile facilities pump pollutants direct into the public water supply? Or that, as with the stream of clothes produced, the rights of the people making them may be practically non-existent?
The good news is that a new generation of sustainable active wear brands are making moves to change that, producing ethical collections using recycled materials and low carbon manufacturing methods.
Say hello to the future of fitness fashion.
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Formed in 2011 by Pilates and yoga instructor and former organic farmer, Su Dodd, FROM has arguably been paving the way for the sustainable active wear movement. For Su, creating a collection of active wear made without chemicals was a no-brainer.
"I knew about the damage that pesticide use on edible crops could have on wildlife and the environment – and our bodies," she says. "Which got me thinking – what about its place in the clothes I'm wearing against my skin, the largest – and an absorbent – organ of the body."
Dodd also prides herself on the fact that at least 90 per cent of all the materials in her leggings and yoga bras are sustainable – think Global Organic Textile Standard-certified organic cotton ("This ensures that the organic cotton hasn't been blended with any other fabrics," Dodd says); ethically sourced merino wool, certified to ensure animal welfare; and Lenzing Tencel, made from the wood pulp of Eucalyptus trees, grown on regenerating plantations.
"Active wear brands are appealing to people who care about what they do with their bodies, but they're not telling them the full story of how their garments are made," she says.
"I want people to be well-informed, so that can choose what they wear responsibly."
When former lawyer Julie Ngov couldn't find active wear that met her environmentally-friendly and ethical demands – or that fitted her petite frame – she set about creating a collection that did.
"I stumbled across The True Cost, which introduced me to the world of mass production and how damaging it is," she says, referring to Andrew Morgan's 2015 documentary film about the clothing industry.
"We all buy into fast fashion that is cheap but, when a top costs less than a cup of coffee, and that sum has to cover the the fabric, production, shipping and employee's wage, how much is the worker really being paid?" Determined to tackle the issue of wastage – one million tonnes of textiles are thrown away every year in the UK alone, according to research from Oxfam, and, with many containing plastics, won't break down in your lifetime – Ngov created Adrenna, a brand specialising in made-to- order, customisable sportswear.
She soft launched in June and with orders already flooding in, it's clear people don't care about the 14-21 day wait.
"People can choose the length of their garment so they're guaranteed a perfect fit," Ngov says. "I source my materials, which are all Oeko Tex or Bluesign certified to ensure no harmful substances have been used, from Italy, where I can order in smaller quantities so there'll never be unsold stock. The garments are then made in London by workers, who are paid above the minimum wage," Ngov says. "The sustainable active wear market is going to continue to grow and it's really exciting to be a part of that. I
want people to start engaging in the conversation. Together we can make it the norm."
We've had fibres made from bamboo, hemp and soy. But the latest word in sustainable materials are cleverer ideas: coffee grounds, milk proteins, pineapples and plastic bottles, re-purposed into something new.
Sundried is one such brand using the latter. Launched by Daniel Puddick in 2016, it was developed 'with the environment and wellbeing of everyone in the supply chain in mind.
"We take used plastic bottles and coffee grounds – that would otherwise end up in land fill – and create the yarn for some of our garments," he says. "Coffee-based fibres have naturally sweat-wicking and de-odourising properties and don't require the same high-temperature treatments as standard alternatives, reducing CO2 emissions."
"They're also longer-wearing – for every one of our garments, over four years, you'd need around five standard replacements.'"Which explains why they're so well suited to their partnership with the Low Carbon Innovation Fund, an organisation that champions small businesses doing their bit to keep carbon
At present, Puddick produces his collections in Portugal, but plans are in place to bring manufacture to the UK. "There's obviously the environmental impact of shipping our goods to the UK for sale. We plan to reduce these by using UK-based manufacturers for our next collections."
And, as if all that wasn't enough, with every purchase, Sundried supports charities, including Surfers Against Sewage and Water for Kids, and gives you an organic cotton tote bag so you can ditch the plastic.
Looks like the fabled 'runner's high' is no longer just a product of endorphins. It's time to feel good via your active wear, too.