The Best Sustainable Workout Clothes of 2021

Embrace your fittest self by working out in these comfy, earth-friendly togs.

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Activewear has wriggled into our wardrobes to occupy serious shelf space. However, for a long time workout wear has been made primarily from synthetic material like polyester, which isn’t biodegradable and is produced using hazardous chemicals. What’s more, with each wash, it sheds microplastic fibers that find their way into our water and soil (more on that below).

Today, several brands are committed to making active gear with eco-consciousness at the forefront. For the shortlist, we’ve considered activewear that is comfy, ethically made, and environmentally friendly, cutting across price points and covering a wide range of low-impact materials such as organic cotton, Tencel lyocell (made from wood pulp fiber), bamboo, and more. However, it's worth noting that for stretch and fit, almost all workout apparel still contains some proportion of synthetic materials such as elastane.

So, whether you’re looking for moisture-wicking crop tops or slouchy sweatshirts, we've put together a list of the best sustainable workout clothes.

The Rundown
Organic Basics combines performance with sustainability in its comfy activewear.
Tentree’s ethical, sustainable, and affordable active essentials look sharp while keeping you in shape.
The high-wattage collection elevates activewear with oodles of glamour, shimmer, and texture, without compromising on action.
Best Sweatpants and Sweatshirts:
Outerknown Apparel at Outerknown.com
Durable and breathable, comfort wear to loll about in or do some heavy-duty squats.
Power through lunges in style with L.A.-based Groceries Apparel’s fashionably designed mix-and-match sustainable workout wear.
Wrap your derrière in sexy shorts by Pangaia that use innovative tech and bio-engineered fruit and plant materials.
This drapey, squooshy top is made from Cupro, a regenerated cellulose fabric from cotton waste material mixed with organic cotton.
Each legging is created from OEKO-TEX certified fabric from post-consumer recycled plastic that’s blended with spandex.

Best Overall: Organic Basics

Organic Basics Organic Cotton Tee

With something for everyone, Copenhagen-based certified B Corporation Organic Basics combines performance with sustainability in its comfy activewear. Working with natural, recycled, and renewable textiles, you can bounce into the perfect burpee wearing this breathable, stretchy, moisture-wicking gear.

The menswear and womenswear are made from Earth-friendly fabrics including Global Recycle Standard-certified lightweight Italian recycled nylon (made from pre-consumer textile waste), Tencel lyocell, organic cotton, and recycled wool. Upping the ante, treatments such as SilverTech (where polymer fiber is coated in real silver and blended with cotton) and Polygiene (a Bluesign approved permanent fabric treatment) keeps the apparel temperature-regulated and fresh-smelling.

Contributing to charity 1% For The Planet, Organic Basics discloses the impact index of each item. You can dive deeper into its ethical business practices, activism, and efforts towards building supply chain transparency in a detailed report.

Best Budget: Tentree Apparel

Tentree Highline Cotton Acre Sweater

Putting the planet first, certified B Corporation Tentree’s (named for the plants 10 trees for every item sold) ethical, sustainable, and affordable active essentials look sharp while keeping you in shape.

The togs are crafted from materials such as Tencel lyocell, recycled polyester (from discarded plastic bottles), organic cotton, and hemp. The certified Climate Neutral company has planted over 60 million trees to date, hoping to grow over a billion by 2030. Rejuvenating natural ecosystems is high on its agenda and it supports charities One Tree Planted, Eden Projects, and Trees for the Future.

What’s more, you can buy Climate+ packages to offset your lifestyle. We love that you can track the growth of your grove by registering your tree code, seeing how your woody clump is faring in a far corner of the Earth.

Best Splurge: adidas by Stella McCartney

adidas by Stella McCartney

Breaking into a sweat has never looked so good than in Adidas by Stella McCartney’s latest drop, the bling-y FW 21 Stellashine. The high-wattage collection elevates activewear with oodles of glamour, shimmer, and texture, without compromising on action.

The crops, tights, jackets, and shoes feature tech developed by Adidas. These technical materials include moisture-wicking "Aeroready" fabric and performance-enhancing "Boost" footwear cushioning. Designed using recycled materials, including recycled polyester, the Stellashine collection is solid enough for the track and sleek enough for the bar.

Best Sweatpants and Sweatshirts: Outerknown Apparel

Outerknown Evolution Hooded Jacket

Outerknown’s stylish Sur French terry sweats are made from organic cotton and hemp. Durable and breathable, it's comfort wear to loll about in or do some heavy-duty squats. The laidback sustainable label founded by professional surfer Kelly Slater is Fair Labor Association accredited and 90 percent of the fibers used by the brand are organic, recycled, or regenerated.

The sweatpants have a flattering tapered silhouette, an elastic waistband, and even a zip back pocket, but come in limited shades. On the other hand, the snuggly sweatshirts come in a gaggle of calming colors, including Henna, Marigold, and Cosmo. Shoppers find the duo comfy yet rugged, scoring high on both counts of sloth-worthiness and sportiness.

Best Matching Sets: Groceries Apparel

Kazuko Shorts | Madder Root + Iron Tie Dye

Power through punishing lunges in style with LA-based Groceries Apparel’s fashionably designed mix-and-match sustainable workout wear. It’s manufactured in a factory in L.A. that minimizes waste and carbon emissions. The collection is made from shape-sculpting materials including recycled plastic bottles, hemp, eucalyptus, and recycled cotton.

We love that since inception, the togs have been colored with eco-friendly dyes derived from edibles and flowers. This includes luscious pomegranates, crunchy carrot tops, delicate onion skins, dark roots, and the bark of trees, and even real indigo. Most of the garments are designed for women, but there's also a small collection of unisex and toddler items.

Best Shorts: Pangaia

365 Long Shorts

Wrap your derrière in sexy shorts by Pangaia (a riff on all-inclusive Mother Earth) that use innovative tech and bio-engineered fruit and plant-based materials to create breathable, lightweight half pants (available in long or short styles) in gorgeous solid shades.

The PLNTFIBER drapey shorts are fashioned from ethically sourced bamboo, eucalyptus, organic seaweed, and wild Himalayan nettle, treated with PPRMINT oil (a durable peppermint oil antimicrobial finish) to keep you minty fresh and fragrant down under. The FRUTFIBER garments are made from the waste of pineapple and banana blended with bamboo and are also slathered with a peppermint oil finish. Packed in compostable packaging, these delicious shorts are great for low-key exercise days.

Best Crop Top: Girlfriend Collective Gia Crop Tee

Girlfriend Collective Gia Crop Tee

We love sustainable label Girlfriend Collective’s easy-breezy Gia crop tees. They come in nine gorgeous shades such as Thistle, Fern, Oyster, and Pepper, colored using eco-friendly dyes. This drapey, squooshy top is made from Cupro, a regenerated cellulose fabric made from cotton waste material mixed with organic cotton. Biodegradable, it’s static and cling-free, ensuring a fuss-free workout.

Girlfriend's clothes are cut-and-sewn in an SA8000 certified facility in Vietnam and packed in recycled and recyclable packaging. Also check out the capsule menswear collection, upcycling program ReGirlfriend, and innovative Microfiber Filter (view on Girlfriend.com) that catches errant microplastic fibers before they make it to local waterways.

Best Leggings: Wolven Leggings

Fauna Ruched Crossover Legging

Limber up in Wolven Threads’ lovely leggings that come in funky colors and patterns. Each legging is created from OEKO-TEX certified fabric from post-consumer recycled plastic (each legging is made from 27 plastic bottles) that’s blended with spandex.

The brand strives to make sustainability sexy and succeeds. Super soft, stretchy, quick-drying, and odor-free, with every legging you buy, Wolven plucks a pound of plastic waste from the oceans. What’s more, each purchase comes wrapped in a biodegradable paper box or 100 percent recycled poly mailer. Wolven is Climate Neutral and GRS-certified. Committed to the environment, it’s a member of 1% For The Planet.  If that’s not enough, we’re stoked you can pick a pair of leggings with pockets.

Final Verdict

Our pick of sustainable activewear is Organic Basics that combines high performance with sustainability (view at organicbasics.com). Tentree’s ethical, eco-friendly and affordable workout wear looks sharp while keeping you in shape (view at tentree.com).

What to Look for in Sustainable Workout Clothes

Check the Materials

Conventional activewear is made from synthetic materials such as polyester, nylon, and spandex and often uses dyes that can harm the environment. For more eco-friendly clothes, you can choose among many alternative fabrics, such as organic cotton, econyl, hemp, Tencel, bamboo, and material made from recycled plastic (though for stretchiness there will be synthetic materials blended in).

Trusted Certifications

Pick ethically made environmentally conscious and skin safe activewear. Check for globally recognized third-party certifications such as OEKO-TEX, Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), Fair Trade, and B-Corporation.

Comfort, Use, and Fit

Ask relevant questions to buy gear that you’ll actually wear, rather than sexy but impractical sportswear that’s relegated to the far end of your closet: Would loose-fitting (or tight-fitting clothes) make you feel more comfortable? Would those cutesy shorts chafe? Would you be exercising indoors or outdoors? Would compression gear work better for you? Do you need gear with moisture-wicking properties? Are you working out in summer or winter?

FAQs

How can I make my workout clothes last longer?

Keep your activewear clean and stretch its life (not the elastic) with these handy tips. After a sweat sesh, you’d be tempted to dump the damp gym wear in the wash. But air-drying them first makes them easier to clean. If they’re a tad stinky and awash with stains, soak them in a dash of vinegar mixed with water before washing. Turn the clothes inside out before the cold spin (to protect the stretch and prevent sagging). Nix the dryer and let them air.

How can I avoid contributing to the micro-plastic pollution?

Your comfy synthetic activewear has a downside to it: Tiny plastic microfibers that shed each time the gear is worn and washed. These tiny particles that shed off from clothes and other stuff are responsible for a whopping 35 percent of the plastic polluting the oceans, according to Ocean Clean Wash. Here’s how you can minimize your impact:

  • Optimize how you wash: Fill up your washing machine to reduce friction between clothes. Opt for a natural liquid detergent and wash at cool temperatures on shorter cycles.
  • Invest in a microfiber filter: These bulky workhorses attach to a washing machine and imprison fibers before they can wriggle their way into the water stream and ocean. The filters need to be cleaned and the waste disposed of carefully after every few washes. Check out Girlfriend Collective’s The Microfiber Filter (view on Girlfriend.com) that’s affordable and accessible, and Filtrol’s sturdy filter (view on Filtrol.net) which claims to have a catch rate of 89 percent.
  • Minimize synthetic fabrics when possible: It's not always the most practical or comfortable to work out in cotton clothes, but when you can swing it, know that opting for garments made from natural fibers is the best way to avoid adding to the microfiber problem from laundry.

Why Trust Treehugger?

To make this list, we researched brands that are committed to sustainable principles without compromising on performance. We looked for clothes made with recycled materials, natural fibers, organic cotton, and trustworthy certifications.

Author Neeti Mehra writes about luxury and is committed to sustainable, slow, and mindful living. Practicing a sustainable lifestyle, she’s building a capsule wardrobe for herself that can be mixed and matched across occasions and seasons.

View Article Sources
  1. United States Department of Agriculture. Organic textiles. 2011.

  2. Dyehouse Selection: A major opportunity to reduce environmental impact.” NRDC.org.