While apparel made from recycled plastic bottles might be brilliant in theory, once those garments hit the wash, they shed tiny bits of fiber—microplastics—into the water, which eventually flow downstream and into our oceans and food supplies. It’s a tricky situation without a clear solution: Eco-friendly materials with ample stretch (key for yoga pants and sports bras, for example) simply aren’t widely available just yet, and while brands that use recycled fibers (like nylon or those woven from upcycled plastic bottles) produce an overall lower carbon footprint by lengthening the life of materials, it’s always at a cost. Our suggestion? Check the materials list before making a purchase, and opt for natural fibers with low impact (such as hemp) wherever possible.
The Cotton Conundrum
A crop dubbed the world’s dirtiest, cotton is a contentious material, even though it’s a natural fiber. Think of cotton as the almonds of the fabric world: extremely water-intensive. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that more than 700 gallons of water go into a single T-shirt. It’s true that cotton sucks up resources and requires loads of fertilizer to produce, which results in potent greenhouse gasses and polluted water supplies. But on the flip side, it will degrade and compost within a few months, making it a better choice than spandex or polyester, for instance, which could take up to 200 years to degrade. Is cotton a cure (at) all? Absolutely not. But it’s dangerous to environmentalism to believe that if you’re not perfect, you’re not helping. Knowing your actual impact goes a long way toward helping you make better decisions, and the best one of all might be to simply limit how much—and how often—you make purchases by investing in lasting apparel and goods and avoiding fast fashion.
Patagonia Trail Harbor Tank Top | $45
Hemp has become the darling of the sustainability movement since the federal government lifted a nearly 50-year ban on its production in 2018, making the natural fiber a logical ally for eco-friendly industry leader Patagonia. The low-water crop is blended with organic cotton, resulting in a sleek, buttery-soft tank that’s breathable and also good for the globe, giving back to nonprofit 1% For the Planet and helping fund more than 1,000 community groups working on climate action.
Bamboo is the basis of Boody’s athletic line, combined with organic cotton to produce an antibacterial, hypoallergenic, and moisture-wicking yarn with zero waste. The result is form-fitting, supportive, and comfortable, no matter how much heat you build.
Happy Earth O Ka Honua Leggings | $65
Develop a plant-based practice with these polyester- and nylon-free performance leggings, complete with pockets, built-in support, and a snuggly ribbed knit for supreme breathability.
Miakoda Classic Bodysuit | $72
Simple, refined, and—dare we say—perfected: This bodysuit may not be custom, but it seemingly intuits your every move, gliding through whatever workout, routine, or TV binge comes its way. A winning combination of wood pulp, bamboo, and organic cotton (which takes less water to grow than its traditional counterpart) comprises Miakoda’s featherweight fabric, leftovers of which are repurposed in a zero-waste collection.