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Sportswear Starts To Move Towards Sustainability


From the way we shop to how we socialise, the Covid-19 pandemic has triggered a wave of changes in a relatively condensed amount of time. These changes, such as the increase in online leisure activities, which would normally have taken years to adapt and evolve, were suddenly accelerated. The pandemic might have put the dampers on team sports, yet it was fundamental in the growth of fitness and outdoor activities.

A prime example of the rapid growth in outdoor activities is cycling. Between April and September 2020 the UK cycling market saw a 27% rise in sales volume and a 26% increase in average prices, compared with the same period in 2019.

Other areas of notable growth included walking, hiking, trail running, paddle boarding and wild swimming along with online HIIT, yoga and workout sessions. As the popularity of each discipline grew, so did the demand for the apparel to go with it. Globally, the Sports Apparel market is estimated to witness a CAGR of 4.11% during the forecast period 2020 to 2025.

With long-haul travel restricted, consumers have focused on holiday breaks closer to home, many of which incorporate outdoor pursuits. This increased participation has not only led to a change in market dynamics but has driven an increased demand for sports apparel that can tick those performance and sustainability boxes. Market forecasters are predicting that women will drive this growth forward in the coming years with a rising crossover between performance sportswear and fashion.

Whilst the increase in sports and leisure is no doubt great for our personal health, the sportswear sector is still very synthetic-heavy and synthetic materials are coming under more and more pressure as they usually end up in landfills at the end of their life and are not recycled or biodegradable and therefore create a negative impact on the environment. The good news is that brands, new and established, are addressing the issue and here are a few examples:

For Autumn 2021, sportswear brand FILA collaborated with British menswear designer Oliver Spencer (Top intro image from the FILA X Oliver Spencer campaign). While this collection focuses on FILA’s archives of classic sportswear silhouettes in rich colours, both FILA and Spencer stated that the luxury fabrics used were ecologically sourced and responsibly made. Created from terry-towelling corduroy, ribbed cotton-velour jersey and organic cotton, even the packaging for this range uses recycled and sustainable materials.

Elsewhere, women’s sports brand Maaree has collaborated with sustainable cycling apparel label Ashmei on a limited-edition sports bra. The sports bra is made entirely from post-consumer plastic bottles using recycled Econyl regenerated nylon fabric, a soft-yet-hardwearing material.

Acknowledging the excessive use of non-biodegradable synthetic fibers in the sportswear market, Lenzing Group, a leading global producer of wood-based specialty fibers, has collaborated with FLOCUS™, Marchi & Fildi, Studio MLR and PYRATEX®, on a new moisture management fabric design. This new double-layer design consists of a blend of TENCEL™ branded modal fibers with Eco Colour technology and kapok fibers on the inside and 100% TENCEL™ Modal fibers on the outside. This natural pairing complements each other perfectly. While the hollow kapok fibers have hydrophobic properties due to their natural wax film, the hydrophilic TENCEL™ Modal fibers with Eco Color technology (where color pigments are embedded during fiber production) do not require any subsequent dyeing and are therefore an extremely resource-saving technology. The TENCEL™ Modal fibers are able to wick any moisture to the outer layer, distribute it, and hence contribute to a better drying performance. 

Kapok and TENCEL™ collaboration image by Sven Berggreen

The fabric not only looks good but feels great against the skin, and, as both fibers originate from nature and do not need subsequent treatments, they are biodegradable at the end of life.

Pairing Kapok and TENCEL™ Modal fibers image by Sven Berggreen

Adapting to current climate performance sportswear brands have prepared for the colder months ahead with products that can adapt to winter hiking, cross-country skiing and all-weather biking. German brand Jecky Beng has announced its “TENCEL™ Project,” launching a lightweight cellulosic and biodegradable jacket. Bring forth highly functional and bio-based fashion to the outdoor apparel segment, the brand is making the transition from using solely nylon to now organic fibers, starting with this jacket made with 100% TENCEL™ lyocell fibers. 

With a big focus on the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), sustainability has become a top priority for every business. Evidently, the sportswear and outdoor sectors have been working collaboratively to pave the way forward for considered performance wear that works with, rather than against, the planet.


[1] https://www.bicycleassociation.org.uk/news-press/official-industry-stats-reveal-record-extent-of-covid-cycling-sales-growth/

[2] https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20200722005397/en/Global-Sports-Apparel-Market-2020-to-2025—Growth-Trends-and-Forecasts—ResearchAndMarkets.com

[3] https://www.jeckybeng.com/blogs/stories/tencel-project

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