Save the Planet at the…Gym?

Can we get fit while looking good and saving the planet?

I started the new year with the best of intentions to get fit.

I did really well for the first week and a half – a series of tick marks stretching across my habit tracker. Then life got busy. The commitment to daily workouts slipped so I’m left doubling up to keep my tally looking epic.

And then I thought to myself…maybe I just need a new gym look to inspire me to get moving. As I fancy myself to be conscious shopper (at least starting now), off I went to Ecosia looking for the best of sustainable activewear.

Apparently, I’m not alone.

Our desire to look fit goes beyond the results we can get at the gym. According to new research from Lyst:
> sales of leggings have increased 15% since the first week of January
> searches for super high waisted leggings increased 65% year on year
> demand for bodysuits and leotards are 83% in 2019

‘Data indicates [leggings] continued growth in popularity, with searches including key terms like “shaping”, “lift” and “sculpting” increasing collectively 392% over the last 3 months.’

Pair that with the increase in searches for sustainable fashion, up 75% year on year, and you get a huge market opportunity for innovative brands.

Brands are using recycled material, plastic salvaged from the oceans and organic fibres to reduce waste in the manufacturing process. Thanks to science and technology, it’s a different world than the one I grew up in where the options were simply cotton, linen or polyester.

Today’s conscious shopper can choose from a range of planet-friendly materials, including:
> Econyl: discarded nylon salvaged from landfills and oceans
> Repreve: fibres made from recycled material, including plastic bottles
> Tencel: made from wood pulp from sustainable tree farms
> Evrnu: recycled cotton from discarded garments
> S.Cafe: a fibre made from recycled coffee grounds
> Qmilch: a silk-like fibre made from a protein in sour milk

Yes, coffee and sour milk.

Of course, this is positive on so many levels. We’re moving toward a circular economy that reduces waste. Our oceans and beaches – and the marine life that depend on them – will be cleaner and healthier. We’re protecting our natural resources by saving water and reducing toxic pollution. So far, so good.

But viewed from a different angle (in other words, the angle that I got started on this search in the first place), are we in danger of greenwashing a consumer behaviour that needs more interrogation and intention going into a new decade?

Am I replacing the unsustainable clothes in my wardrobe with these truly cool innovations, or am I doubling up on what I buy and ultimately send to landfill?

Is my grandparents ethos of ‘mend and make do’ the one I should apply to our current wardrobes, regardless of what fibres the clothes are made from? 

Am I buying clothes I need, or am I mostly trying to conform to the latest lifestyle trends on Instagram, keen to show that I got the memo that ‘sustainable’ yoga leggings are the new dress code for the weekend brunch at the plant-based cafe? 

To be honest, it’s too early in the year for such deep questions, given I should ideally be working out now and not be teetering on an existential crisis fuelled by my good intentions to buy better.

But all these pontifications did lead me to one important question. Once these sustainable materials become commonplace and hit the mainstream, are there adequate protections in place to ensure that the supply chain doesn’t have the same abuses and failings that exist today?

Just because something is recycled, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good.

The fashion industry, at its core, isn’t sustainable. Always seeking to reimagine style, redefine sexy, drive trends in materials, colours and cuts – it’s an industry actively working to ensure that what you have today won’t work tomorrow.

So if we’re going to shop, by all means, we should shop with the brands seeking to minimise their impact on the planet. Vote with your wallet, and all that.

So I decided that it was worth taking that extra moment or two before firing up Apple Pay to consider if the most sustainable choice is to walk away (and get some steps in on my FITBIT while I’m at it).

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