Organic & Sustainable Activewear For Women
From yoga leggings to sports bras to muscle tanks, we’re sharing 4 brands of sustainable and eco-friendly activewear for women. By choosing activewear made from organic fabric, you can protect our planet and avoid unnecessary exposure to endocrine-disrupting PFAS chemicals that are found in some fitness fabrics.
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From yoga leggings to sports bras to muscle tanks, women’s activewear is a $120 billion industry. Along with this growth comes a demand for high performing fabrics, and some of these fabrics are damaging the environment as well as our health. By choosing activewear made from organic fabric, you can protect our planet and avoid unnecessary exposure to endocrine-disrupting PFAS chemicals that are found in some fitness fabrics.
How Is Women’s Activewear Damaging The Environment?
Activewear fabrics like polyester, nylon, acrylic and lycra don’t break down in landfills for hundreds of years or more. When they do break down, they can leach tiny plastic particles, called microplastics, that migrate all over the world, mixing in with dust and sand and traveling though ocean water. Microplastics can be found in marine animals, table salt and our drinking water, among other things.
If your activewear fabric isn’t organic, chances are it’s been sprayed with pesticides. Seven of the 15 pesticides commonly used on cotton in the United States are listed as “probable” or “known” human carcinogens by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Farming with organic practices keeps our waterways free from harmful herbicides and pesticides & encourages pollinators to visit crops, and keep the bees, butterflies and birds safe from harmful chemicals. Organic farming also reduces water use and non-renewable energy use compared to conventional farming.
PFAS Chemicals In Women’s Activewear
Just like in the outdoor clothing industry, the women’s activewear industry covets fabric that wicks sweat, is quick drying, and is water and stain resistant. These high-performing fabrics may contain chemicals like PFAS that can be damaging to your health.
Environmental Health News and Mamavation teamed up for a study on detectable levels of organic fluorine in women’s activewear leggings and sports bras. The presence of organic fluorine is an indicator that the fabric contains or is coated with PFAS chemicals. They found that 25% of the activewear tested had detectable levels of fluorine, an indication of PFAS, and 65% of sports bras came back with indications of PFAS.
Can We Be Exposed To PFAS Chemicals Through Dermal Exposure?
Unfortunately, studies in this area are lacking, so we don’t know the long-term effects of dermal exposure to PFAS. One study looked at fluorinated elements in car seats and found that PFAS can migrate from the fabric to sweat, suggesting a dermal route of PFAS exposure (1).
Another study used a murine animal model to measure dermal PFBA exposure and effects on the liver, and the findings indicate a dermal pathway to exposure (2).
If you’re a nursing mama, I recommend using a PFAS-free sports bra in order to reduce your baby’s exposure to PFAS chemicals.
Health Risks Associated With PFAS Exposure
After a community in Parkersburg, West Virginia was exposed to PFAS chemicals in their drinking water, here are some of the documented health risks associated with exposure to PFAS: testicular cancer, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis and other health problems. Further research has associated PFAS with more health risks, including increased risk of asthma, immune system disfunction, decreased vaccine response in children, changes in liver enzymes, increased risk of high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia in pregnant women, small decreases in infant birth weight and weight gain in adults (3).
The good news is that not all of the activewear tested in the study was positive for the presence of PFAS chemicals. Although it is possible for organic fabric to contain PFAS chemicals, the Environmental Health News and Mamavation study found that “sports bras made from synthetic fabrics like polyester or rayon were more likely to be found with detectable organic fluorine.”
I’m sharing 4 women’s activewear brands that are sustainably made with organic fabric to lower your impact on our environment while you’re working out. The Pact brand of women’s activewear had zero fluorine detected from the Environmental Health News and Mamavation study (in the leggings and sports bra), and the other brands were not included in the study.
Pact uses organic cotton because it sustains the health of soils, ecosystems, and people by using natural farming processes. That means no toxic chemicals and 91% less water than non-organic cotton.
- Fabric used: organic cotton, elastane
- Certifications: GOTS certified organic cotton, Fair Trade Certified Factory
- Price: $20 to $60
- Sizes: XS-XXL (some 2X sizes)
- Styles: bike shorts, pocket leggings, basic leggings, moto leggings, stretch-fit Tank, Double scooped Bra, Racerback Bra
- Colors/Patterns: Solid colors and prints
- Giving Back: Pact offers a ‘Give Back Box’, which you can receive in your order. Fill it with your old clothes and they get donated to handpicked non-profits to be re-used or recycled. You can also select to offset the carbon footprint of your shipment when you order.
- Shop: Pact Women’s Organic Cotton Leggings, Pact Women’s Organic Cotton Shirts, Pact Women’s Organic Cotton Bras
Boody uses sustainable bamboo viscose that is highly breathable, comfy and soft; making it perfect for garments that sit close to the skin like athletic workout gear. The bamboo used is grown organically.
- Fabric used: viscose made from bamboo, organic cotton, spandex
- Certifications: Ecocert, FSC, PETA vegan approved, OKEO-TEX, WRAP certified factories
- Price: $26 to $81
- Sizes: XS-XL
- Styles: High-waisted shorts, ¾ leggings, crop leggings, high-waisted leggings, racerback tank top, muscle tank top, racerback sports bra
- Colors/Patterns: Solid colors
- Giving Back: Boody is a member of 1% for the Planet. Purchase a string bracelet for $7.50 and 100% of profits are donated to Goodbye Malaria and the Relate Organization. By purchasing this bracelet, you are helping provide income for women in need and funding the life-saving fight against malaria.
- Shop: Boody Women’s Bamboo Leggings, Boody Women’s Bamboo Active Tops
Maggie’s Organics features clothing that’s soft, comfortable, functional, with organically grown cotton and wool from small farms in the U.S., Argentina, Peru, Tanzania and India. It’s made by skilled workers who are treated with dignity and respect, earn fair wages, and work in co-ops that we helped them build as well as family-owned and operated shops.
- Fabric used: organic cotton, spandex
- Certifications: GOTS certified organic cotton, Fair Trade Federation Member
- Price: $21 to $54
- Sizes: S-XXL
- Style: pocketed ankle leggings, base layer ankle leggings, bike shorts, women’s tank, mid-calf legging, pocketed mid-calf legging, fleece ankle legging
- Colors/Patterns: Solid colors
- Giving Back: Maggie’s Organics gives back to many local charity events including Blum’s Landing Charity
- Shop: Maggie’s Organics
Organic Basics only chooses fabrics that care for our environment and they only ever partner with factories that care about their impact, too. When we say sustainability is our core mission we don’t mean that sustainability is nice to have – we mean that it’s the only way we act.
- Fabric used: Organic Cotton, Spandex
- Certifications: GOTS certified organic cotton, PETA approved vegan
- Price: $55 to $105
- Sizes: XS-XL
- Styles: mid-weight sweatpants, rib flex tank top, rib flex tee, rib flex tank bra (this brand also carries athletic gear made from non-organic recycled fabrics)
- Colors/Patterns: Solid colors
- Giving Back: Organic Basics Fund to help fight climate change, restore biodiversity and protect vulnerable communities. This is about giving direct funding to people, groups and projects that address environmental and social injustices at the root cause — and aim to create long-term, real impact. Carbon neutral shipping available.
- Shop: Organic Basics Women’s Organic Cotton Activewear
More Eco-Friendly Inspiration
- Wu Y, Miller GZ, Gearhart J, Peaslee G, Venier M. Side-chain fluorotelomer-based polymers in children car seats. Environ Pollut. 2021 Jan 1;268(Pt B):115477. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2020.115477. Epub 2020 Aug 22. PMID: 33221613.
- Lisa M. Weatherly, Hillary L. Shane, Ewa Lukomska, Rachel Baur, Stacey E. Anderson, Systemic toxicity induced by topical application of heptafluorobutyric acid (PFBA) in a murine model, Food and Chemical Toxicology, Volume 156, 2021, 112528, ISSN 0278-6915, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fct.2021.112528.
- Rogers, R.D., Reh, C.M. & Breysse, P. Advancing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) research: an overview of ATSDR and NCEH activities and recommendations. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol 31, 961–971 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41370-021-00316-6