Sustainable Running Clothes

Leading up to the launch of my sustainable running clothes, I thought it would be good to explain a little more about them.

Clothing intended for running tends to demand highest performance. For this reason I chose to start with running. Knowing that products not meeting my standards could likely still be used elsewhere in the range.

A market need

Looking at the current ranges of running clothing, it is hard to find items I would call truly sustainable. Many brands have sustainable ranges of “up to 50% recycled material”. To me this says “At least 50% unsustainable”. I don’t mean to be overly critical because some level of recycling is better than none. Some of these brands have been pioneers at developing technical clothing to the level it is at now. They deserve credit for that. What if I could increase the level of sustainability and retain performance.

If a plant existed that grew like bamboo, was as easy to process as cotton but had the balanced properties of polyester this would be an easy task. Everybody else would be using it already. To my knowledge such a plant does not exist and so it was back to the drawing board.

Polyester is the closest we have to perfection in terms of performance. The majority of clothing for running is made from polyester because of this reason. Virgin polyester is a harmful material. Firstly, being an oil based product it is inherently unsustainable. Polyester does require extensive energy and resources to be produced. It is also typically a single use plastic.

What about Natural Fabrics ?

There are some fantastic organic fabrics available. Each has their own characteristics. On the flip side, something is not sustainable just because it is grown. A plant growing in nature is different to the ones farmed for industrial use. When farmed, plants have often been selectively bred to give certain qualities. Furthermore it takes a lot of land to produce enough. Soil is losing it’s level of fertility leading to fertilisers becoming a necessity in farming. This is due to the same land being repeatedly farmed. In addition most crops require pesticides. Not great for the environment or local insects. And lets not forget bees !

Bees are a species that the world could not survive without. Reducing use of pesticides and making more land available for bees is a good thing.

Bamboo is a great crop. Requiring no pesticides or fertilisers make it much more eco friendly than some others. Soil erosion is helped by bamboo and it requires very little water. Consuming more CO2 than an equivalent plantation of trees is just another advantage.

Producing bamboo viscose does however have disadvantages of requiring chemicals to break down fibres. The effect of these chemicals has not yet been studied in depth and therefore it is important to only source bamboo fabric from the most responsible suppliers. Lyocell bamboo replaces the chemicals with a mechanical process to break down the raw bamboo into fibres. This is a long and energy intensive process.

Lastly there does not seem to be a natural fabric which does stand up to the performance of polyester clothing.

Fabric Testing

Refusing to accept virgin polyester as the only solution to make running clothes from I decided to test a number of other fabrics.

Bamboo feels great against the skin, its biggest downfall is that it does not dry fast enough and holds on to sweat. Cotton is the fastest drying natural fabric. It still does not dry as fast as polyester and lacks a lot of the qualities of bamboo.

By blending cotton and bamboo the result is still compostable and non toxic. Is this the simple solution I was looking for ? No. It is impossible to take the quick dry time of cotton and add it to bamboo to produce a fabric that ticks all the boxes. By mixing the two you end up with a compromise between them. This type of fabric although has benefits of both natural ingredients, carries the negative attributes with it too.

I tried very hard to find the mythical easy to grow, easy to process plant that produces the best technical fabric. Unless somebody knows otherwise, I can confirm it is not real.

After testing cotton, bamboo, combinations of both there is only one solution left. Refusing to blend natural with man made fabrics also means I cant combine polyester with bamboo. On the outside this seems like a good solution. The reality is a fabric you can not recycle and is not biodegradable.

And the best Sustainable Running Clothes are…

Recycled polyester !

The best sustainable running clothes currently are made of 100% recycled polyester. Here are a few reasons why:

  • No Land is required to grow it
  • Water, Pesticides, Fertiliser are not required
  • 79% less energy is required than producing virgin polyester
  • Waste is diverted from landfill
  • Being 100% recycled polyester means it can be recycled again
  • All the properties of polyester are inherent

It seems obvious when you know the answer. Because of this the Grizzly Wears Clothing current running products will be 100% recycled polyester. I will continue looking for alternative solutions. I have picked up and identified uses for other fabrics along the way. Polyester is a hard fabric to replicate. To conclude, this is why I chose to use it. I believe it belongs as part of a balanced range.

Finally running clothing has many demands. Performance is number one. To create a successful range of running clothes the level of performance must not be compromised. By maintaining this and adding an aspect of sustainability we have created sustainable running clothes that are usable and sustainable.

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