advertisement
advertisement

Activewear drives climate change. Allbirds’ new line fights back.

Allbirds’ new high-performing activewear collection has a low carbon footprint.

Activewear drives climate change. Allbirds’ new line fights back.
[Photo: courtesy Allbirds]

As people around the world make fitness a greater priority (even in the midst of the pandemic), sales of activewear are at an all time high, accounting for 40% of all online sales in 2020. But as we focus on making our bodies healthy, we’re damaging the planet’s health.

advertisement
advertisement

Athletic clothing is largely made of synthetic, plastic-based materials—such as polyester, nylon, and spandex—which have stretchy, moisture-wicking qualities. But the vast majority of these materials are made from oil and are actively contributing to climate change. Manufacturing polyester spews out 700 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere every year. And then, when you’re done with your workout gear, it will end up in a landfill where it will not biodegrade, but instead break into tiny particles called microplastics that end up in our food chain.

[Photo: courtesy Allbirds]
Today Allbirds, the eco-friendly lifestyle brand known for its cult sneakers, is launching activewear for women and men designed to have a smaller environmental impact than standard workout gear.

Over the past two years, the company has invested heavily in R&D to develop high-performing activewear materials that have low emissions. It’s come up with creative fiber blends that are made from 75% plant-based or recycled materials, which Allbirds used to create the Natural Run Collection for men and women. The collection includes leggings, bike shorts, looser running shorts (for men and women), tees, and a tank embedded with a bra. For transparency, Allbirds calculates the carbon footprint of each product and it includes it in a label—then the company offsets these emissions, making each item of clothing carbon-neutral.

advertisement
advertisement

I spent a month testing out these products to see how they would stand up to daily workouts. I was impressed by how well-fitting and high-performing they were. The leggings provided enough compression for high-impact workouts, but they weren’t overly constricting. I found myself wearing them all day. They looked and felt like all the other synthetic activewear in my closet, but they are actually made from a blend of eucalyptus fiber and merino wool that Allbirds developed in-house.

[Photo: courtesy Allbirds]
I paired the leggings with my favorite piece in the collection, the Run Form tank, which provides plenty of support thanks to the built-in shelf bra, but was not too restrictive. It hits right below the belly button, which meant I felt comfortable wearing it on its own, without any layers on top, when I was working out in the middle of the summer.

The looser pieces in the collection—the run short, tank, and tee—are all made with another of Allbird’s in-house blends of merino wool coupled with recycled polyester fibers. The wool is breathable and has thermoregulating properties, so these items are designed to keep you cool when your body temperature goes up. They’re also moisture wicking, and kept me dry when I started sweating.

advertisement

Allbirds’ founders, Tim Brown and Joey Zwillinger, believe they are building a materials innovation company rather than a fashion label. They’re still best known for their debut product which launched in 2016: sneakers made from materials that aren’t commonly used in the footwear industry, like wool and Tencel. Allbirds laid out its game plan for the next five years in its 2020 Annual Report. The company is now focused on reversing climate change through better business practices. This means using renewable materials and ones grown through regenerative agriculture practices, which actively remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, and transitioning to renewable energy across its supply chain.

[Photo: courtesy Allbirds]
Last week, the United Nations released a terrifying report that revealed that the devastating effects of climate change are only going to intensify over the next three decades; it also identified that human behavior is directly responsible for the extreme weather we’re experiencing. To prevent the Earth’s temperatures from going up even further, the fashion industry needs to clean up its act and Allbirds can’t do it alone. The label provides a roadmap for how brands can quantify their greenhouse gas emissions and work towards steadily reducing them. Let’s hope they’re paying attention.

Fast Company’s Recommender section is dedicated to surfacing innovative products, services, and brands that are changing how we live and work. Every item that we write about is independently selected by our editors and, whenever possible, tested and reviewed. Fast Company may receive revenue from some links in our stories; however, all selections are based on our editorial judgment.

advertisement
advertisement
advertisement

About the author

Elizabeth Segran, Ph.D., is a senior staff writer at Fast Company. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts

More