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The Truth About Workout Wear (and what you can do)

Laura Berg

Posted on March 04 2019

One of the reasons I created Nourish Sweat Soul is because NSS was something I was searching for. I was looking for both ethically and sustainably made activewear, and I had a hard time finding brands that were both, especially ones that focus on sustainable and eco-friendly practices, that were still on-trend and high quality.

There are many different terms in the activewear category: athleisure, athletic wear, sportswear, performance wear. So let me be a bit more specific on what those words mean to me (because they all have a place in my closet!). Sportswear or performance wear is what I wear for high intensity workouts (lots of movement, lots of sweat!). Athleisure, or athletic leisurewear, on the other hand, is what I wear for lower intensity sweat sessions and for life on the go: from studio to street, from coffee shop to yoga, barre or pilates class. These are the clothes I live in most and why I knew Nourish Sweat Soul was going to be the ethical athleisure brand I craved but couldn’t find.

Activewear and athletic wear, then, are more general terms for me and can refer to either altheisure or sports/performance. So here’s the thing about most activewear: even if it is made “ethically,” most is not earth friendly. Activewear specifically uses more synthetic fibres than any other clothing category. Greenpeace reported that more than 60% of our clothes are made from polyester (a plastic by-product of petroleum).

Although synthetic fibers may create a look and feel many of us have become accustomed to love, there are, unfortunately, downsides of plastics in our sweat wear; for our environment and potentially our health. Here are some you should know:

  • Production of synthetics emits exponentially more greenhouse gases and fossil fuels. Exposure to the chemicals in the production of synthetics, fibers, and chemical dyes creates health risks for garment and factory workers.
  • Synthetic fibers are either not biodegradable or take approximately 20-200 years to break down.
  • Microfibers from petroleum-based synthetic fabrics like nylon, acrylic and polyester are in a large majority of the world’s drinking water.
  • There are also chemical finishes in clothing used for things like moisture wicking, reducing sweat odour, and anti-wrinkling and there’s growing concern how much is being absorbed into the skin when we sweat.

While it is too soon to know the effects of chemicals in clothes and how repeated exposure may affect us, it feels a little upside down that we buy workout wear to sweat and release toxins, but that clothing made from petrochemical fibers like nylon, polyester, and acrylic, may actually be restricting toxin release.

The good news is, consumers and brands alike are becoming more conscious about where their clothes come from and what they are made of. So what can you do, and how can you avoid chemicals in your sweat apparel, support our environment, and support ethical manufacturing?


  • Invest in more natural, sustainable, plant and organic fabrics such as organic cotton, linen, modal, and eucalyptus. Plant fibers are naturally antimicrobial and antibacterial, good for thermal regulation, and breathable.
  • Help keep pollution out of our water by buying apparel made from recycled materials such as recycled plastic and recycled polyester.


  • Support local, made in Canada and US, lower your carbon footprint.
  • Support brands that openly discuss their sustainability and fair labor efforts, such as partnering with organizations like Bluesign Technologies, Sustainable Apparel Coalition(SAC), Canopy, Responsible Sourcing Network, Better Work. The reality is larger brands often need help to makes big changes, so partnering with organizations like these demonstrates at least some accountability.
  • For example, the Bluesign Standard sets up management systems for improving environmental performance, so hazardous chemicals are kept to a minimum during manufacturing and in the end product.


  • Ask questions - where the apparel is made and what it’s made from, get to know more about brands and their values through their website. 
  • Check out websites and apps like Fashion Revolution, Good on You and The Good Trade for more information, resources, and articles on ethical and sustainable fashion, and finds brands making a positive difference.
  • Check out conscious fashion and lifestyle blogs, a couple I love include Ally C Tran and Sutton + Grove

Choosing your sporty swag this way doesn’t need to be all or nothing. It’s more about being mindful and supporting brands that make an effort. I’ve been consciously shopping for over 4 years and I can tell you it’s not a perfect science, but I make an effort to think about what I actually need and support brands that focus on responsible labor standards, and earth friendly practices.

As the owner of a small company that creates athleisure collections made from organic, sustainable and recycled materials, I am passionate about spreading awareness of fashionable and functional activewear that is made ethically and sustainably. I want to get my sweat on in style and be comfortable from studios to coffee meetings, but not at the expense of people or our planet. I believe that when we know better, we do better, and we can start by simply being more aware, together.

With love,


PS - A question I’m often asked is what other brands I wear for sportswear (besides my favorite, NSS, of course!). Some of the other brands I wear include: Adidas, Girlfriend Collective, Patagonia, and Teeki. I encourage you to look into each brand and find the fit for you!

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