Can Activewear Be Sustainable?

Can Activewear Be Sustainable?

 By Connie Phillips

Raise your hand if you have spent hours researching the internet for the best sports clothing, believing blogs that swear they have all the perfect pieces, and saving the money only to have said pieces disintegrate in your hands a few weeks later? It can be beyond frustrating to have our perfect "high-intensity" workout clothes fall apart after a few low-impact workouts. Especially for curvy ladies - the chub rub is very real. Why don't sports fashion companies make long-lasting clothing?

Sports Clothing Prices: Then Vs. Now

Remember the Venn-Diagram of college? A meme showing three options: sleep, socialize, study. At the bottom, it said, "pick two." If we made one for clothing, the options for consumers would be: quality, price, and quantity. It feels as though current fast fashion companies have picked: quantity and price.

rolls of material in a factory
Photo Courtesy of Pixabay on Pexels

Today there are hundreds of options for a singular outfit. We get to choose different colors, patterns, fabrics, and styles for any given occasion. Clothing brands often use international overseas factories to mass-produce all while promising a quick delivery. We pay about $10-$70 per item, but we need multiples of each piece to last throughout a year. 

Looking back a hundred years ago, a la 1920s, sports bras were not around. Mass production for clothing came from a few national factories. The average person owned about five outfits. Clothing costs were around $3-$20 per piece. With inflation today that would be $50-$330. And each piece lasted years. New working women in 1924 budgeted about $12 per month on clothing. With inflation that would be $195.65 today.

In a 2020 report by Credit Donkey, women spend an average of $541 per year on clothing (76% more than their male counterparts). That's almost 3 times what our great-grandmothers spent and they didn’t even get a sports bra!

Breakdown of Quality

woman in black leggings using a glute band with a flower pattern
LTD Petal to the Metal glute band (Photo Courtesy of RMK Visions)

In February 2021 the University of Kentucky studied the leggings timeline for breakdown. Elizabeth Easter and Virginia Elizabeth Groppo surveyed 133 college women on the wear and tear of their leggings after one, five, and 20 washes. There were three different leggings ranging from $29 to $98.  After one to Five washes, there was a notable breakdown of quality. The three main observations were: lint, pilling, stretched-out fabric, and color change. Participants also reported their top frustrations. "In this study, consumers identified the same four functional problems as frequently encountered and frustrating: see-through fabric, worn down fabric, holes, and ripping seams.”

Cutting on Costs

What changed in the last hundred years? Well, corporations started using overseas factory production to cut costs. Since currency and living expenses in many overseas countries are a lot lower, it means corporations can significantly cut down costs. Take, for example, Nike. 

Nike has over 500 suppliers in 41 different countries. Each factory has hundreds to thousands of workers. It costs about $4.50 to manufacture a shoe, but they can sell it for $100. That's a huge profit margin so, they have the luxury of not needing to care about the cost of the quality or if half of the product ends up in a landfill. The company has already made up for the cost of the products already sold.

The Fast Fashion Dilemma

And it's even worse for Plus Size ladies. For those who don’t know, “chub rub'' refers to the breakdown of fabric in friction areas such as the thighs, crotch, and butt. The ugly truth is that as a curvy lady, you are more likely to buy more products. The faster the items fall apart, the faster you learn to buy multiple pairs. This is also why companies haven’t taken the time to design leggings with reinforced thighs.

But it's not that all Fast Fashion falls apart. In The Correspondent blog article titled, Fashion Unravelled, it states "That doesn’t mean that all clothes you find on the racks at fast-fashion chains like Zara and H&M are by definition poor quality. This may sound familiar: you bought a pile of shirts at C&A; one completely lost its shape within a month, but four years later you’re still wearing the other two.” Even Easter's and Groppo's study on leggings showed that not all pieces fell apart.

So what can we do?

three women in black shorts working out and standing against a brick wall
Athletes wearing LTD knee sleeves

One realistic option would be supporting small businesses (Like Lifting the Dream). Shop businesses that are inclusive of size ranges, materials, and ethical workplace practices. Since small businesses are more likely to be working with a handful of suppliers, it's easier for them to keep track of quality and make a necessary change when something goes wrong. Small steps like that can make a larger impact in the long run.

What do you look for in your sports clothing? Tell us below in the comments!

If you have any questions or you would like to be a guest blogger, please email us at

Bee Tee Dubs (BTW). 



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