The rise of Athleisure and its impact

According to Wikipedia - Athleisure is a trend in fashion in which clothing designed for workouts and other athletic activities is worn in other settings, such as school, workplace,  or other casual social occasions.
This lifestyle choice has appealed to the upper-middle-class women  - moms doing the daily routine of school drop-offs, morning yoga sessions, coffee with friends, a PTA meeting and then the kid's sports activity. The appeal of wearing something that is multi-functional, trendy, sleek, stylish and practical has driven the rise of athleisure brands.
The downside of this rise of the Athleisure category is the choice of materials used, the volume of production and the impact it has on our world. 
The choice of material by most well-known brands is synthetic materials like polyester, rayon, nylon, spandex or mixed fibers where synthetic fibers are mixed with natural yarns like cotton, linen, hemp, bamboo, etc.
Why synthetic fibers?
The choice of synthetics is mainly because of the economics, they are the byproduct of the petrochemical industry and they are cheaper to manufacture. With the huge demand for clothes and fashion cycles, the supply chain must have a steady supply of fibers to fuel the needs of the demand.
The other reason for choosing these synthetic fibers is that they are durable, have moisture-wicking properties and stretchability. The fashion industry has taken notice of this major cultural shift in the way people dress and the industry has just aligned itself to cater to this demand for athleisure clothing. 
This demand-supply roller coaster has kicked off an environmental ruckus. It all starts inside our washing machines. According to an article in "The Guardian", a study was conducted by Plymouth University to ascertain what happens when these synthetic materials when washed at different temperatures in domestic washing machines.
The result is that acrylic fiber is the worst offender with a release of 730,000 tiny synthetic microfibers per wash. This is 5 times more than poly-cotton and 1.5 times more than polyester.
The impact is even more shocking, these microfibers flow through the filters of the washing machine and out into the rivers and oceans. Thus the journey of these plastics right from our clothes to our belly happens pretty quickly, as these fragments are failed to be captured by our water treatment plants. The impact of microplastic is not fully understood but studies show suggest that they have the potential to poison our food chain.
Most athleisure products are also laced with waterproof and flame - resistant chemicals. The fibers are dyed using synthetic dyes, treated with layers of chemicals that give some unique appearance and functional properties like - wrinkle resistance, extra softness, etc. Studies suggest that the impact of these added layers of chemicals cause health hazards, not just for the folks who wear these products but also everyone else around through the risk of airborne microfibers.
The cheap and cyclical nature of fast-fashion athleisure only magnifies the impact of microfiber shedding. The trend of e-commerce and ease of shopping combining with regular mechanisms of sales promotions have further fueled the growth of the athleisure phenomenon.  The deluge of such products in the market, the campaigns on social media by various brands and influencers, further exacerbate the situation. 
Closer home to us is the world of Yoga and we see that impact of rising athleisure at close quarters. With the popularity of Yoga all around the world, we see athleisure brands jumping on the bandwagon of creating products catering to various practitioners. The products include - yoga wear, yoga props including synthetic yoga mats, towels, etc. being on offer without being mindful. 
Some brands have started to promote the term "recycling plastic". The aim is to build clothes/athleisure products using recycled PET bottles.  We have an opinion on this and definitely makes an interesting topic for a future post. For the moment, we will leave you with a thought. Are we trying to break the cycle or keep the cycle of plastics going perpetually?
We believe the best way forward is for :
  1. The textile industry to create quality products that are sustainable and resilient.
  2. The consumer goods/laundry industry to develop new methods of capturing microfibers.
  3. The water treatment plants to get better at trapping the microfibers.
  4. Last but not least is the importance of making conscious choices by the consumer. A shift in moving away from synthetic fibers. Consumers must be more discerning about the nature of the product, how it was made and what is the impact of this product during its lifetime and post its lifetime.
Until that shift happens, we may still be swimming in a sea of athleisure!

 


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