Race to recycled plastic fashion

Sustainable and fair-trade fashion is a growing part of the clothing market and the mechanical properties of recycled polyester and elastane are ideal for performance activewear, as global retailer H&M has proved.

× H&M

The Sweden-headquartered high street mainstay launched its latest sportswear collection made with sustainable materials in January 2018, with each piece of clothing in the portfolio consisting of predominantly recycled elastane and polyester, offering the wearer comfort thanks to the garments' quick-dry technology, ventilation and innovative 'seamless' knitting.

The collection is targeted at women and includes hoodies, tops, leggings and sports bras for training, running and yoga.

"By bringing together the functional and feminine, the aim is to give customers a stylish, conscious sports collection," said Petra Smeds, Head Designer of Sportswear at H&M. "Blending function with sustainable thinking and fashion in this way is the way forward."

H&M is a retailer that stands by its sustainability pledge, with the brand aiming to become completely circular by 2030, but it isn't the only fashion retailer exploring recycled plastics materials for activewear.

GRN Sportswear, which is based in Bristol in the UK, is reprocessing plastic bottles and abandoned fishing nets for its cycling, triathlon and swimming clothing to reduce its carbon footprint and prevent plastic materials from being wasted at end of life.

Co-founder of GRN Pete Lillie was quoted by Climate Action as saying: "We decided to offer ... sports clothing that was technically advanced and ethically sourced. Our initial offering was a cycling jersey made from 100 per cent recycled plastic bottles and a range of bamboo t-shirts."

GRN is not ignorant to the side issue of microfibre pollution caused by microscopic fibres of synthetic fabrics breaking away from the yarn and being ingested by marine animals, and the company has stated that it is investing in research for synthetic yarns that are less prone to shedding.

"We’re part of a growing number of innovative companies trying to tackle this issue head on but it’s going to be some time before any company is truly able to say 'our clothing has no impact on the environment'," said GRN CEO Rob Webbon.

Until then, the retailer advises to buy well and buy once, as cheaper synthetic materials are more prone to shedding than higher quality materials, to wash sportswear at a lower temperature in a laundry bag and only if it really needs to be cleaned, and to patch and mend activewear rather than throwing it away.

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This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement Nº 737882.

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