A guide to ethical sportswear

I’m a keen climber and cyclist so I’m often on the hunt for new equipment and sportswear. But I want to live out my values, so choosing a brand with strong ethics like accountability and transparency are big contributors in my choice. With so many huge brands found using sweatshops and other unethical practices, who do I trust? Here are some tips for sourcing your latest sports gear from my own journey…

Read the reports

Many brands now publish reports about the sustainability of their products. These can often be found on company websites under ‘Corporate Responsibility’ or ‘Social Responsibility’. This won’t always give a complete assurance of a company’s ethics, but it’s an important first step in transparency.

Some companies are part of wider groups, such as Pentland or the European Outdoor Group. You can find their sustainability information on the group website.

Meet the members

There is a rising tide of individuals being clued up as to the labour behind the labels, and brands are catching on to this new way of shopping. Being a member of these organisations shows a brand’s effort to become more sustainable. If they’re not a member of any organisations, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re unethical, but more research would need to be done.

The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) is the leading sustainable protection alliance for apparel, footwear and textile companies. This alliance has been joined by many big brands including: Nike, Adidas, Asics, New Balance, Patagonia, Puma, Under Armour, Columbia and many others. The SAC also invented the Higgs Index as a way to compare sustainability between different companies.

Textile Exchange is a non-profit organisation that drives the industry towards ethical materials, standards, supply networks and transparency. The key areas they focus on include: materials sourced and used, supply and manufacturing networks and the integrity and standards of companies. Textile Exchange members include many of the similar brands to SAC: Nike, Patagonia, Adidas, The North Face, Puma, Columbia and New Balance.

The Better Cotton Initiative was founded to improve the working conditions of people growing and harvesting cotton, while lowering the environmental impact of processing it. The initiative was set up by the World Wide Fund in 2005. The Better Cotton global standards were introduced in 2009 with the hope that about 30% of global cotton will be produced up to these standards by 2020. Members of the initiative include: Adidas, Nike, Decathlon and Puma.

Rising through the ranks

Ethical Consumer and Shop Ethical are websites that rate companies across a range of categories and give them an overall ethical score. This is a quick and easy way to compare brands and see which brands are actually forging ahead in promoting ethical values.

There is a developing range of sustainable clothing for all kinds of sports, but many of the big brands are lagging behind in their efforts. There are still reports of sweatshops being used to make some of the most popular clothing across the market. As tempting as it is to pick up some running shoes for the lowest price possible, there is always a story behind the garment and chances are exploitation is at its origin. It’s up to us as the consumers to choose better and thereby demand better standards for the garment industry workers. Modern day slavery is very much a part of the fashion industry and is one of the greatest injustices of our time. Our clothes are a part of that process – but it doesn’t have to have the final say.

Join the winning side

If you are looking for some trustworthy brands, Patagonia, Icebreaker and Alternative Apparel are all great picks. Choose clothes that you will wear at least 30 times as a lasting piece of joy and durability – the planet and people will thank you for it.

Next time you’re getting ready to break a sweat…make sure you leave the sweatshops out of it. 

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