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Saturday, 22 October 2016

Sportswear Fabrics Explored

Here's quick follow-up from my last post (about being turned onto the wonders of merino), exploring a few of the other more-sustainable fibres available for sportswear. Bamboo is quite popular, but there more alternatives:

The Good Fabric Guys

1: Tencel (Lyocell): can be made from a variety of wood fibres. Suppliers like EKO (Earth Kind Originals) use eucalyptus tencel for their T's, leggings, and vest tops. This is a soft, absorbent fabric which is very strong when wet or dry, and the process used to make eucalyptus tencel fabric is relatively low-impact as it is done in a 'closed-loop' way, with any chemicals being recycled. It is also biodegradable. Eucalyptus is fast growing, and can be really beneficial to an environment (e.g. can be used to drain swamps and therefore prevent malaria). I thoroughly recommend EKO garments, especially their simple T's and vests, as they are super soft and really comfortable, allowing for great freedom of movement when doing anything active. They also retain their shape when washing, and a good proportion of their manufacturing is done here in the UK. See here for more on EKO.
Photo Credit: Earth Kind Originals

2: Recycled polyester: companies like My Mantra Active do stock a range of leggings and swimwear made from recycled polyester. I bought a pair of leggings and am pleased to report that they are soft and comfortable, and have washed well. They are not too hot for intensive workouts. It seems there is more choice in recycled polyester garments if you live in the US or Australia, but I am hoping we Brits will catch up on this sometime soon. Most local councils and some charities provide clothing banks where you can donate old polyester for recycling- I have a few wrecked workout outfits which are heading that way! The good news is that polyester can be endlessly recycled. 

recycled polyester leggings
Recycled Polyester Leggings from My Mantra Active

3: Coffee. Yes really. We Are Star Seeds are developing fabrics made from coffee fibres, and which are designed for being active in. Although disappointingly there doesn't seem to be anything made from coffee on sale quite yet, I'm sure it will be available soon, and as I find that quite exciting I will be checking in regularly on their website. Great to see exciting new plant-based fibres being developed like this! 

The Not-so-good Guys

Some other sportswear fibres explored: 

I often see sportswear made from modal. This is a manmade fibre classed as semi synthetic, as the fibres do come from beech trees (which is obviously a natural source) but have to be blended with another material to make fabric. This takes a lot of resources to make into fabric. Beech trees are also slow growing.

Polyamide: this term does apply to naturally occurring molecules, but on garment labels it refers to synthetic man-made fibres (natural polyamides include silk). They can feel nice and soft as if natural, but polyamide is basically nylon. Nylon is not biodegradable, and as it is meant to be extremely durable it is also difficult to recycle. 

Something for the Future of Sportswear Fabrics?

As an aside, another fabric you may not have thought about for work-out apparel is linen. My Sweaty Betty 'Wild Thing' T is a linen blend: 83% polyester and 17% linen. Ok, so it isn't the most eco-friendly gym wear, but it is soft, and really light on the skin. I'd love to see more linen used like this- specifically for exercise, as linen is cool to the touch, really hardwearing, and anti-bacterial. The linen garments we tend to think of are cut and sewn from fabric which is woven (like shirts), but I don't know of any reason why linen shouldn't be knitted and made into more stretchy items (like T shirts). Please pursue this, sportswear brands!

Linen Blend Workout T
Linen Blend Workout T

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Wool Week Review: Intensify Seamless Merino Leggings From Sweaty Betty

It's Wool Week

Perhaps you are wondering what on earth this has to do with sportswear or fitness. If that's the case then you've probably never come across a performance-wear style like this one: Sweaty Betty's Intensify Seamless Merino Leggings. 

In my quest for more ecological sportswear I have been curious to try a woollen item like this for a while, and so Wool Week coupled with a chilly morning, coming hot on the heels of a Sweaty Betty sale seemed like the perfect time. 

intensify semaless merino leggings review
Wool Leggings from Sweaty Betty

Winter Running: 

There are plenty of reasons not to go running through the winter. For me they've included a touch of asthma that is aggravated by the cold, a niggling knee, painful chilblains, the darkness, the cold, the rain, the mud... ... ... and just generally wanting to hibernate. I tend to stop running and retreat to more indoor workouts, but I do miss the fresh air, the scenery, and the mental re-set that running outdoors gives me. This winter, though, I'd like to keep up what has become a pretty regular habit of stepping out about three times a week. I know I'll be a lot more likely to keep it up if I have suitable kit. 

Why I Bought Wool Leggings:

You'd be forgiven for still being puzzled about why I bought wool leggings, but wool is breathable, naturally elastic, odour resistant, biodegradable and warm. But if you're still unconvinced, then I'd suggest you take a look here for more info. 

sweaty betty merino leggings
Putting Merino Sportswear to the Test

Style and Fit: 

When I unwrapped these leggings, in my hands they felt like a really luxurious pair of tights, and when I tried them on this is still how they felt. I bought a Size Small, and they are nice and snug without being tight. There is a large soft waistband and cuffs, and the seamless design means nothing digs in or irritates. They seem to be totally opaque too. I love the stylish blue panels, and there is a drawstring on the inside, plus very discreet SB branding at the ankle. The length is perfect on me (I am about 5'5").  So far so good, but I was still none the wiser about what they would be like to run in. 


It was supposed to be 7˚ at home this morning- not exactly freezing, but colder than it has been in a while. Plus, once you factor in a less built-up environment, shady locations, and that cold air whizzing past you... OK I admit I am a total wimp in the cold! My ears were cold, my hands were cold, my arms were chilly, my ankles knew about it, but my legs... toasty! 

I have to say, I was really impressed with the performance of these leggings; all the things I was worried about, like whether they would be itchy, whether they would become too hot once I was moving, whether they'd lose their snugness as they got damp, whether they would show embarrassing damp patches... well, none of that happened. I was warm without being hot, and I remained totally comfortable through my whole run (which is about 3.5 miles). The fit stayed snug, the freedom of movement was perfect, and they didn't chafe. Even the process of taking them off at the end seemed more pleasant than peeling off wet polyester-type leggings. 

In short, I'm converted! I will be looking to pick up a similar top to wear for running in due course. Here is Sweaty Betty's current selection of merino.

Wool Sportswear for Wool Week
Wool Sportswear for Wool Week


The instructions say to wash these leggings as wool, which you can do in the wool cycle of your washing machine. However, I decided to soak them in Eucalan for half an hour or so, squeeze them out well then hang them on the line: simple! 

Other Uses:

Apart from the times that I will be running in these, I can see that I might wear these under looser trousers or a dress on really cold days when I am not even working out, as an extra comfortable thermal layer. 

Points for Improvement: 

As I may have mentioned, I love these leggings. However, that doesn't mean I wouldn't like to see some improvements: I've referred to them as 'merino' which they are, but only 51%. Even if the whole product cannot be wool, I'd like to see that other percentage with as much natural fibre in it as possible (cotton? bamboo?). 

I'd also like to see the merino used as organic, or at least cruelty free. Some methods of producing merino can be cruel (google 'mulesing' if you must), and this is largely avoided by organic production. Also, British wool would be brilliant, to support our native farmers.

I'd like to see more natural fibres and sustainable production all round from Sweaty Betty. 

In Short: 

In summary, I am thrilled with these. I am extra thrilled that I bought them in the clearance, as the original price was typically Sweaty Betty. Whether I would replace them at their original price or not would depend on my finances at the time, although I do think they are probably worth it. 

Responsible Sportswear is the Future
Responsible Sportswear is the Future

Tips for Winter Running:

Whether you walk, do yoga, use an outdoor gym or like to run outside, here are my top tips for you if, like me, you think you might struggle to maintain your good habits over the colder months: 

Warm up, cool down and stretch: Allow your body time to adjust to what you're asking it to do. Injuries and muscle soreness aren't any fun, so don't rush this important step in colder weather. 

Be safe: from investing in reflective items, to telling someone where you are going there are lots of steps you can take to maintain your personal safety. If you don't want to exercise alone in the dark then why not start an informal club and arrange to meet friends and work out together? Knowing that other people are expecting you is also a great way to stay on track with your exercise goals. 

Get the right kit: if you're not convinced by the whole wool leggings thing, then take a look around for some other examples of outdoor workout gear. Surely here in the UK a waterproof top layer is a must?! I know workout gloves are on my shopping list, as are proper socks (I tend to only buy the short trainer-liner type ones). I want to be armed for whatever the weather will throw at me, plus I know that if I have invested in outdoor kit I will feel duty bound to get out and use it. 

However, having said all that my final piece of advice would be this: if you really don't want to work out then don't: what is the point of punishing yourself? I mean, if you're feeling a bit lazy but you know you'll feel better for some exercise, then give yourself a pep talk and fasten those running shoes, but winter can sometimes be tough enough anyway with lack of sunlight and all those nasty viruses. Be kind to yourself, and do whatever it is that will make you feel good. 

 cat knows quality fibres
Her Ladyship has an eye for a quality!

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Sweaty Betty for Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Top Quality Sportswear:

Sweaty Betty

I have some pieces from Sweaty Betty which are undoubtedly some of the best gym wear I've ever used: classy, functional, and great quality are attributes that we all like, right? 

I don't tend to promote the brand overly though, as I feel they are a little behind the curve in speaking out about ethical practices and eco materials. Having said that though, I did buy some woollen running leggings in their sale and am just waiting for some chilly weather so that I can try them out- I will let you know how they work out for me! 

Charity Initiative: 

However, they have a current promotion which everybody can get behind: with October marking the start of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, they are donating £1 from every Sweaty Betty sports bra purchased this month to CoppaFeel!, a charity on a mission to raise awareness among young people.

Well done Sweaty Betty, I'd love to see more brands getting involved in this type of initiative. 

You can use this handy guide to see which bra is best for your workout: 

Sweaty Betty