Eco-sportswear: what to wear and how to buy it

rugby player
From shoes to shirts and everything in between, Robert Phillips takes a closer look at the eco sports gear on offer

The last week has been a memorable one for sports fans. The new football season kicked off with a welter of goals, thrills and spills, and although England’s rugby team were on the wrong end of a Welsh drubbing, the cricketers are on top of the world. In preparation for this, fans in their thousands have been flooding into shops to pick up the latest strips, scarves and hats. But all the new gear exacts a heavy toll on the planet. 

Football kit has traditionally been made from polyester; an entirely synthetic fabric made from chemicals found in petroleum via an energy-intensive and environmentally damaging process. Making the polyester fibres involves burning large quantities of crude oil, which releases harmful pollutants into the atmosphere such as volatile organic compounds (VOC’s). The majority of football strips are still made from this material, often with a small amount of pesticide-treated cotton blended in. Happily, some clubs have opted for a more eco-friendly approach in recent years, using kit made from recycled plastic bottles. Although Nike hasn't always been the best in terms of ethics; as Ecologist commentator Dan Box has said, the company has been making an effort in recent years to promote a greener lifestyle, particularly in the US. Shirts in the Considered Design range ( use up eight recycled bottles each, and Inter Milan, FC Porto and Arsenal (pictured bottom right) all wear them. Although the strips are still made from polyester, they do help reduce the amount that goes to landfill.

Shirts might be problematic but genuinely eco-friendly balls are easier to come by. The Ethletic Greenstar eco-football (£20.41, is Fairtrade certified and an extra premium is paid to ensure that good quality health and welfare projects are in place for the workers and their families. The special Greentips rubber used is Fairtrade, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified and comes from responsibly managed plantations. Ethletic also make a number of other balls; so if rugby, netball, volleyball or basketball is more your scene, then you can still have a game knowing you’ve done your bit for the planet.

There are also numerous brands out that make eco-friendly alternatives to general sportswear and where better to start than the sporty skin-tight baselayer? Designed to boost sweat evaporation when you’re too hot and insulate the body when you are too cold baselayers are multi-purpose sports kit that come in handy all year round.  But, once more, manufacturing the synthetic spandex and polyester fibres in these garments is environmentally damaging. BAM has the solution, with its zip neck baselayer (£45, that ticks all the performance boxes and is made from bamboo that’s 100 per cent sustainable and pesticide free. They also provide matching leggings for those times when you need the complete look. For general purpose training tops and bottoms there are plenty of brands to choose from, but for something truly innovative, take a look at Singtex ( Based in Taiwan, the clothes (pictured above) are made from a mixture of recycled polyester and two per cent recycled coffee grounds. Also worth checking out is Patagonia ( who make brilliant ski, surf and trail wear from recycled plastic bottles.

For eco-friendly shoes, check out Brooks ( who have a wide variety of marathon, sprint trainers and athletic spikes that use recycled packaging, are sourced responsibly, contain non-toxic dyes and really look the part. They have developed an innovative new midsole called Biomogo, available in most of their range, which is up to 50 times more biodegradable than the Ethylene Vinyl Acetate (EVA) standard. Models such as the Green Silence trainer are also made from 75 per cent recycled materials, including tracksuits, CDs and even sofas.

Add to StumbleUpon
The new north: why Scandinavia is leading the world in eco-design
The Nordic flair for design has taken eco-fashion to new heights and is setting an example for the rest of the world to follow, says Ruth Styles
Five of the menswear
Eco-friendly womenswear is topping the fashion charts and, says Robert Phillips, menswear isn’t far behind
Ask the Ecologist: Is wearing leather ever OK?
Green Living Editor Ruth Styles answers your eco-lifestyle dilemmas. This week, we've put leather under the microscope
Above and Below: the eco-friendly take on Converse
Can you really make cool shoes from old tube seats? If eco-shoe maker Above and Below is anything to go by, says Sella Oneko, yes you can
Sustainability and football: why the beautiful game is getting a green makeover
In the second part of our sport and environment mini-series, Ruth Styles reports on the efforts some football clubs are making to turn the sport into an eco-friendly one, although there's still plenty to do

More from this author