Polyester, cotton, bamboo. The race is on!

7 minute read, or half the amount of time it takes to listen to The Sugar Hill Gang´s, "Rappers Delight"

 

Today, what constitutes a “sport” is broader than ever, from CrossFit and trail running to chess boxing and toe wrestling.

Meaning if you regularly move your body, you’re probably involved in some form of sport. And according to Webster’s Dictionary, an athlete is “a person who is active in sports”, making you an athlete. 

Most of us have an idea of what’s needed to make ourselves healthier/quicker/stronger/fitter. We devour the latest research on how to eat better and track our sleep. We’ve become very smart at piecing together all the things that allow us to move - and feel - better.

We’re here to talk about something most of us don’t think about. The stuff we wrap ourselves in when we move. Our clothing. Athlete, meet your t-shirt.

 

Here´s why it’s important.

When we move, we ask a lot of our clothing. Increased metabolic activity demands that our clothes dissipate heat and perspiration from the body.

In the original olympic games, athletes performed naked. That’s because they understood that our skin is still the best fabric for sport, in terms of human physiology: breathability, temperature regulation and movement.

So, unless you have a very liberal-minded training partner, it makes sense to cover yourself in a fabric that actually helps you to move better.

Let’s take a look at your options.

 

Fabric 101

At the risk of losing you to boredom, we’ll keep it simple.

 All of the fabrics that exist in the world fall into 2 categories:

Synthetic: man-made from chemicals  (nylon, polyester and lycra)

and

Natural: plant or animal based  (wool, silk, hemp and bamboo)

If there’s one thing you need to know, it’s this: synthetic fabrics are 100% plastic, made by the oil industry from highly toxic chemicals.

But let’s not jump ahead of ourselves, it’s time to head out for a run. Let’s take a closer look at the colourful contestants lining up to cover us on our favourite 5k trail run.

 

Contestant No.1: “No Sweat” 

As a sporty type, you’ll be familiar with the ‘always dry’ type of fabric called by a variety of brand names. That’s polyester.

Polyester is actually a common plastic. Almost as common in fact, as the plastic used in water bottles and plastic packaging. It is made by mixing Ethylene glycol (an extremely toxic chemical used to make anti-freeze) with Terephthalic Acid. 

The resulting chemical reaction creates plastic, which is then melted and squeezed through tiny holes to form threads. These threads are spun into your shirt.

The benefits of course, are twofold: It’s really cheap to make and as it’s plastic it doesn’t absorb sweat, so it dries quickly. 

Great for activewear right?

Yes, except that bacteria on your skin loves plastic t-shirts. Researchers in the Netherlands discovered that bacteria prosper in polyester, giving it a reputation for smell. 

Have you ever thrown your shirt on fresh from the cupboard - only to realise it already smells like your stinky gym bag? It’s not you - it’s your shirt.

And of course as a man-made fibre, polyester doesn’t play well with the planet. Each time you wash it, micro-plastics are released into the ocean where they are accumulating by the millions of tonnes. Plus, polyester doesn’t decompose after you’ve thrown it away - rotting in a landfill for up to 200 years.

The good: 

Keeps you dry, inexpensive.

The bad: 

Can cause skin irritation, smells, doesn’t biodegrade when you throw it away, pollutes the oceans, dies used are highly toxic. And let’s be honest, not the most comfortable fabric to wear (unless you prefer to wrap yourself in plastic like a packed lunch).

The verdict:

Polyester may keep you dry, but at what cost? Are you willing to add to the mountain of plastic that’s filling the land and clogging the oceans?

 

What's the deal with recycled polyester?

Many of the big brands, under pressure from consumers for more sustainable options are turning to recycled poly. 

Let’s be clear, using old fishing nets and plastic bottles to create polyester fabric instead of pumping more virgin plastic into the environment is a definite improvement. And they’re letting us know it, shouting from the rooftops that we can train with a clear conscience because they are taking every step possible to become more sustainable.

But are they really?

Let’s look beyond the ‘greenwashing’ at the facts. Recycled poly, or rPET doesn’t actually solve the problem. Every time we wash our recycled plastic garment, we continue to fill the sea with micro-plastics. By 2050, we’ll have more plastic in the oceans than fish.4

Something else we aren't told is that you cannot recycle plastic repeatedly. Each time you do, the polymer degrades and needs to be mixed with more new plastic. 

And when your shirt starts to smell, you’ll dump it. Where? In a landfill, where it’ll poison the earth for a very long time.

This is an industry built on a low cost, completely unsustainable raw material. They need us to believe that rePET is the future, to avoid a systemic overhaul of the entire industry.

 

Contestant No.2: “Old faithful” 

The grand-daddy of them all - cotton. The ‘original’ natural fibre, covering the globe in a vast sea of fluffy white balls.

Cotton is great, except if you sweat in it. It retains moisture and can become clammy and abrasive when wet. That’s why it’s not favoured for sportswear, unless it’s mixed with polyester. 

It’s also a thirsty crop. To grow the cotton for a single t-shirt requires the same amount of water as 1 person drinks in 3 years. In fact, cotton is one of the most water-intensive and least sustainable crops on the planet, using our most precious resource for irrigation while millions of people go without basic access to drinking water.

And it’s a fragile plant, requiring massive amounts of toxic chemicals to protect it from insects.

The good:

Better for your skin and smells less than synthetic fabrics, inexpensive. Plus, it’s a natural fabric which means it will biodegrade perfectly when you’ve had enough of it.

The bad:

Poor sweat wicking ability means poor thermo-regulation, so not great for sportswear. Very high water use, needs toxic chemicals.

The verdict:

Here’s the bottom line for contestant No.2: Cotton falls far short on performance. As we take a water break on our run we realise the bottle is empty.. Contestant 2 was thirsty and chose not to share. 

 

What about organic cotton, you ask?

No harsh chemicals.. surely that’s the way to go?

Not quite. 

Yes, less chemicals are used but the water needed can be far higher than conventional cotton. Organic cotton isn’t genetically modified so it yields less, meaning more crops need to be planted - needing more irrigation. 

 

Contestant No.3: “The natural performer” 

Introducing our third contestant - the newbreed - bamboo.

Made from the world’s fastest growing plant, the properties of bamboo fabric make it perfectly suited to activewear. From it’s ability to wick sweat and regulate body temperature to it’s unbeatable odour control, bamboo is the all-round superstar of nature.

And it does all this naturally, no chemicals needed. 

What strikes you first is the comfort. Floating over the rocks and roots, we feel so comfortable that we hardly notice the run - we’re in the zone, lost in the movement. Life feels great!

Performance aside, bamboo plays nicely with the planet. It came from nature and returns to nature, decomposing when you part ways.

Remember what we said about how much water cotton needs for irrigation? Well, bamboo grows naturally from rainfall.

And if you grow an acre of this self-replenishing, record-breaking super grass, you’ll yield 10 times more fabric than an acre of cotton.

The good

Bamboo excels as a natural all-rounder, perfectly designed to support human movement. And, it might just be the most comfortable activewear you’ve ever worn.

The bad

Bamboo has the unique ability to wick sweat and transport it to the surface of the fabric to evaporate. However, under intense activity in hot conditions, it won’t keep you as dry as a polyester shirt but you need not worry. Unlike cotton, bamboo will never feel cold, clammy or abrasive.

The verdict.

There’s little doubt that bamboo takes the cake against polyester and cotton. Our ethos at Movero is high performance (for us), low impact (on the planet) - that’s why we chose bamboo. It excels at both. 

 

On the sidelines..

Honourable mention goes to the other contestants who were unable to join us today such as hemp and Merino. Merino wool in particular comes with an incredible track record as a high performance, natural fabric but can be a prickly character.

Both Merino and hemp have been known to make people feel a little uncomfortable.

 

The cool down

If you’re in the market for top-performing natural activewear so comfortable that you’ll battle to take it off, check out our performance range of men’s t-shirts, women’s vests and leggings. We’ve even created timeless, unbranded versions for you to wear for every occasion from the boardroom to the bedroom because we know how it goes. It’s too good to only wear when you train.

 

We’ll leave you with this..

Like clean electric power replacing the combustion engine, we think It’s time to redefine what we understand by ‘high performance’. The activewear market is undergoing revolutionary change - making the switch to better performing, natural fabrics that will ensure there’s a world for us to move in, tomorrow.