So many consumers are environmentally conscious, with perhaps 75 percent of Millennials willing to pay extra for sustainable offerings.
Green consumers could keep or seek out vintage, recycled, reused clothes that might be up to their athletic routine, and “stylishly torn” clothes are still in fashion.
But if your athletic wear is very warn and you want something fresher, Athleta, while maybe not winning the gold, it is at least more lithe on green living than Lululemon, its arch rival.
Athleta is located in Bellevue Square and University Village in Seattle and dozens of outlets across the US. It is a subsidiary of the Gap, selling yoga clothing, swim suits, and upscale workout sportswear for women and girls. From the perspective of environmentally conscious consumers, Athleta is helping its parent company, the Gap, get a little more in shape.
The Gap (sustainability pages here) vows that Athleta will have 80 percent of its sportswear made from sustainable fibers within the next year. This includes recycled, discarded nylon (with 85 percent of swimwear already made from this) and organic cotton.
Organic cotton appears more likely to be the primary fabric on skimpier, sleeveless products with higher margins per stitch. But the effort to find recycled and natural materials looks real.
Is Athleta “Greenwashing” for the Gap?
Is Athleta “greenwashing” — meaning mostly talking and making token concessions, but not walking with respect to environmental principals? Sometimes, yes. For example: “25 percent of Athleta’s products will be made using techniques which save water” in 2020. Only 25 percent? With respect to cotton, many sources suggest the richest, legal non-food farm crop in the world is mostly unsustainable with respect to water. But 25 percent appears to be above some of the other Gap brands…
Again with cotton, their primary natural fiber, Athleta (and to some extent other divisions of the Gap) are seeking out American-grown cotton and also working with “the better cotton initiative,” which promotes more crop and soil protection, water stewardship, biodiversity on farms, more fair wages, and an effective monitoring system to ensure all of this is really happening. Typing in “organic” on the Athleta store’s search button took me to as many pages as possible, organic or not… But usually it did highlight natural cotton fibers.
Athleta’s stated “mission: to help women and girls realize their limitless potential by living an active and healthy life.” With its less physically uniform models almost all in motion and enjoying the outdoors, it’s setting the pace on these goals for bigger divisions of the Gap, including the Gap itself, Old Navy, and Banana Republic.
Lululemon: More Lukewarm on green living?
By contrast, Lululemon, with store locations in Seattle, Bellevue, Renton, and Lynnwood (as well as throughout the US) seems to focus on its environmental footprint primarily with a hope to modernize efficiency of production and delivery for shareholders, not to satisfy green consumers. The company claims product shipments make up the largest part of its footprint (51%), and its seeking to lighten this through more efficient shipments (primarily to the Eastern US) while auditing other things like electricity and natural gas use (18%). But its sustainability effort parallels that of any company hoping to ship any product more efficiently. It reads more like a financial audit than an environmental audit.
Some of its efforts seem only casually focused on peripheral environmental and animal welfare standards. For example, Lululemon supports the responsible down initiative, which has very minimal standards of animal welfare for birds. And how many yoga and workout products contain feathers anyway? Lululemon sells a few coats that meet this minimal natural down standard, but very few. And this animal welfare box may be casually checked before birds are killed and plucked, hopefully (but probably not) in that order.
It is tough to make a dime in the fashion industry, but Lululemon could be doing more here.
Which brand to wear for yoga, swimming, hiking, and beyond
If your old workout clothes have been washed and worn till they’re shabby, and you’ll feel drab even in a setting like in the photo above (!), you could consider a refresh with Athleta products over Lululemon. Athleta does appear to pay more attention to lower-footprint and higher-quality materials and sourcing.
Feature photo: Athleta catalogue and computer montage by the author.