Natural Fiber Athleticwear: Best Fibers, Best Brands, & What to Avoid
Why natural fibers?
I started down this road after hearing some hot goss at the Remode convention last fall that polyester, in addition to being the bane of landfills everywhere, had the potential to leach toxins into our bodies, similar to the way a water bottle left in a hot car leaches toxins into the water.
Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t find scientific evidence to back this up. However, the fact that polyester is not biodegradable, and frequently not especially breathable, was compelling enough to send me on the hunt for natural fiber athleticwear. You might not expect it, but I’m a bit of a closeted meathead & start as many days as I can at the gym.
P.S This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you purchase something, I will make a small commission, do a little dance, and quietly thank you for supporting my writing.
No cotton. I think we all remember working out in cotton in the early aughts and stewing in tees & leggings drenched in our own sweat. Cotton is what got us excited for tech fabrics and started this mess in the first place. That stuff does not wick for shit.
I looked for leggings made from a variety of fibers, to assess both the fabrics and the styles available.
I tried each set for a minimum of 3 workouts, and washed and dried each set in between, to test their durability.
Approximate criteria for assessment: wicking, cuteness, versatility/comfort (“Would I wear these leggings to watch Netflix?”), visibility of panty lines & “does it make my butt look cute”-ness. The important stuff.
Pros - it’s so buttery soft and wicks reasonably well. If I was a bit sweaty at the end of my workout, I was pretty dry by the time I finished my post workout snack.
Cons - it actually takes a lot of chemicals to break down bamboo fibers to be this soft, so it’s considered a bit less sustainable than fibers like hemp and linen. Brands I tried:
Miakoda NY (gifted, pictured above) – Absolute fucking heaven, my favorite pair of the entire experiment. I tried the high waisted leggings, which were so soft it barely felt like I was wearing pants. They stayed in place throughout my workout and had a small pouch for keys. The fabric was thick and I though made my peach look pretty cute, and they quickly became my go-to leggings. They come in sizes up to 2x. Miakoda also sent me the moon sports bra, which is equally soft & good for low intensity activity like yoga.
Boody (I bought) – The worst pair I tried out of the whole group. I bought the active leggings – they felt thin and started to ride down awkwardly as soon as I began jogging. When I was stretching after my workout, I noticed that the side seams looked worn and had bits of fabric sticking out from the interlock.
Pros - it’s considered one of the most sustainable fibers because it requires very little pesticide and has a high per acre yield. I thought the matteness of the fabric was vs chic.
Cons - not as soft as bamboo.
Prana (gifted) – I loved the matte look of the Serafina hemp-organic cotton leggings! The stirrup style is clearly intended for yoga, but they stayed up throughout my outdoor run with Fran. They felt comparable to the bamboo in terms of wicking – if I was a little damp at the end of my workout, I was dry by the time I had a snack. Butt cuteness, excellent. Durability, excellent. I would definitely wear these for errands or yoga in the future.
(I am a Prana affiliate, so if you use that link to purchase leggings, I make a small amount of money, fyi.)
Pros – warm and light, wicks easily and very breathable.
Cons – can’t go in the dryer or even a hot washing machine, so it’s basically a ticking time bomb unless you are a laundry hero.
Just Be shorts (I bought) – So brutally unforgiving in the booty area (both in terms of showing every dimple & epic visible panty line/VPL) that I was self conscious throughout my workout and couldn’t bring myself to wear them 2 more times. And the heavy tie at the waist rode down during my jog. I donated them almost immediately (after washing on cold). I still love the idea of a wool legging for winter running or as a skiing baselayer, but it would have to be a thicker knit. My friends and I typically hang out in our base layers after skiing/snowshoeing, so it’s really awkward if your base is sheer or revealing. If VPL and laundry don’t bother you, this might still be a viable option.
I bet you didn’t expect to see linen on this list. This one wasn’t an apples to apples comparison, but by chance I ended up with a linen tee (I ordered wool leggings from Just Be over a weekend they were having a sale, and by the time they went to fulfill my order, the leggings were sold out, so they offered me the wool shorts & a linen tee instead), so I wore it to the gym. Pros - linen, like hemp, requires little pesticide & water, even when farmed conventionally, so it’s very sustainable. It’s also exceptionally light and breathable. Cons - it’s not as soft as other fibers, and it tends to go a bit sheer in knits.
Just Be tee shirt (I bought) - Holy shit, this was BREEZY! I don’t think it’s meant to be a workout top, but it was fantastic. I felt cool and dry. **Keep in mind that a tee is looser than a pair of leggings, so the delightful wicking factor could be different than a pair of leggings.** The tee is a little bit sheer, which is consistent with other linen knits I’ve seen, but it wasn’t so sheer as to stop me from wearing it with a nude or gray bra. I haven’t come across linen leggings yet, but somebody please make them!
The Miakoda NY bamboo-organic cotton blend was definitely my favorite pair, followed by the hemp-organic cotton blend Prana Serafina leggings. And if you have a linen tee, try wearing it to the gym! Also, keep sending me your natural fiber legging and other sustainable clothing brand recommendations – I would love to keep updating this post with new additions as I try them out!