TOP 3 Sustainability trends for Sports & Outdoor 2020

October 2020

Textile innovation accelerates, while more brands realise their potential to use business as a force for positive environmental and social impact

As reported from ISPO and Performance Days in 2019, sustainability made a huge impact on textile innovation and product design across the global sports and outdoor industry. Here the LTP team invites sustainability expert Anne Prahl to take a closer look at how some of the emerging trends have developed in 2020.

Recycled & recyclable materials revolution

ISPO Munich 2020 indicated a shift towards a more considered industry, willing to take responsibility for developing and implementing new ways of designing, manufacturing, consuming and disposing of sports and outdoor products. One of the most ubiquitous trends at the fair was the move to recycled polyester and polyamide fabrics, as designers are increasingly keen to select lower impact material options.

un-sanctioned running tee with integrated QR code, image

In 2020, various brands have built on this trend by engineering their own recycled fabric qualities to provide product-specific performance, quality and comfort aspects. One such brand is start-up un-sanctioned, who has collaborated with Italian knitting mill M.I.T.I Spa to create their signature ‘BottleKnit’ fabric, made in Europe from 100% recycled plastic bottles. The brand describe this development a non-exclusive innovation, which can also be utilised by other brands for greater positive environmental impact. In addition, the range also includes styles made with ‘WasteKnit’, a 100% up-cycled polyamide made from industrial waste blended with Roica EF sustainable stretch yarn by Asahi Kasei. All garments feature a woven label with a QR code, to provide the customer with product information and other relevant content.

While many truly recyclable products, such as the Future craft. Loop Anorak by adidas Terrex and the adidas by Stella McCartney Infinite hoodie both showcased at ISPO, are still in the development phase, more brands are joining the innovation challenge to create performance wear that can be recycled into new fabrics and products at end-of-life.

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Presca’s ’Forever Tee’, image

This trend is not limited to big global brands, as UK based performance sportswear brand Presca demonstrates. The company created its first recycled polyester cycling jersey in 2014 and is now committed to making all new garments fully circular by 2022. This involves designing for recyclability, such as avoiding fabrics blends and achieving stretch through construction, as well as an exciting collaboration with Poseidon Plastics and Teesside University to test a chemical recycling technology originally developed for plastic bottles.

Natural performance movement

In contrast, the other distinct material direction continues to focus on natural performance fabrics, a trend which is highlighted by increasing innovation around wool-based textiles for base-layers, mid-layers, soft-shells and outerwear.

Icebreaker100% Merino Wool with Nature Dye 200 at ISPO 2020, image © AnnePrahl

Brands like Houdini have long been promoting the use of natural raw materials in their collection and continuously demonstrate that natural fibres and technology can come together to create highly functional, durable and comfortable garments. At ISPO 2020, natural performance specialist Icebreaker showcased their 100% Merino Wool base-layer collection, which benefitted from the company’s new natural dye innovation ‘Nature Dye’, a process that reduces water consumption by 80% compared to traditional dyeing methods.

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Chia Her Industrial Co. wool and paper textile, image

At Performance Days April 2020, the focus topic Inspired by Nature’ was dedicated to functionality provided by nature and featured natural fibres and blends, which boast a range of performance attributes including UV-protection, moisture management, thermoregulation, odour-control and antimicrobial properties. In response to the industry’s demand for less harmful and biodegradable choices, the Performance Forum presented a wide selection of fabrics made from animal and plant-based fibres, as well as bio-based fibres and trims, made from natural materials or finished and coloured with eco-friendly processes.

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runamics ‘plastic-free’ running gear, image

German start-up runamics is one of the brands tapping into these developments, in their quest to provide environmentally conscious consumers with what they refer to as ‘plastic-free’ running gear. The brand raised their target on Kickstarter in under 8 hours and has now successfully launched the first range. Styles include Merino Wool and Tencel Lyocell blended tees, woven shorts made with 100% Tencel Lyocell and running tights made from Tencel Lyocell, Merino Wool and biodegradable Elastane. Trims are made from natural or biodegradable materials and include waistbands made from natural rubber and organic cotton, biodegradable labels and zips and 100% Tencel drawcords.

Positive impact creation

Beyond the ability to create more environmentally friendly products, the sports and outdoor industry has discovered its power to seek out meaningful ways to create positive impact, such as enabling and supporting physical as well as mental wellbeing for citizens around the globe. Patagonia were pioneers of this approach, having pledged 1% of sales to environmental causes since 1985 and being the first Californian company to receive B-Corp status in 2012.

Today, many sports and outdoor brands are following in their footsteps to join platforms and organisations including B-Corp, 1% for the Planet and initiatives such as the United Nation’s ‘Climate Neutral Now. In addition, more brands are choosing specific causes close to their heart and in line with their brand DNA.

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Finisterre working with Waves for Change, image

Pioneering outdoor brand Finisterre recently released their ‘Positive Impact Report’, which elaborates on the brand’s commitment to being a positive impact business and its journey to achieving B-Corp status in 2018. The company participate in projects and partnerships that foster ocean conservation and is involved in a series of initiatives to enable better access to the sea for a broader section of the population. This includes working with ‘Waves for Change’, a charity, which helps young, troubled people living in disadvantaged communities in South Africa to introduce them to the power of the sea through weekly surf therapy sessions and provide safe spaces and caring mentors.

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VAUDE in-house production facility Manufaktur, image

German mountain sports brand Vaude is known for its engagement in sustainability and social responsibility and demonstrated inspirational leadership with a unique project, which began in in 2016 when the company offered sewing workshops to local refugees to teach them new skills and accelerate their integration into the local community. Utilising material leftovers, the participants created eye-catching shopper bags, which sold out quickly and as a result, and with support from the German Federal Foundation for the Environment (DBU), the company recently set-up their in-house production facility Manufaktur, which employs 10 refugees in permanent positions.

About Anne Prahl

Anne is a London-based, independent design professional specialising in sustainable design, research and innovation for the sportswear and fashion industry. You can find out more about her work via Linkedin or get in touch at: