Being a sport-loving community, having the right kit helps us to keep moving and maximising our efforts. Thankfully, sportswear options have come on a lot over the past decade. Long gone are full-length “wet look” leotards and trauma-inducing tight towelling shorts; today we’re faced with all manner of super-slick and high-tech apparel in which to leap, lunge, sweat and squat.

However, the more choice there is available for fitness and exercise, the more scope there is for controversy. The past few years have seen reports alleging to dangers in our beloved sports gear due to certain chemicals being used in the fabric. 

While previously, researchers have focused on our exposure to plastic through diet, recent studies, including one by researchers at the University of Birmingham, UK, discovered that humans could be exposed to plastic chemicals from fabrics that may be absorbed through our skin, too.

Chances are, your favourite cycling jersey or go-to yoga bra is made from synthetic material such as Spandex, nylon or polyester, all of which are essentially plastics. The problem is that these types of material are made from petrochemicals which are often formulated with harmful and toxic chemical additives, which could potentially cause health problems.

The researchers at Birmingham discovered that because sweat contains oil, and oil has a chemical nature that leads chemicals in plastic to diffuse, the oil in your body can suck up chemicals from the plastics you touch. “Oily substances in our sweat encourage bad chemicals to come out of the microplastic fibres”, says Dr Mohamed Abdallah, an associate professor and the principal investigator of the study.

So what to do? When it comes to personal wellbeing and much of environmentalism, there’s not one ideal solution. Switching up your sportswear for better health is not wholly realistic and can be pricey. 

However, while research on fashion and sustainability continues globally, there are some moves you can make.
The place to start, says Anna Michau, Managing Director of Vive Singapore (, is to check the labels of your current activewear. “The most common material in sportswear is cotton, but look for organic cotton which is favoured for its comfort and breathability,” she says. “There’s an absence of harmful chemicals that are used in conventional cotton farming, aligning with sustainability principles which helps reduce environmental impact.” If there’s nothing on the label, visit the brand’s website to see if the product is GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard). Notice if they make an effort to list their suppliers. As for future purchases and protecting the wardrobe you already have from chemical impact, read on for Anna’s savvy tips.

  •  To air or not?
    “Definitely air your sportswear after use, especially in Singapore’s steamy weather. This can help to prevent mould, mildew, and any odours. It’s also a simple way to extend your sportswear’s lifespan by preserving fabric integrity.” 
  •  Best way to wash
    “Cold water washing reduces energy consumption compared to hot water washing, and using a mild, eco-friendly detergent minimises the release of harmful chemicals into the environment. Hand washing and turning sportswear inside out are also effective methods for protecting the clothing, especially for items with printed logos or reflective details. These practices contribute to both the planet and the longevity of the garments.”
  •  Skip softener
    “Fabric softeners contain chemicals that will coat the fibres of the fabric. In time, this will reduce elasticity and fabric breathability. Some softeners might even leave a residue on your fabric which could lead to odours being trapped. As much as possible, fabric softener is a step you can skimp on for your exercise gear – just opt for a mild eco-friendly detergent instead.”
  •  Grab your guppy
    “A guppy bag is not only believed to be more environmentally friendly, but it’s also helpful in protecting clothes from abrasive wear and tear in the washer. Using one can reduce the chances of your clothes trapping microplastic fibres that escape during the washing process which could, in turn, pollute wastewater.”
  •  Avoid the dryer
    “We are so lucky to have Singapore’s heat! After washing, hang your clothes to dry naturally in the sun. Of course, this also reduces energy consumption that comes with machine and tumble drying.”
  •  Trainer talk
    “The longevity of your kit is dependant on how often you use it, what activities you use it for, and how you care for it. Whenever my trainers are soiled, I brush them clean as soon as possible after use to remove any dirt. Additionally, I regularly air dry my trainers in the heat after every wear which helps to keep them fresh at all times.”
  •  Investigate the market
    “It’s important to support brands that adopt ethical production methods and have fair labour practices in place – workers who are paid fair wages and are in a safe working environment. Fabrics labelled as eco-friendly can still have been made in dangerous, exploitative, and suspicious supply chains. By conducting thorough research on specific brands, you can make more educated decisions and choose products that align with your personal values. 

     With activewear, the most impactful thing people can do to protect themselves and the planet is to simply reduce the number of new items they buy, and to avoid impulsive purchases. To me, maintenance goes a long way.”