The Surprising Problem With Yoga Pants (It's Not What You Think)

As hard as it is to believe, until I moved to California in 2010, I had no idea what yoga pants were. Typing that made me think for a moment. Was there really a time when I didn’t know what yoga pants were? Apparently, yes, there really was a time when the wear-everywhere, go-everywhere, do-everything, comfortable, iconic yoga pants didn’t really exist as we know and love them today!

I know…

Today it’s hard to imagine a life without yoga pants! But, for all the global love, here is a very “unlovable” fact about yoga pants that may surprise you. And no, it isn't that they can be absolutely see-through or get you kicked off a plane. Before I tell you, let me reiterate that I absolutely, positively adore a great pair of yoga pants! But most of us don't know that yoga pants are part of the highest consumed category of clothes by far: sportswear and athleisure, a name for trendy sportswear that can be worn for workouts and in other settings, such as at the workplace, at school, etc.

Yoga pants – and trendy sportswear – are fueling fast fashion.

In 2016, sales in the global apparel and footwear industry only grew 3.8% worldwide to $1.67 trillion. Yes, that number is mind-bogglingly LARGE, but according to research firm Euromonitor, that was the weakest growth since the economic crisis in 2008. That’s a win for the overconsumption of “fast fashion,” clothes produced quickly and cheaply to get new trends to the market as fast as possible.

However, the firm reported that what "saved" the industry from even poorer results (seriously, poorer results?) was sportswear, which includes items such as yoga pants. It was the fastest growing category for the third year in a row “causing growth in other categories to look rather tame in comparison,” Euromonitor stated. 

That means your yoga clothes are a trend, which doesn't create a lot of confidence in how ethically they were made and their quality. The trendier an items is, the higher the demand for a product right now. This inevitably leads to putting the factories under stress, pushing workers further, demanding overtime, cutting corners, and more. And it opens up a price war, which often means workers will get paid less as well, to combat dropping margins. Case in point: tights and capris' average price dropped 9% in the first quarter of 2016, from a year prior, according to data from research firm SportsOneSource

The one positive twist I could see was that maybe more people were investing in sportswear to get fit and take care of their bodies. Yes? Hopefully? No. Most research shows the sportswear category is simply growing because its' "cool." In 2013, while sales of yoga apparel increased by 45%, yoga participation increased by only 4.5%, according to SportsOneSource. One can only hope that is changing, but while yoga participation has increased 50 percent in the last four years (up from 15.8 million in 2008 to 36.7 million in 2016), there are still only around 2 percent of Americans who have participated in a yoga class in the last 12 months, according to a new study by The Yoga Journal and the Yoga Alliance.  

You literally can buy thousands of  different types of yoga pants, so the temptation is always there to get the latest, coolest design. Plain, black leggings are so 2010. You need cut-outs and sheer fabrics and vibrant prints to stay on trend now. When the cloud-based company Indix searched its database in 2014 for women’s yoga pants there were more than 2,700 products across 116 brands and 73 stores. I can only imagine how many there are today (and that’s not even counting yoga shorts for hot yoga!)

I think we are all getting better about asking if we need "fast fashion" as we walk through Target or the mall, but I know I'm guilty of overlooking my yoga attire.

After all, it's linked to the positive category of working out and taking care of your body, so I feel like my brain just filed it away in the "It's ok, don't worry about it," category.

So I’m just going to say it, even though I know it will probably be booed louder than Simon ever was on American Idol (after all we are talking about beloved yoga pants): before you make any purchase – even from an ethical, eco-friendly company that gives back – ask yourself if you really need that new pair of yoga pants. It's a habit I'm trying to build myself.

I am not advocating that you only own one pair of yoga pants (although, kudos to you if you do!), especially if you practice almost daily (which I cannot recommend highly enough!). And I'm certainly not judging you by how many pairs you own. Pinkie promise. 

I'm just suggesting you simply ask the question just in case you truly don't need another pair right now. It will help your wallet and the planet. Side note: the manufactured synthetic textiles that yoga pants are commonly made of, including polyester, spandex, nylon, and rayon, can take between 20 to 200 years to fully biodegrade in a landfill.

After the question of "Do I really need it," also ask yourself how the yoga pants are made (Ethically? Fair Trade?) and what they are made of (a massive consideration, but that’s a whole separate blog coming soon!).

I’m continuously on the hunt for yoga companies offering more ethical and eco-friendly yoga clothing options. My ultimate preference are items that check BOTH boxes, but I applaud any company thoughtfully tackling at least one of the issues.

Here are a few of my current favorites which are both fair trade and made from eco-friendly fibers:                                                                               


ENCIRCLED

I've just discovered this company and I'm in love. They offer ethically-made, high-waisted leggings made from ultra-soft sustainable 4-way stretch fabric. (But they also offer a lot of basics for a minimalist, capsule-style closet)! Available in Dark Heathered Grey (Bamboo), Smoke Grey (MicroModal), and Black (Bamboo or MicroModal fabric)

  • Bamboo is soft and doesn't chafe. Derived from a renewable source, it is made with no wastewater emitted back into the environment. Dyes are azo-free and low impact. 
  • MicroModal is an earth-friendly ultra-silky fabric derived from beech tree pulp that is low impact. 
  • 100% designed and made in Toronto, Canada, with love. The Minimalist Legging is sewn in the Leslieville area of Toronto, Canada. Once a busy hub of garment manufacturing in Canada, there are only a few small sewing contractors left. The makers of these leggings once worked for big name sportswear brands, and now focus on helping up and coming brands maintain ethical and local production. 

SUDARA

I am so excited that Sudara has started making yoga clothes! This company is most famous for its comfy PUNJAMMIES®, loungewear made by women in India who are at the highest risk or survivors of human trafficking.

These black yoga pants are ethically made through a Fair Trade Guaranteed partner in Nepal. Every purchase invests in programs that empower women in India and Nepal to create fresh starts and fulfilled lives.

  • High-waisted so you can feel secure in any pose. Say goodbye to pants that fall or slide down in the middle of class.Four-way stretch so you can move freely.
  • Hidden pocket with our Kaveri-print fabric to store a key or card when you're on the go. (Shown right).
  • Extend the fabric over your foot or scrunch it at the ankle.
  • Thick fabric (80% nylon / 20% spandex) provides a snug feeling and the assurance of not being see-through.

You can also make a donation at checkout to go towards the Sudara Freedom Fund and have helped fund safe housing for women escaping trafficking, equipment for new or growing sewing centers, micro-loans and back-to-school programs. 


ATHLETA

Athleta is my favorite "big box store" brand, especially when it launched its Fair Trade line at the beginning of 2017 and gave a lot of women easy access to fair trade products! (Plus the company has a strong pro-women message, which included using 98-year old, Tao Porchon-Lynch, the world’s oldest yoga teacher in its marketing, and it has an active sustainability, eco-friendly focus, which includes adding organic cotton fabrics!). Allllll the heart-eyed emojis on that list! 

Athleta's spring collection featured more than 40 Fair Trade Certified styles and more styles are being added throughout the year, which is expected to approach 100 items by the end of 2017.  

Also, for every Fair Trade Certified™ garment sold,  Athleta pays a premium directly back to the people who made it. Together, the factory workers open a bank account, and then vote on how to use the funds to address important needs in their community. 

Search "Fair Trade" on the Athleta website to see the options available for purchase, which include three styles of yoga pants.

GREEN APPLE YOGA

This company uses only natural raw materials such as organically grown bamboo and Certified Organic Cotton in its apparel. All the factories are WRAP certified and approved for fair labor conditions. It's material is supportive, UVA/UVB protecting, moisture-wicking, quick dry, odor-inhibiting, and biodegradable.  

  • Did you know that bamboo fibers are naturally antimicrobial. (Less smell after you sweat!)
  • Bamboo is also nature's UVA sun protection fabric.

Note: These pants have a "shinier" fiber that will catch the light, so if you don't like that look, this yoga pant isn't for you.