The activewear industry has long been one of fashion’s worst offenders when it comes to its environmental footprint.
The need for the clothing to be stretchy and moisture-wicking means the industry relies heavily on synthetic fibers such as nylon, polyester and spandex. Such fibers can take decades if not centuries to biodegrade while also releasing harmful microplastics into the environment.
One US brand trying to clean up the activewear industry is Definite Articles, which was launched in November 2021 by Aaron Sanandres, the co-founder and CEO of casual shirt brand Untuckit.
“The pandemic was the darkest 12 months in Untuckit’s history,” Sanandres told FashionUnited. “People just stopped buying button up shirts.” In search of a side business and after spotting a gap in the market for comfortable, durable and sustainable socks, Definite Articles was born.
But what started as a passion project for Sanandres soon grew into something much bigger when in his search for more environmentally friendly alternatives to traditional activewear products he stumbled upon a sustainable textile company called CiCLO.
CiCLO has developed an additive that when combined with polyester and nylon can drastically accelerate the biodegradability rate of the synthetics to comparable rates as natural fibers such as wool. It does this by “duping” microbes into thinking they are natural fibers.
According to its website, after 1,171 days (3.2 years), CiCLO-treated synthetic fibers had biodegraded by 91.1 percent in soil, whereas comparable untreated synthetic fibers had not biodegraded at all. What’s more, CiCLO says its additive can reduce the shedding rate of treated synthetic fibers by 25 percent.
CiCLO’s technology has received certification from Eco Passport by Oeko-Tex, an independent certification system for chemicals, colorants and auxiliaries used in the textile and leather industry.
And so an idea was born
“This was my lightbulb moment,” Sanandres said. “When I connected with CiCLO, Definite Articles suddenly went from a side project to something I was incredibly excited about. I thought to myself, this could be the eco Lululemon.”
Definite Articles’ socks - with a price tag of 14.95 dollars for an ankle version and 16.95 dollars for a crew version - are made from a blend of cotton, polyester, nylon and spandex. CiCLO’s technology doesn’t work with spandex, which comprises about 2 percent of each sock.
“Unfortunately when it comes to socks, there aren’t a lot of end-of-life options,” Sanandres said, explaining that there is little resale demand for socks.
On top of that, the recycling industry wants single-fibre products instead of blends, and the few recycling factories that do work with blends are outside of the US, which would mean Definite Articles would have to significantly increase its carbon footprint by introducing shipping. All its current suppliers are in the US.
“What this ultimately means is that socks are going to end up being thrown into landfill,” Sanandres said. “And when they do, at least we know our socks will biodegrade and ultimately turn into soil in a matter of years, not centuries.”
Sanandres said Definite Articles is currently working with recycled polyester, uses no finishes and minimal dyes.
‘Not the perfect answer, but the best solution’
So what’s next for the brand? After launching its first kid’s collection last month, Definite Articles is now gearing up to expand into men’s and women’s apparel in the Fall. Sanandres said some of the products will have similar sustainability credentials as its socks, though others with higher percentages of spandex won’t be as biodegradable.
“I know that what Definite Articles is doing is not the perfect answer when it comes to sustainability, but I think it’s the best solution that exists today,” Sanandres said. “Our commitment will always be to have the lowest environmental impact possible in the activewear segment. The goal is to make ‘made to last’ but not ‘here forever’ products.”
Sanandres also said the brand has already created a strong bond with the running community, which he plans to further build on. “We want to build a strong, local and loyal following and community,” he said. “That’s how I think we build this brand up to be something truly special.”