Our industry has come a long way when it comes to providing apparel made with recycled fibers, although there’s definitely still room for improvement.

Offering products that are environmentally friendly and ethically produced makes sense, given increasing demand, especially among younger buyers, says Denise Taschereau, and co-founder and CEO of Fairware Promotional Products, a Vancouver, Canada-based distributor specializing in these kinds of products.

“As an industry, we want to be getting ready to face the future and be part of what is a more responsible business movement writ large that consumers are asking for, particularly younger buyers,” says Taschereau, a PPAI Board officer, adding that two factors are driving the demand: “There’s kind of a market pull, and then there’s sort of a moral pull of wanting to reduce our impact on the planet.”

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When it comes to recycled fabric, the trick is finding options that are traceable, since it can be difficult to confirm that the materials that went into it aren’t from virgin plastic, says Elizabeth Wimbush, PPAI’s director of sustainability and responsibility.

Look for easily identifiable standards and certifications, she advises, like Better Cotton Initiative, bluesign, Cradle to Cradle, GOTS (the Global Organic Textile Standard) and OEKO-TEX.

“Brands that have products certified through these standards have done a lot of legwork to prove they aren’t greenwashing and are taking the sustainability of their goods seriously,” says Wimbush. 

Taschereau and her team look for rPET certified under the Global Recycling Standard, a voluntary product standard for tracking and verifying the content of recycled materials in a final product.

“We want to make sure that it’s got a chain of custody and it can be authenticated,” she says. “If you’re saying that you have recycled poly in your shirt or in whatever it is you’re doing, if a distributor like me asks, you want to be able to say ‘here is the certification document’ so that we have that authenticity through the supply chain.”

Taschereau says T-shirts made with organic and recycled fibers are nothing new, and “all the main apparel players have rolled out a lot of sustainable textiles,” but she’s excited to see the product offerings expanding to outerwear.

“Seeing really beautiful, cool, functional performance wear and outerwear is pretty new in our space,” she says. “Getting access to sustainable T-shirts has been pretty easy for a while, but starting to see puffies and fleece and shackets and flannels and polos and products outside of that T-shirt and hoodie realm, it’s just really blown up in our industry in the last few years, and it’s awesome.”

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Versatile outerwear that supports layering can make a person’s wardrobe more eco-friendly overall, says Vicki Ostrom, trend analyst/futurist with supplier SanMar and founder of Trendependent, a trend resource for the promotional products industry.

With layering, she adds, “you can have one wardrobe that takes you from January through the whole year round, and it does have to do with sustainability, because even if the fabric itself isn’t organic or recycled, if it helps you not have to have the air conditioner on so high or the heat up,” reducing your carbon footprint.

Be sure to share your sustainability story, too, says Ostrom, because customers want to know that you’re trying. “Now, there’s just so many ways that you can try to do better,” she says, “and storytelling is really important.”

unisex tri-blend T-shirt made with recycled fibers

This Unisex Tri-Blend Tee is a favorite for Taschereau and her team. The super-soft T-shirt, made with 50% recycled polyester (about six plastic bottles), 25% organic cotton and 25% Tencel modal is carbon neutral thanks to offsets via www.carbonfund.org. Comes in 22 colors (deep sea green shown) and sizes XS-L.

Allmade Apparel / PPAI 743984, S1 / allmade.com

Fleece Full-Zip Hoodie made of a sustainable cotton/recycled poly blend

This Ultimate Fleece Full-Zip Hoodie, made of a cotton/poly blend, contains up to 30% recycled polyester and sustainably sourced cotton. Thoughtful details like the dyed-to-match drawcord and print-friendly covered zipper give it a polished look. Comes in 10 colors (army green shown) and sizes XS to 4X.

Threadfast Apparel / PPAI 622344, S6 / threadfast.com

Avalante Full Zip Fleece Jacket made of 75% rPET threads

The Avalante Full Zip Fleece Jacket, made of 75% rPET threads, offers long-lasting cold-weather comfort. The raglan sleeve design provides unrestricted movement, and zippered pockets keep belongings secure. Comes in four colors (granite heather shown), men’s sizes S-6X and women’s sizes S-3X.

Stormtech USA / PPAI 260245, S4 / stormtechperformance.com

lightweight Artisan Shacket 100% recycled polyester shell and lining

The shacket still rules, and this lightweight Artisan Shacket features a 100% recycled polyester shell and lining (Thermolite insulation is 35% rPET), that’s also windproof and water-resistant. “It’s super cute, rPET and super on trend,” says Taschereau. Men’s (olive drab shown) comes in sizes S-3X, women’s (nutmeg shown) in sizes XS-3X, and both also come in black or fatigue green.

Storm Creek / PPAI 438091, S6 / stormcreek.com

Unisex BOGART Eco Packable Half Zip Jacket made from 40% recycled polyester fabric

The Unisex BOGART Eco Packable Half Zip Jacket is made from 40% recycled polyester fabric and recycled zipper tape. Stay comfy and dry thanks to a water-resistant coating and a water-repellent finish, plus it packs away into in the left pocket for lightweight weather protection on the go. Comes in three colors (Invictus blue shown) and sizes XS-3X.

PCNA / PPAI 113079, S15 / pcna.com

Cotton Blend Pique Polo made from 60% recycled cotton/40% rPET

The versatile C-FREE Cotton Blend Pique Polo is made from 60% recycled cotton/40% rPET honeycomb pique performance fabric. The shirts are carbon-neutral thanks to verified, third-party carbon offsets through Carbonfund, and they come in seven colors and sizes XS-4X in both men’s (garnet shown) and women’s (dark green heather shown).

SanMar / PPAI 110788, S16 / sanmar.com

adidas Spacer Quarter-Zip Pullover, made of 100% rPET ribbed fabric

Adidas has pledged to use only 100% recycled polyester by 2024. This Spacer Quarter-Zip Pullover, made of 100% rPET ribbed fabric, features a contrast logo just above the right elbow. Comes in four colors and sizes S-4X in men’s (navy shown) and S-3X in women’s (white shown).

S&S Activewear / PPAI 256121, S12 / ssactivewear.com

Did You Know? S&S Activewear, Everywhere Apparel and City Apparel + Merch are just a few of the promo companies that offer garment recycling services to help reduce textile waste.