Six months ago, the only thing that would get me to even look at a matching sweatsuit was Zoë Kravitz — wearing one (from Entireworld) underneath a moss-green Loewe duster. Now, I, and just about everyone else on the planet, hardly go a few days without slipping one on. Like shoes with heels, non-stretch denim, and dresses that don’t fall under Hill House Home’s Nap dress category, anything that’s not elastic, monochrome, and made of jersey simply doesn’t suit my dressing needs anymore. That’s what happens when a pandemic ushers most of the population indoors for half a year’s time: we bunker down and get comfortable.
But comfort level isn’t the only variable we look at when shopping for loungewear these days. Instead, the farther we get into the pandemic, and the more we see how our everyday behaviours, from plane, train, and car travel to our fashion consumption habits, contribute to the environment’s demise — in March, the BBC reported that pollution in New York alone was down 50% year-over-year due to a reduced number of cars on the road — the more focused we are on shopping ethically and sustainably. Gen Z, in particular, wants a future on this planet, and many are willing to give up fast fashion to get it. Enter: ethical and sustainable loungewear, which is currently experiencing a rise. “Gen Z are looking for purpose above anything else — they are a generation deeply concerned and moved by socio-environmental issues,” says Dr. Amanda Parkes Ph.D, Chief Innovations Officer at PANGAIA, a sustainable fashion collective that offers seasonless loungewear crafted out of bio-engineered materials. “They care, they believe in the power of the collective, and they are willing to adapt their lifestyles to help both people and the planet.”
Next week, the brand is announcing a collaboration with JUST Water, the environmentally-friendly consumer products brand co-founded by Jaden Smith (aka the unofficial ruler of Gen Z), made up of a nine-piece line of loungewear. The collection, which includes sweatpants, sweat shorts, hoodies, crewnecks, and T-shirts in JUST Water’s signature blue colourway, was created using 100% GOTS-certified organic cotton, natural dyes, and a recycled water system. What’s more, funds raised from the collection will be donated to #TOGETHERFUND x WJSFF, a nonprofit that supports racial justice work and COVID-19 relief.
While a PANGAIA x JUST collaboration may appear unexpected, given that the two are from different industries entirely, they share a common purpose of protecting those natural resources that we still have. PANGAIA’s business model, too, is different from what we’ve come to expect from brands — described as a collective, it’s made up of “scientists, designers, thinkers, and creators from all backgrounds and walks of life,” according to Parkes. To ensure that their products are being made using the most up-to-date technology, this collective connects MIT, Harvard, and Stanford alumni with designers from leading global design schools. As such, PANGAIA is at the forefront of both fashion and sustainable technology right now. “PANGAIA is very much aligned with Gen Z values — which is probably why we have such a strong presence of Gen Z in our community,” Parkes says. “We share their vision of a better world and their drive towards helping shape it.” A-list fans like Hailey Bieber and Jaden Smith no doubt help, too.
In addition to PANGAIA, dozens of other ethical and sustainable loungewear brands have hit peak popularity since stay-at-home orders began in March. According to a viral The New York Times feature about sweatpants in the age of coronavirus, loungewear brand Entireworld has seen unprecedented growth during the pandemic. Following a “distinctly human” email in March that was sent by the brand’s CEO and founder Scott Sternberg to its 30,000 subscribers, Entireworld’s e-commerce site, which normally reports roughly 46 tracksuit bottom orders per day, sold more than 1,000 pairs. “By month’s end, the brand’s sales were up 662 percent over March the previous year,” Sternberg told the publication.
Like PANGAIA, Entireworld uses sustainable materials like organic cotton and recycled polyester to craft their signature crewnecks, shorts, socks, and joggers. A “strict set of criteria” is used for choosing suppliers and factories to work with to ensure that each and every Entireworld garment is made ethically. Also like PANGAIA, Entireworld’s business model is unlike many brand., Not only is it direct-to-consumer but it focuses on seasonless staples, rather than trends. Of the traditional fashion model, which includes a constant churning of collections and wholesale accounts, Sternberg told the publication that the “whole channel is dead. And there’s no sign of when it’s turning on again.” Maybe the age of sustainable loungewear will be born out of its ashes.
Other loungewear brands like Cotton Citizen and Lacausa have been implementing sustainable practices since their very conceptions, too, using natural dyes, local factories, and, in, the case of Lacausa, additionally donating to nonprofits like the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Surfrider, and Cool Earth, which works alongside rainforest communities to halt deforestation. There’s also Baserange, a Dutch-French loungewear and underwear brand that’s committed to clean production, and Philadelphia-based Wol-Hide which designs comfortable and conscious pieces for everyday wear.
Ever since the climate crisis reached “the point of no return back in 2015,” as Parkes puts it, “more and more people are becoming conscious of the urgency of the situation and committing to changing their behaviour and purchasing habits.” The pandemic has only sped up those changes and commitments. And as conscious consumers continue to look for ways to put their money where their mouth is, it’s sustainably-minded businesses that will make the cut.
Given that many people will not be going back to their offices until next year, the end of the loungewear boom is nowhere in sight. But that doesn’t mean that every brand under the sun should stop what they’re doing and jump on the sweatpants bandwagon, at least not before considering how they’re going to do so, from materials to supply chain, packaging, and beyond. After all, no matter how far off it may seem, the pandemic will eventually cease to exist. And when that happens — subsequently forcing us out of our crewnecks and into “normal” attire again — it won’t be just any loungewear brands that people remember, but rather those that not only invested in our comfort but also the comfort of generations that follow.