Synthetic plastics are deeply embedded in all of our clothing. Community Clothing Organic Athletic is an innovative line of performance sportswear that uses zero plastic materials, zero oil based materials, only 100% plant based fabrics. It is the result of a 5 year programme of development with our UK,and one EU, textile manufacturing partners, including lightweight fast-drying breathable natural planted based fabrics and elastics. 

Synthetic plastics are deeply embedded in all of our clothing. Community Clothing Organic Athletic is an innovative line of performance sportswear that uses zero plastic materials, zero oil based materials, only 100% plant based fabrics. It is the result of a 5 year programme of development with our UK,and one EU, textile manufacturing partners, including lightweight fast-drying breathable natural planted based fabrics and elastics. 

Here comes the science

Here comes the science

The manufacture of the synthetic materials used in modern athletic clothing uses tens of millions of barrels of oil each year. It is highly polluting and has a huge carbon footprint. Discarded synthetic sports clothes are a massive contributor to the growing global problem of non-biodegradable clothing waste, and to the vast quantity of ocean microplastics, over a third of which is plastic fibres from our clothing. 

Community Clothing Organic Athletic represents radically different thinking in the world of performance sportswear. Utilising innovative pure plant-based textile technology our high performance, durable range of athletic clothing is 100% organic, natural and biodegradable. We like to think of it as happy planet sportswear.  

Simple answer. Plastic, made from oil.  

Standard running shorts are made of several principal materials: a lightweight woven shell, a knitted lining with elasticated leg openings, an elasticated waistband, a woven drawcord, and a woven composition & care label. The most common material used in running shorts are polyester and elastane (also known as Lycra). Nylon and acrylic are also both used. All of these are oil-based synthetic materials.  

Organic Cotton from the cotton plant, Gossypium Hirsutum, and natural rubber from the rubber tree, Hevea Brasiliensis. 

The fabric technologies we developed are unique to us. We had to start from scratch with our fabrics and trims because no one has made any sportswear from natural materials for about 25 years, and for running clothes more like 40 years.  

Our main fabrics are all woven or knitted from 100% certified organic cotton, right here in the UK. The woven fabrics in two mills in Lancashire, the knitted fabrics from three different mills in Leicestershire, all with long histories of making sporting fabrics, albeit in some cases they hadn’t made any for decades. The elastic we use in the shorts is woven in Austria, a blend of organic cotton and natural rubber.  We have gone back to the very best of pre-synthetic sportswear fabric constructions for our inspiration, and applied the latest production techniques to their manufacture.  

We could not find non-oil-based internal woven labels, so instead we print the care instructions onto the main fabric using a non-toxic water based ink. And we use that same ink for the logo on the outside.  

And we sew every product in the CCOA range using a cotton thread. This means you have to sew them a little slower, and use a slightly thicker thread to get the same strength, but man used to make clothes for thousands of years before the 1970’s and lots of those pieces are still going strong.  

There are two sides to this answer, technical, and environmental.  

Synthetic sportswear may have a technical edge over plant based in some respects but it is nowhere near as much as you might imagine. It will dry a little faster, and in the case of elastane fabrics it has more material stretch. But does that make you faster? The men’s 100m record before synthetics stood at 9.95 seconds. Only very few people have ever run faster. The men’s 1500m record has improved by less than 3% since the development of synthetic clothing and much of this can be attributed to modern training methods. The performance edge, is very small.  

Many of the 20th century’s landmark sporting feats were achieved without synthetic clothing. Roger Bannister’s first sub 4 minute mile, Pele’s 1,279 goals, Jessie Owens four Olympics gold medals at Munich in ’36 and Fanny Blankers-Koen four at London in ’48, many of Billie Jean King’s 39 grand slam titles and Bob Beamon’s 29 feet ‘leap of the century’. All done in natural cotton kit. For most of us natural kit should do the job pretty well.  

And environmentally organic natural fabrics have a huge advantage. They cause a fraction of the pollution, there’s no oil extraction, no plastic production, and organic cotton has a carbon footprint almost a third that of polyester. And even better at the end of its life it naturally biodegrades. No mountain of waste plastic clothing, no harmful ocean microplastic.  


things affect the
performance of sports clothing. 

The fit of the
garment; the cut and construction, the placement of seams; the shape and size
of the panels; the same fit performance can be achieved in both synthetic and
natural fibres. 

The moisture
transport of the fabric; there are two components to this, one mechanical, one

·       the
mechanical structure of the fabric, how
it is woven or knitted, affects the way moisture is transported through fabric;
moisture wicking structures are readily achievable in both synthetic and
natural fibre fabrics. 

·       the
material structure of the fibres in the fabrics, how they repel or absorb
moisture, affects the moisture transport also. Synthetic fibres such as
polyester are hydrophobic, meaning they do not absorb water; they dry more
quickly but can feel sticky on the skin. Natural fibres such as cotton are
hydrophilic, meaning they absorb a certain % of water; they can take a little
longer to dry, but feel more comfortable next to the skin. 

The stretch of the
fabric; there are two components to the stretch in fabrics: one mechanical, one

·       mechanical
stretch can be achieved through the construction of the fabric, this is the
same for synthetic and natural fibres. Stretch fabrics are possible in both,
for example knitted cotton jersey used in t shirts has good mechanical stretch.
This stretch will not deteriorate significantly over time.  

·       Material
stretch is due to the nature of chemical bonding within elastic materials and this cannot
be achieved in natural fibres. However this property,
especially the stretch recover, will deteriorate significantly over time,
sometime after not very many wear and wash cycles. It is this stretch that is predominantly
utilised in modern running tights. 


The development of synthetic fibres began in the late 19th century but it was not until the 1930’s that commercially viable synthetic fibres began to be produced. Over the next 30 years their industrial production was developed and the volumes produced increased.  

One of the first noted uses of synthetic sportswear was the Bolton Wanderers football team in the 1953 FA Cup Final. No accurate record of what they wore remains, it was simply described as a ‘shiny material’. However it was not until the late 1980’s that synthetic shirts became ubiquitous in football. Swimmers first wore nylon swimwear in 1956. In the 1970s swimmers and gymnasts began wearing suits made from a mixture of nylon and elastane (or Lycra).  

A lot. And this is crucial. We need to move to a circular system for our clothing and everything else we consume, a system were the materials we use go round and round forever, where they are recyclable. Polyester is not currently recyclable, not in any economic or practical sense.  

What many brands who claim to be sustainable are selling you is clothing made from recycled polyester, polyester made mostly from water bottles. It’s an easy option that sounds good. But it isn’t. It’s true, recycled polyester has a lower carbon footprint than virgin polyester, but it still has a higher carbon footprint than all of the natural textile fibres, including cotton. Additionally, the supply of recycled polyester requires the continuation of the use of single use plastic water bottles rather than a move to reusable drinking water bottles. And once a plastic bottle, or other feedstock plastic material, has been recycled and turned into polyester clothing it cannot be recycled into anything else. It’s a dead end. 

The biodegradability of neither polyester nor elastane is well understood. Sensible estimates suggest a time of between a few hundred years and never. Polyester clothing exhumed from an over 50-year-old UK landfill site showed absolutely no discernible evidence of biodegradation, it hadn’t changed one bit despite half a century underground.  

Microplastics are also a big issue. We are all concerned about plastic in the ocean and it is estimated that 33% of all ocean microplastic is fibres from our synthetic clothes, shed when we wear and wash them.  

There are many great uses from plastic, from the tiny valves that keep our hearts pumping, to lighter weight parts for cars helping them use less fuel, and reusable packaging that helps stop our precious food from rotting. But plastic clothing is choking the planet.

In theory you can, but there are several big problems that mean right now it doesn’t happen.  

In order to recycle you need a single material, and many clothes are made with blends of materials, and many have zips, buttons etc which are other materials, and all are sewn with thread which is typically a different grade of polyester. So to recycle you need to mechanically remove, i.e. cut off by hand, all the zips, buttons and sewn seams. All of this is very costly. It currently costs significantly more to recycle polyester than it does to make new, whether that’s making virgin polyester from oil, or making it from water bottles. There are currently no economically viable routes to recycle polyester.  

Also, and significantly, when you recycle polyester textiles the resultant material is brown, which means it can only be dyed darker brown on black. This is a very big problem for quite obvious reasons. We have spent thousands or years developing dyes which never fade and never come out. The whole system of dyeing needs to be completely rethought.  

No. Not as you would normally understand it. It not like recycling glass or aluminium cans where new usable material is created.  

‘Recycling’ in synthetic clothing means selling them to someone else. When you put your clothing into those ‘recycling’ bins, it goes to be sorted somewhere locally, the best stuff stays here and gets resold, but a large percentage of it gets put on container ships and sent to sub-Saharan Africa or South America. There it gets sifted through again and a proportion will be resold. But a lot is simply incinerated or dumped. There is a clothes dump in Chile that’s now so big it can be seen from space. In fact these poorer countries have had so much of our discarded clothing in the past few years that in 2023 many of they stopped accepting it. Literally no one wants our cheap used plastic clothes. 

No. Scientist in many countries are working to make recyclability an economically viableoption. They are researching new dyeing techniques which make dyes more easily removable. And they are researching alternative synthetic materials to polyester which are more easily recycled, and are compatible with these new dyeing technologies. However, these new technologies, if successful will require a re-think of the entire design and production process, as well of course as building the global apparatus for textile recycling. Whilst a massive reduction in the volume of clothing we buy is by far the best solution, it is unlikely that the human race can be weaned off its addiction to fast fashion any time soon so affordable recyclable synthetic alternatives are very much needed and needed now. 

Firstly, the elastic in the leg openings in the lining is almost always the first thing to fail. Shorts that otherwise would last years longer get thrown in the bin which is incredibly frustrating. Not having a lining means your shorts will last longer.  

Secondly, with a built in lining you’d wash your shorts every time you wear them. But if you wear separate underwear you can wear the shorts multiple times between washes, meaning less washing, less energy consumption, less water, less detergent, which is better for the planet, and saves you money. Less frequent washing also means your shorts will last longer.