Activewear Fabric Recommendations

With the rise of athleisure, long gone are the days that activewear only belonged in the gym. From sneakers and hoodies to leggings and tracksuits, people are now sporting activewear pieces on the streets, and even mixing and matching them with dressier pieces for more formal events.

You might be tired of us saying this, but we’re still gonna say it—choosing an ideal fabric is extremely important, especially when it comes to manufacturing activewear. The choice of materials plays a pivotal role for a comfortable and pleasant workout experience, ‘cos who wants to be dripping in sweat in a restrictive outfit feeling warm, uncomfortable and clammy?

A few other important points to note, when starting your own activewear line, always circle back to the garment’s intended use and how the fabric can help (or not). Look out for properties such as anti-bacterial, moisture-wicking, breathable, anti-mold, as well as fabric characteristics such as its stretch, stiffness, lightness, movement, and how it feels on the skin.

For higher intensity workouts, you may also keep in mind properties such as anti-stink, anti-chafe and high-performance materials that allow sweat to quickly wick away from the surface and skin, keeping the wearer cool, dry, and comfortable. Fabrics that remain damp or wet longer can chafe against the skin and also add weight.

For sports that require movement and flexibility such as yoga or pilates, pay attention to materials that are breathable, non-restrictive, durable, comfortable, and strong yet stretchy enough to pass the ‘squat test’ without ripping.

Activewear fabric properties to consider and look out for:

  • Anti-chafe
  • Anti-bacterial
  • Anti-mold
  • Anti-stink
  • Hypoallergenic
  • Lightweight and breathable
  • Cooling
  • Moisture-wicking
  • Evaporates quickly
  • Does not retain water
  • Stretchy
  • Durable
  • How it feels on the skin
  • Fabric density and weight

Avoid Cotton

While cotton is well-loved and popular for many clothing types thanks to its breathable, hypoallergenic and easy to care for qualities, you’ll want to avoid cotton when it comes to activewear garments. Cotton is a hydrophilic material that holds a lot of water and takes a long time to dry, and wet cotton can lead to an extremely uncomfortable experience with clammy and heavy clothing.

This means that cotton garments can also cause chaffing in hot weather or hypothermia in cold weather. Stick to breathable and moisture-wicking lightweight materials instead for the best workout experience—read on to find out some of our recommendations!

Jersey

Also known as single knit, jersey-knit fabrics are one of the most basic forms of weft knitting and are a commonly used, highly diverse popular choice for clothing in the fashion industry.

Known for its stretchiness and close knits, the lightweight fabric is highly absorbent and breathable, making it a great choice for activewear, t-shirts, underwear, and baby clothes.

Pros:

  • Stretchy
  • Versatile
  • Wrinkle-resistant
  • Lightweight yet durable

Cons:

  • Prone to piling
  • May snag

Recommended for: sports bra, tanks, leggings, bike shorts, tracksuits, running tops

Lululemon
Cropped jersey top

Gucci
Jersey tracksuit jacket

Givenchy
Jacquard-trimmed jersey leggings

Balenciaga
Cotton jersey sports bra and shorts

Interlock/Double Knit

A variation of the rib knit, the double knit construction of interlock fabrics results in a thicker fabric that’s soft, insulant, firm, and absorbent. Although it is heavier, thicker, and firmer than single jerseys, the interlock fabric remains breathable and feels soft and light, making it an ideal choice for activewear and undergarments.

Pros:

  • Soft and comfortable
  • Reversible and smooth
  • Thicker fabric type
  • Naturally stretchy
  • Same texture on both sides
  • Does not roll and curl at the edges

Cons:

  • May tend to snag, fuzz, or pile

Recommended for: sports bra, tanks, leggings, bike shorts, tracksuits, running tops, hoodies, jackets

Lululemon
Jacquard Interlock bra

Hugo Boss
Interlock cotton track pants

Calvin Klein
Interlock leggings

Tom Ford
Interlock cashmere hoodie

Jacquard Knit

Image via Eysan fabrics

Not to be confused with woven jacquard fabrics, jacquard knits are single or double knit fabrics made with the Jacquard mechanism, with a pattern knitted directly into the material.

Durable, comfortable, and stylish, jacquard knits combine the elegance of classic weaving with the quality of knitwear. As the pattern is directly woven in the fabric, it creates a long-lasting and unique garment that will not fade or wear off unlike stamped or printed designs.

Usually made from nylon or polyester, knitted jacquard fabrics feature more stretch, increased breathability, and a flexible drape, offering mobility and movement for activewear garments.

Pros:

  • Thicker than most knits
  • Wrinkle-resistant
  • Unique pattern that is fade-resistant
  • Stretchy and flexible

Cons:

  • Fabric may catch onto things and snag

Recommended for: legging sports bra, tanks

MISBHV
Jacquard sports bra top

Sandro
J
acquard knit bra top

Twenty Montréal
Jacquard knit bra top and leggings

Adidas
Jacquard tank top

Mesh

Image: moodfabrics.com

Characterized by its net-like open pattern, lightweight heft, and permeable texture, mesh fabrics are woven or knitted loosely, resulting in its open hole structure. The lightweight properties and open holes provide breathable ventilation while remaining durable against ripping or tearing, making it a great choice for activewear and warm climates.

Pros:

  • Durable and resistant to rips/tears
  • Allows for ventilation
  • Mildew resistant
  • Lightweight, breathable
  • Wicks sweat and moisture away quickly

Cons:

  • Holes in mesh fabric can easily catch onto things and snag if not careful

Recommended for: sports bra, tanks, running shorts, running tops

Koral 
Mesh sports bra

Nike
Mesh running tee

Lorna Jane
Mesh high-performance shorts

Tricot

Image via fibre2fashion

A smooth-textured knit fabric, tricot is known for its resilience, water-absorbing, antibacterial and quick-drying properties. Conforming nicely to the body while retaining its shape, the lightweight yet durable fabric can be combined with yarns of various properties such as deodorizing or heat retention to create a suite of activewear products with various advantages.

Pros:

  • Durable and resilient
  • Good elasticity and shape stability
  • Crease and wrinkle-resistant
  • Breathable
  • Can be combined with other yarns for various advantages and properties

Cons:

  • Fabric surface snags easily

Recommended for: running shorts, running tops, hoodies, jackets, tracksuits

Emporio Armani
Tricot tracksuit

Peuterey
Cotton tricot t-shirt

Nike
Jordan tricot shorts

Scuba/Neoprene

Often mistaken for the same fabric and used interchangeably, scuba and neoprene fabrics are two very different distinct types of fabrics despite their close similarities.

A synthetic rubber foam sandwiched between two layers of fabric, neoprene fabrics are commonly used for wet suits. Neoprene gives body to garments with an extremely smooth finish, but due to its foam content, it is very insulating and can be hot to wear in tropical or warmer climates.

Scuba, on the other hand, is a double-knit fabric made from spandex and polyester. Known as the fashion version of neoprene, scuba is springy with a smooth texture, and is commonly used in the industry for flouncy skirts, sportswear, and form-fitting dresses. Due to its double-knit construction, scuba does not fray and can be left raw for a different look.

Neoprene and scuba fabrics are also available in a variety of weights and thicknesses, so if overheating is an issue, you may opt for a thinner and lighter fabric that can help to combat these concerns.

Scuba

  • Made from spandex and polyester
  • Double-knit fabric
  • Won’t fray so edges can be left raw

Neoprene

  • Made with foam sandwiched in between two fabrics
  • Very insulating

Pros:

  • Holds shape very well
  • Insulating
  • Provides a structured fit and silhouette
  • Provides support
  • Stretchy
  • Weather and stretch-resistant

Cons:

  • Can feel hot in warmer, tropical climates

Recommended for: leggings, bike shorts, tracksuits, hoodies, jackets

Michael Kors
Scuba track pants

Lululemon
Scuba hoodie

Koral activewear
Scuba leggings

Commando
Neoprene leggings

Rib (nylon and polyester)

More durable and elastic than regular plain knits, rib-knit fabrics use knit and purl stitches in alternating raised and lowered rows, creating cross-grain elasticity. Available in an array of textures and weights, the fabric’s density is determined by the closeness of the knitting stitches.

When it comes to activewear garments, we recommend polyester or nylon rib-knit fabrics for their lightweight and moisture-wicking properties. Combined with the stretchy and elastic advantages of rib knit, it makes for a great fabric choice for leggings and bike shorts, providing movement and an interesting appearance with its parallel rib pattern.

Pros:

  • Elastic and durable
  • Interesting ribbed texture

Cons:

  • Fabric may fray if unraveled

Recommended for: leggings, bike shorts

Alo Yoga
Ribbed high-waist leggings

Year of Ours
Ribbed legging

H&M
Ribbed cycling shorts

Onzie
High-waist rib bike shorts

Taslan

Image: leantex.com

A popular choice in the manufacturing of outerwear due to its resistance to wear, wind, and water, Taslan is a highly durable lightweight polyamide fabric. Treated with water-repellent and hydrophobic properties, its porous structure allows heat and vapor to dispel from the fabric while making it resistant to stains, wind, rain, and grease.

A resilient fabric with strength, wear, and weather resistance while retaining its breathable and vapor permeability, Taslan is also resistant to ultraviolet rays, making it a great option for light, outerwear for a comfortable workout.

Pros:

  • Quick-drying
  • Moisture-wicking
  • Stain-resistant
  • Strong and durable
  • Wind and rain resistant

Cons:

  • Fabric tends to generate rustling sound

Recommended for: windbreakers

Louis Vuitton
Monogram reversible windbreaker

DKNY
Taslan windbreaker

Tommy Hilfiger
Taslan windbreaker

Oxford (nylon/polyester)

A popular high-quality choice for shirts, the oxford fabric was created in 19th century Scotland by a mill that named its 4 fabrics after the most prestigious universities of that time—Cambridge, Harvard, Yale, and of course—Oxford.

Light, lustrous and soft, oxford features a basketweave structure made by weaving multiple yarns together in a crossed vertical and horizontal direction. Thin yarns are woven over a thicker filler yarn, with threads passing in one direction dyed while the others are left white, creating a thicker fabric with a fine texture and unique checkerboard appearance.

Pros:

  • Wrinkle-resistant
  • Ages well and gets softer with use
  • Resistant to damage and wear
  • Durable and versatile

Cons:

  • Thicker compared to other shirting fabric
  • Insulating properties can make it less breathable in hot climates
  • Not suitable for formal attire

Recommended for: windbreakers

ALG
Oxford windbreaker jacket

Volcom
Oxford tan windbreaker

Stone Island
Membrana Oxford windbreaker

Microfiber

Image: Eysan Fabrics

A synthetic fabric made from ultra-fine fibers, microfiber is popularised by its widespread use in cleaning products—loved for its ability to pick up more dirt and grime than other types of cloths.

Durable, absorbent, and water-repellant, the nature of microfiber wicks moisture away from the skin while keeping the wearer cool and dry from perspiration, making it a popular choice in athletic wear. Being elastic, microfiber also allows movement and mobility during workouts, allowing stretch and elasticity while providing comfort.

Pros:

  • Lightweight yet durable
  • Moisture-wicking and water-repellant
  • Wicks sweat away from skin

Cons:

  • Tendency to accumulate static

Recommended for: windbreakers

Simons
Microfiber half zip shirt

Superdry
Microfiber wind bomber jacket

Adidas by Stella McCartney
Microfiber windbreaker jacket

Nylon Poplin

Image: Sealanguage Textile

Made with a tightly woven plain weave, poplin is a sturdy durable fabric often used for making shirts and upholstery. Originally made in fifteenth-century France with a silk warp and wool weft, the poplin fabrics that are used today are available in a wide variety of derived materials such as cotton, silk, polyester, lycra, and nylon.

Thin, lightweight, durable, and breathable, nylon-blend poplin fabrics make for an excellent choice for outerwear, as the nylon fiber content allows for the fabric to dry quickly.

Pros:

  • Luxurious sheen
  • Wrinkle and crease-resistant
  • Easy to iron
  • Breathable

Cons:

  • Fabric is thin – may not provide enough insulation for cooler climates

Recommended for: windbreakers, shorts

Frankie Shop
Poplin shorts

Polo Ralph Lauren
Poplin windbreaker

Balenciaga
Poplin windbreaker

Ripstop

Typically used for tactical gear and outdoor products such as sleeping bags, ripstop was originally designed to prevent ripping and tearing. Highly versatile and durable, the balanced square weave is made with an extra set of warp and weft yarns which creates extra reinforcement and tearing resistance.

Pros:

  • Durable and strong
  • Interesting square texture and appearance
  • Lightweight and smooth
  • Moisture-wicking
  • Can be made to resist and repel water

Cons:

  • Abrasion can cause holes to open along seams

Recommended for: windbreakers

Heron Preston
Ripstop windbreaker

Adidas by Stella McCartney
Floral print recycled ripstop windbreaker

Prada
Printed ripstop windbreaker

Twill

A plain-weave fabric, the yarns in twill are packed closely together to result in its signature thick pattern of diagonal parallel ribs. A weaving technique, fabrics made with a twill weave generally have a front (technical face) and back (technical back) side, with the front being more visually attractive, durable, and pronounced.

Often used for sturdy work clothing, trousers/pants, and upholstery, the durable fabric choice is also prevalent and distinguishable in denim, chino, drill, herringbone, and gabardine fabrics—which are all a type or variation of the twill. 

For water and weather-proofing properties, twill fabrics can be treated with a durable water-resistant finish to resist wind and rain.

Pros:

  • Durable
  • Shows less wrinkles and creases
  • Opaque
  • Stain-resistant

Cons:

  • Prone to shrinkage if not washed correctly

Recommended for: windbreakers

Calvin Klein
Satin-twill windbreaker

Helmut Lang
Lace-up twill jacket

Rick Owens
Cropped twill windbreaker

Pongee

Image: leantex.com

Thin, and soft, pongee was originally named after a sheer fabric in China woven from raw silk. Today, pongee is referred to as a durable lightweight woven fabric with an appearance of irregular filling and fine warp yarns.

Strong, durable and tightly woven, pongee is durable, waterproof, mildew and mold-resistant and dries quickly. The abrasion-resistant fabric is also a top choice for umbrella manufacturers as it dyes and holds colors and designs well, and is stronger, tougher, and denser than nylon and polyester.

A durable fabric, pongee is a great choice for activewear windbreakers as it provides light and comfortable protection from wind and rain while allowing breathability.

Pros:

  • Abrasion-resistant
  • Waterproof and quick-drying
  • Mildew and mold resistant

Cons:

  • Generates static electricity

Recommended for: windbreakers

Fila – Pongee track jackets

French Terry (loopback)

Image: seamwork.com

Inconspicuous at first glance with its outer resemblance of ordinary jersey fabric, French terry features a smooth knitted outer side and a loosely woven, thread-looped pile inner, which gives it its alternative name the loopback.

Lighter than conventional sweatshirt fabrics, the looped backing provides a touch of warmth without being bulky, which makes for great light activewear garments that are suitable for layering.

Pros:

  • Moisture-wicking
  • Lightweight
  • Wrinkle-resistant
  • Easy care

Cons:

  • Prone to piling

Recommended for: tracksuits, hoodies, jackets

Nike
French terry hoodie

Lululemon
French terry joggers

Armani
French terry tracksuit

Hugo Boss
French terry sweatshirt

Polar Fleece

Image via BST fabrics

Thicker and warmer than microfleece, polar fleece is a warm, soft, and lightweight fabric commonly used for apparel, outdoor clothing, as well as blankets.

Made by creating a cut-pile surface and a brushed back, polar fleece is typically constructed from lightweight polyester fiber. Quick-drying and insulating, polar fleece has revolutionized the outdoor apparel industry and replaced heavy wool knitwear as it performs just as well at a fraction of the weight. Soft, warm, and cozy, polar fleece can be worn alone or layered with a windbreaker to provide extra warmth in cool and windy conditions.

Pros:

  • Plush and soft
  • Cozy, warm, and provides insulation
  • Quick-drying
  • Lightweight and durable
  • Can be worn year-round

Cons:

  • Brushed fleece side has tendency to pill

Recommended for: hoodies, track pants, tracksuits

Stüssy
Polar fleece hoodie

Fear of God Essentials
Polar fleece hoodie

Adidas Originals
Polar fleece tracksuit

Fleece

A man-made synthetic product not to be confused with the coats of sheep, fleece fabric is created from polyester. Woven into a light fabric that is brushed to aid in increasing fiber volume, it provides plush and cozy insulation.

Its moisture-resistant properties make it a popular choice for cooler weather and sportswear, wicking perspiration and allowing air to circulate to keep the skin comfortable and dry.

Pros:

  • Warm, soft, cozy and plush
  • Versatile and dynamic
  • Wrinkle-resistant
  • Good insulation

Cons:

  • Can’t be washed, tumble dried, or ironed at high temperatures
  • Prone to attracting lint and dust due to high static electricity

Recommended for: hoodies, jackets

FEAR OF GOD
Cotton jersey hoodie

Nike
Tech fleece hoodie

Alo Yoga
tri-blend fleece hoodie

Plain Weave (nylon/polyester)

A type of weaving pattern, plain weave is the most simple and common type of basic weave made by horizontal and vertical yarns alternating over and under to create a durable, versatile and strong fabric. Plain weave fabrics come in a variety of options spanning from chiffon, organza, to velvet, poplin and flannel.

Nylon and polyester plain weaves offer strength and durability while retaining properties such as being lightweight and breathable, which make them great choices suitable for activewear such as running tops and shorts.

Pros:

  • Moisture-wicking
  • Breathable
  • Easy to clean

Cons:

  • Attracts lint

Recommended for: running shorts, running tops

Adidas Originals
Nylon plain weave shorts

Adidas
Polyester plain weave run shorts

Adidas by Stella McCartney
Plain woven shorts

Dobby Weave

Nylon dobby weave with a honeycomb geometric pattern

Nylon dobby

Images via globalsources

Produced on a specialized dobby loom, the dobby weave is characterized by its small geometric patterns woven into the fabric. Lightweight, breathable, and moisture-wicking, dobby weave fabrics used for sportswear may also incorporate a variety of different fibers such as cotton, silk, or nylon, and can also be coated to have liquid-resistant and antimicrobial properties.

Pros:

  • Can be coated to be antimicrobial and water-resistant
  • Lightweight, breathable and airy
  • Flexible and stretchy

Cons:

  • Cotton/polyester blends have a tendency to pill

Recommended for: running shorts

Adidas
Dobby shorts

Under Armour
Dobby shorts

Polo Sport
Dobby weave running shorts

Adidas by Stella McCartney
Dobby shorts

Double Weave

A weaving pattern in which two layers of fabric are weaved at the same time, double weave fabrics are fused to form a thicker, stronger, and more substantial fabric.

Due to the double construction, the thickness, hand-feel, construction and insulation properties of double weave fabrics are all increased. This results in a weightier fabric that’s great for hoodies and sweatpants which provides a bit more structure yet remains soft to wear.

Pros:

  • Increased thermal properties
  • Thick and cozy
  • Strong and durable

Cons:

  • Fabric may fray

Recommended for: hoodies, jackets, sweatshirts

and wander
Nylon double cloth hoodie

Brunello Cucinelli
Virgin wool and cashmere double cloth sweatshirt

Needles
Double cloth pants

Ponte di Roma (double knit)

 

Image: twintextile.com

Roughly translated to ‘Roman Bridge’ in Italian due to the fabric’s structure resembling classic roman bridges, Ponte Di Roma (also known as Ponte or Ponte Roma) is a soft, sturdy and thicker double-knit fabric with a slight horizontally ribbed appearance.

Made from a combination of rayon, polyester and spandex, the highly versatile Ponte di Roma is comfortable and flattering, and also easy to care for due to its layers of interlocking knit. Found in various weighs, the fabric allows for a two-way stretch, molding to the body shape while it provides a smooth, sleek and streamlined silhouette.

Pros

  • Very resilient and stable
  • Almost rigid like a woven fabric
  • Wrinkle-resistant
  • Reversible

Cons

  • Prone to snags

Recommended for: hoodies, tracksuits

Nike
Tech ponte hoodie

Armani
Ponte joggers

Under Armour
Ponte hoodie

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