A Guide to Activewear Fabrics - Barefoot Athleisure
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A Guide to Activewear Fabrics

Lately, customers have been inquiring about cotton leggings.  I always respond with, “I don’t carry a lot of 100% Cotton active pieces, most of my lines use technical activewear fabrics better for working out and wicking moisture.”  When I do have cotton leggings, I consider them more lifestyle than activewear.  There is a huge range of activities that can benefit from clothing made from technical fabrics. Any situation where you need to control moisture getting to the skin or moisture getting away from the skin (like sweat-wicking microfibers for Bikram yoga) will be improved by the use of a technical fabric.  I thought it would be useful to breakdown some of the materials and activewear fabrics used in most the activewear sold at Barefoot.

Natural Fibers

I am aware of the movement to go green and watch your (bare)foot print on the environment.  However, if there is one thing to know about natural fibers it’s that cotton is terrible for sweaty activities.  We all know and love cotton because it feels great against our skin, which is why it’s such a common activewear fabric for lifestyle apparel products, but unless it’s blended with other more technical fabrics it doesn’t tend to make for great performance garments.  Cotton is extremely hydrophilic, holding up to 25 times its weight in water, and takes an exceptionally long time to dry.  Once wet, cotton can lead to chafing in hot weather, or even worse, hypothermia in cold weather.  Avoid cotton in your activewear.


Bamboo is soft, anti-microbial, durable and wicking.  Bamboo is an eco-friendly alternative to synthetic activewear fibers.  The debatable question lies in the eco-credentials of the processing used to turn the plant into the finished fabric.  It keeps you cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Bamboo is a renewable resource using 1/3 the amount of water to grow than cotton and rarely uses pesticides to grow.


A type of stretchy polyurethane activewear fabric that has a matte finish. It feels stretchy and smooth on the skin, and is often used in fitted garments.  It’s known for it’s ability to recover and stretch.  However, it can easily loose elasticity if repeatedly tossed in the drier, dry cleaned, or ironed.


A synthetic resin that wicks faster than cotton and feels stretchy and smooth.  Polyester fabric is much easier to use for digital printing because it takes the color much more easily than nylon and can have very saturated prints.  One of the reasons it’s so durable is that it’s manufactured by mixing different chemicals together, creating a strong and durable fiber. Polyester is not likely to shrink when washed and it holds its shape better than most other common fibers in apparel.


Nylon is the most strong and abrasion resistant fiber compared to polyester. It has low moisture absorbency and with the right treatment it can have wicking and quick dry properties.  The fibers are smooth and long lasting which make it much more durable than polyester.


Often used in performance stretch apparel, it’s synthetic fiber known for its exceptional elasticity.


Supplex fabrics are breathable, fast-drying, and have great color retention.  Supplex is found as a stretch jersey or woven.  Many lines label their moisture-wicking activewear fabrics as supplex.


Lycra falls under the generic “spandex” name. Lycra activewear fabrics are extremely stretchy, have great recovery, and are often blended alongside other fibers to help maintain shape and support. Lycra is always seen as a stretch fabric, but can be inserted into wovens or jerseys, and used in activewear, swimwear, underwear, etc.


Tactel activewear fabrics are strong, light, soft, and dry eight times faster than cotton. Tactel is often used for underwear, and comes in the form of stretch jersey.


Dri-Fit is a trademark of Nike, and the main advantage of this wicking polyester is its high evaporation rate. Dri-fit usually has a little stretch, and can often be identified by its small, regular holes. It’s most commonly seen in “technical” race shirts given away at events.


A polyester fabric blended with recycled silver that acts as a natural anti-microbial function to prevent odor. It’s often used as a thermo-regulating element.

I hope this guide was helpful and informational for you!  Let us help you pick the right products for your sweatiest of workouts, or your most casual and laid back days!