Leotards are an essential part of dance, especially ballet. Whether it is class or a performance, there is a good chance a leotard will be involved. There are seemingly endless brands, styles, and colors to choose from. This is a choice each dancer has to make, and everyone has preferences in terms of material, sleeve length, and design, along with other factors. I believe environmental impact should be among this list too. I find myself disappointed when my favorite leotards reach the end of their lives, but the Silhouette leotard is a good way to support the use of more sustainable materials that also have a longer lifetime. It can be difficult to look past the few brands that have so much power in the leotard market, and to be honest I had never heard of this brand before. But I had also not looked for alternatives to my go-to brands. This product certainly has some room for improvement, but it still demonstrates that the dance industry can be more environmentally friendly. The price is a possible downside to this leotard, though. At $80, it is comparable to other higher quality leotard brands, but that kind of purchase is not realistic for everyone. Additionally, the GUPPYFRIEND washing bag that is suggested so that microplastics are not released into the water system when this is washed is another $30. This increased price is a trend among sustainable products, but the desire to reduce our environmental impact must be more accessible in order to be as effective as possible.
When it comes to leotards, there are really two options in terms of material - cotton or nylon. With both of these products having serious negative environmental impacts and millions of dancers around the world needing to use leotards each day, some significant sustainability issues arise. Cotton production results in soil degradation, pollution, and water contamination. Organic cotton has become increasingly prevalent in the textile industry to minimize these impacts. A lesser known material to replace conventional nylon is ECONYL regenerated nylon. The Silhouette leotard is comprised of about 80% ECONYL nylon, also referred to as recycled polyamide, and about 20% elastane/spandex. This material is a strong alternative to traditional nylon. The production of nylon usually starts with petroleum and uses immense amounts of water. It releases nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that is 300 times stronger than carbon dioxide. Additionally, nylon is not biodegradable and almost half of the plastic waste in the ocean is nylon. The manufacture of nylon also requires a lot of energy. This is what inspired the creation of ECONYL, a type of nylon that is created from previous nylon waste such as fishing nets and carpets. Because of the fact that leotards that are not cotton are primarily composed of nylon, it is good that Jai-Dee Dancewear is focusing on improving the environmental impact of this material. The other component, elastane/spandex, does have some of its own problems that are worth mentioning. Similar to nylon, spandex is not biodegradable. Given the stretchy nature of this material, it does not have an endless life and will eventually end up in the landfill. It will stay here for an extremely long time without a way to be converted back into a usable product. Spandex also contains polyurethane, a carcinogenic substance that can put the health of workers and customers at risk. It is clear that this company has good intentions regarding the sustainability of this leotard, but the next step would be to replace the spandex with a less damaging material.
Jai-Dee Dancewear makes it apparent that they are dedicated to ethical and sustainable practices in each step from design to packaging. The various materials are globally sourced but made in the United States. They specify that the leotard is designed and produced in the US and uses an Italian fabric made with ECONYL regenerated nylon fiber. They do have a part of their website for their impact, which outlines their commitment to environmental and social responsibility. They discuss having close relationships with the partners who help them “pursue exceptional design, curate sustainable materials, limit waste, utilize resources responsibly and uphold ethical production practices”. The first step in creating ECONYL is collecting various forms of synthetic waste from around the world like fishing nets, fabric, and industrial plastic. Next, the products are cleaned and shredded, depolymerized to extract nylon, and polymerized again. Finally, this product is transformed into yarn and re-commercialized into textile products. As opposed to nylon being produced from petroleum and then sitting in the landfill without a purpose, this is a closed loop system. By using previously used nylon-based products instead, there is less water needed and less waste is created. Another important part of this process is the use of pre and post-consumer waste. Buyers generate significant amounts of waste themselves, but we need to be looking at waste created by industries as well. We see that Jai-Dee Dancewear has a fairly thorough approach to their goal of giving waste new opportunities. ECONYL nylon fiber is not a perfect material, but this company recognizes those imperfections and recommends steps for the consumer. Microfibers, or small plastic particles, are released from synthetic fibers such as ECONYL when the material is washed. On the care tab for this leotard, though, they recommend washing it in a GUPPYFRIEND garment bag. This prevents microplastic pollution and allows the leotard to last longer. Once the ECONYL nylon has been made, the company makes some slightly broad statements in terms of making sure their supply chain aligns with their values. The consumer’s confidence could be increased if they could prove that this is actually happening, as they do not have any specific certifications for the sustainability of their supply chain.
As mentioned above, the Silhouette leotard is produced by Jai-Dee Dancewear. The company was founded by Katherine Hartsell in 2018 with a mission to make leotards that empower women, support the arts, and honor earth. Hartsell was formerly a professional dancer, and appears to be quite passionate about sustainability. They also collaborate with and donate money to two different nonprofits - Americans for the Arts and Cirio Collective. The website does not go into great detail about where within the United States the leotard is designed and produced. We know that the nylon material is used to make an Italian fabric and that the other materials are globally sourced, but any more specific information is not given. The company is proud of their partnerships to ensure this product is good for people and the environment, but it would be nice to know who and where these other companies are. There is more information available on the ECONYL fiber, though. ECONYL regenerated nylon is produced by the Italian company Aquafil. One of the key values of Aquafil is to play a leading role in new models for sustainable development, and they started producing the ECONYL polymer in 2011. They also have an Eco Pledge that has achieved sustainability results on eight of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs. These include quality education; clean water and sanitation; affordable and clean energy; decent work and economic growth; responsible consumption and production; climate action; life on land; and peace, justice, and strong institutions. There is data available on their raw materials consumption, energy management, greenhouse gas emissions, and chemical management. They recognize that a large majority of their emissions are from indirect sources such as the production of electricity and are attempting to minimize them. Aquafil also follows the SA8000 standard on social responsibility and have easy-to-access reporting procedures if these are not upheld. The standard assesses various elements such as child labor, discrimination, and management system to ensure that businesses have a fair and decent treatment of workers and adhere to the highest social standards.