Nike Pro Leggings (Black)

overall rating:

1.75

planets

Bella Manfredi
7/24/2022
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Nike are a market leader in the sportswear field, and they know it. Operating globally and with over one million employees in their associated factories, the brand is the largest sports giant in the world. Added to this, they recognise their status and say they should also be leaders in sustainability and say ‘they’re just getting started’. In their impact report for the 2021 financial year, the first sentence literally reads “Our Purpose is to move the world forward,” going into detail about how they can do this by protecting the planet and building communities, as well as increasing access to sport. I feel that releasing one of these reports every year for the past 20 years makes the company more transparent than they have been in the past, which is a good move. However, the company are not perfect and have been linked with the use of sweatshops in Asia, and this concerns me and will be explored below.

The company’s priorities include: increasing and promoting diversity, for instance allowing more women to hold leadership roles; making their supply chain more transparent and responsible; being innovative surrounding sustainability; and investing in communities. There is a fair amount of evidence provided for each of these aims and how Nike is achieving them/the goals they are setting for the future, but the majority of information here comes directly from Nike’s website so could be taken with a pinch of salt- nevertheless, it is good to see a company realise that they need to do more (and start to do it!)

The leggings themselves are one of the brand’s most popular models, and usually retail for £40-45. They are a mid-rise fit made of two main components- the predominant typical ‘leggings’ material, and the mesh component. The reason that I have chosen to review these leggings is because I have owned two pairs throughout my life, both of which have lasted a fairly long time compared to some other pairs of leggings I own. Nike now have incorporated more sustainable materials into these leggings, and so I wanted to explore whether they are a good option or not for consumers looking to be more conscious with their purchasing choices.

What it's made of:

1.25

As with other leggings I have reviewed, I was disheartened to find out that these leggings were made up of 83% polyester and 17% elastane for the predominant element, and 81% polyester and 19% elastane for the mesh element. The mesh element is much smaller and is focused around the back of the calves. However, Nike does have a section on their website that justifies the use of polyester as 50% of the fibres used are recycled, which is a good alternative to using virgin polyester as it is better for the environment via releasing fewer emissions. Normal polyester production is energy intensive so it hinders the liveable world we are trying to create, and it is also derived from oil and is not biodegradable. Not all brands are investing in using recycled polyester, so I was pleased to see Nike making a partial switch in some of its products (including these leggings!) They recognise that materials account for 70% of the footprint of a product and see reusing recycled materials as key to driving down their emissions.

Elastane adds stretch to the leggings and shares the negative aspects of polyester in that it is derived from fossil fuels and isn’t biodegradable. Its production is also associated with known carcinogens which may cause cancer to develop in humans, especially people producing it, which is a concern from me. Unfortunately most leggings seem to contain elastane because of its stretch properties, so it is industry standard to include it but nonetheless worried about the health of workers that are producing it.

As the leggings are mostly polyester rather than elastane, I will weight this section’s rating with this in mind, especially given the fact that Nike are going beyond some other market rivals by using recycled polyester. However, I am saddened that they include elastane rather than investing in more environmentally-friendly alternatives such as ‘Sorona’ from DuPont Biomaterials, which breaks down less over time thus causing lower pollution AND a longer durability for leggings! If Nike wants to claim that they use sustainable materials and innovate in the field of sustainability, surely looking into this is a must.

How it's made:

2.25

As I mentioned earlier, Nike are using sustainable materials in not just a select few ‘sustainable’ collectors’ pieces such as the Space Hippie, but some of their best-sellers (like these leggings!). This is important as I believe that creating one-off ‘more sustainable’ products is simultaneous to green-washing, as the aim is to appease the consumer; in reality, some ‘sustainable’ pieces may not appeal to everyday consumers and so the effect they have is limited, whereas using sustainable materials in their popular products is more likely to generate change. Nike clearly feel strongly about ‘how it’s made’ as they have an entire section on their website dedicated to it, detailing how they make their sustainable materials. In the case of their recycled polyester, they convert recycled plastic bottles into pellets and then they’re spun into new yarn for products. This process reduces the carbon emissions of apparel in question by 30% versus virgin polyester, and prevents ~1 billion plastic bottles from entering landfills or polluting waterways, which is a good thing!

Nike wants to be a zero carbon company, and aim to do this via their ‘Move to Zero’ initiative. They emphasise the importance of taking action together, with consumers, to protect the planet we live on. They don’t say exactly when they aim to be zero carbon explicitly on the website, but do have an easy to access section on sustainability which is incredibly detailed. This details an abundance of their sustainability initiatives, from Reuse-a-Shoe schemes which allow consumers to donate their old shoes or apparel to Nike stores so they can be reused and recycled, to rethinking packaging and reducing it (especially for shoes but hopefully soon for clothes too). The brand also has a dedicated symbol for items which fit under its ‘sustainable’ category: to qualify for this, CLOTHES must be at least 50% made of recycled materials.

There is an interesting section online about circularity within Nike products, and the importance of envisioning how products are made, used, returned, and later reimagined (for instance refurbishment or recycling). Not only do they see the value of this in their own products, but they have a circularity guide on their website which they encourage other companies to use. This includes case studies of companies that have had success with sustainable measures, things companies should think about, and advice on material choices, cyclability, versatility, durability, and so on. Rather than keep their findings to themselves, Nike are promoting systemic change across the board and this is refreshing to see! I am pleased that it isn’t just one-off pieces which are sustainable for Nike, and I hope other companies match this and that in the future, all Nike products receive their designated sustainability symbol.

Who makes it:

1.75

Having checked the label of my pair of Nike Pros, I know that they were made in a factory in Sri Lanka. I was surprised about the amount of information Nike provided about their workers online relative to other brands, and I utilised an interactive map to find out more. From this I discovered that around 38,000 people work in Sri Lankan factories producing Nike apparel such as these leggings, with the average age of a worker being 30 and the gender split being 73.9% female. There are 18 factories in Sri Lanka that they use, whereas comparatively there are 1.2 million employees across 469 factories in 38 countries producing ‘finished apparel’ such as leggings. Whilst it is evident that Nike does provide more transparency than some other competitor brands, I am still worried because in the past their factories have been labelled sweatshops in which workers are paid ‘poverty wages’ and endure horrible conditions. Although Nike do not own these factories, they can decide which suppliers they include in their supply chain and thus the onus does fall on them too. However, the brand has said they are working on improving their relationship with the owners of the actual factories so that the human rights of people ‘who make it’ are respected more. They expect all of their suppliers/factories to follow their Nike code of conduct and comply with local laws, but I am unsure of the extent to which they audit these factories and actually check that standards are being met.

On a more positive note, they recognise that respect for workers is key to having a ‘world class’ successful supply chain, and carried out a welfare and engagement survey from 2017 onwards amongst these workers. Around 490,000 responses have been gathered, which equates to just over 40% of the number of workers making finished apparel. I was curious as to how Nike would implement or deal with their findings, and then found two key targets on their website: firstly, having 100% of factories engaging workers and improving conditions of work by 2025, for instance better communication with managers, safety in factories, and worker-centric feedback; the second target was that they want 100% of their facilities in the supply chain meet the brand’s health and safety standards, as well as labour standards (but I wasn’t sure when by in terms of dates). The brand also care about creating opportunities for women, and intend to have 100% of their factories providing the same support too.

Nike publish gender divide figures, and their workers globally are 49% female, 51% male. Ethnic data is also available for the USA and shows the split of workers of different ethnicities across the country. In terms of leadership, 43% of positions are held by women, with the target to get this to 45% by 2025. 30.3% of director-level employees are ethnic minorities, and they intend to match this figure by 2025 too. These are both really important as I feel that having a diverse workforce is an understated element of creating a liveable world, as it allows diverse opinions and ideas to come together and create new solutions. Nike raised their minimum wages across the EMEA area and proudly stated that there was no racial or gender disparities, so every $1 earned by a white man would equate to $1 for a Black woman (however no racial disparities were only for the US as this is where the data is available from).

Some other interesting points to highlight about Nike’s supply chain is that they work with diverse owners, including those who identify as disabled, LGBTQ+, women, or ethnic minorities. Additionally, they forbid child labour and only hire people who have finished compulsory schooling, which is a stricter age requirement than the ILO- Nike seem to be going above and beyond the industry-wide standard! They also don’t permit forced labour at their factories, and have been actively preventing this from 2008 according to their website. They realised that saying they prohibit it wasn’t enough and thus introduced explicit requirements which had to be met by employers, for example employers had to pay for the recruitment of a worker rather than the worker paying (fees). The brand are also a member of the Human Rights and Business’ Leadership Group for Responsible Recruitment, but despite this, critics say that Uighur citizens in China are being forced to work in factories… including Nike and 82 other brands. I think this should be viewed seriously even if these leggings are made in Sri Lanka and not China, especially given the denial of Uighur camps in China. I would like it if Nike could audit the factories involved and find out more, as this claim is worrying. Because of this worrying claim, as well as the lack of clarity around audits and actually putting their targets into action, I have lowered the score of Nike a little but am still impressed with some of their transparency, especially compared to other brands.

I had always associated Nike with sweatshops in the past, so was pleasantly surprised by some of my findings in this review. I have highlighted some of my concerns throughout and hope that the company can look into changing things, but there are a lot more positive aspects to these leggings than I was expecting, especially in the ‘how it’s made’ section.