What Fabric is Best for Sportswear – A Simple Guide

In modern times, the sportswear market is saturated with a vast range of clothing items for every type of sports activity and environment. It can therefore be natural to get overwhelmed when trying to choose what fabric is best for sportswear embroidery projects.

While choosing custom sports clothing, the type of material should be one of the most important factors to consider – as the look and feel of the product can produce wildly different results.

So, what are we looking for in high performance sports apparel? Take a look at some of the biggest considerations:

  • Design – When choosing material to use for embroidery, its ability to hold the embroidered stitching is a key factor. As without that, certain designs cannot be achieved. In addition, sportswear doubles as a fashion statement, especially in this age of sports branding – so what can be achieved in looks and aesthetic with a material is a huge consideration.
  • Comfort – when you’re exercising, the last thing you want is your clothing to feel uncomfortable. It distracts you and takes you out of the zone. You want something soft but also malleable and stretch resistant so you have full mobility when taking part in strenuous activity.
  • Weight and Durability – functional clothing has to be hard-wearing as the material is put under significant stress during exercise and sporting activities. The weight of the clothing is also extremely important as in many sports every ounce you unnecessarily wear robs you of energy and worsens performance and results. 
  • Moisture Regulation – Functional sportswear must be breathable to transport moisture like sweat from the body to the outside of the material without issue. If the clothing doesn’t do this, anyone wearing it will quickly become too hot or too cold, which can cause injury like muscle strain and cramps.
  • Protection against the Elements – This has become a much more important feature as materials have become available that are waterproof and wind resistant. In some climates, this must be close to the top of the list as the conditions are hazardous without protection.
  • Price – Of course, the price of the material is always going to be paramount. If something costs much more than its rivals it has to perform much better or have a unique selling point that makes it more attractive to create sportswear with. Especially in today’s buyers economy where consumers have all the power and profits are constantly being squeezed.

So, What Fabric is Best for Sportswear?

So, how does each material measure up to these industry standards? Let’s see.


In the past, the general consensus among industry experts was that cotton is a material that doesn’t absorb sweat, so it wasn’t a good option for active wear. However, of late, cotton sportswear is experiencing a revival, as it has better odor management compared to other materials. It’s breathable and doesn’t hold on to the byproducts of activity like foul smells and odours. 

However, when it comes to rapid sweat absorbing, cotton still lags behind when compared to its more modern and technologically advanced competitors. 


Calico is a sub-material of cotton. It’s an unprocessed version of cotton – essentially meaning that it’s made using exactly the same process, but the production is stopped before the cotton is fully processed. 

This material is highly absorbent, which makes it a good choice for active wear clothing. Also, by using calico, you’ll be doing your bit towards the environment as it’s a great green alternative. Calico is also generally very cheap due to it’s unfinished nature, and the fact that it remains un-dyed and raw. The drawback of that is in the aesthetic aspects – as you’ll need to introduce colour into the material at a later stage in the process.


Spandex is another one of the most common types of materials used in sports and gym wear. This is due to its high stretchability, which makes the clothes agile and comfortable for strenuous movements. In fact, this material is known to stretch 100 times more than its original size, making it a favourite material for sportswear manufacturers all around the world. 

This material is also known to absorb sweat, breathe and dry quickly – so overall it’s a great choice for cheap, feature-rich, malleable material. The only drawback is that it’s difficult to embroider on as the material does not hold stitch designs well


Polyester is another common type of material used in sportswear. It’s essentially cloth made out of plastic fibers – making it light-weight, wrinkle-free, long lasting and breathable. It’s non-absorbent in nature, which means that your sweat isn’t absorbed by this cloth but left to dry on the exterior of the material on its own. 

Another of the top reasons why polyester is a popular choice for top sportswear manufacturers is due to the high strength and durability it displays. High-strength polyester fibers can withstand the strong, repetitive movements made by athletes and last for longer than competitors, while remaining relatively cheap on the scale of comparable materials.

Polyester also has amazing insulating properties, making it a great choice for environments that can get a mix of hot and cold weather.


Microfiber, as the name implies, is a material made of fine tiny thread fibers with a linear density of a maximum of one denier. This means that microfiber has threads that are 100 times finer than a human hair. It’s a fully man-made material, produced using a blend of Polyester and Polyamide. 

This blending process makes it an expensive material to use on a large scale – so any resulting products tend to be on the pricier side. 

You will most likely see microfibre used in the production of gymwear, towels and tracksuits, as the material is highly absorbent and non-abrasive in nature.


Synthetic sportswear was originally conceived as a replacement for sports people that were sick of rubber and plastic sportswear that caused them to overheat.

Synthetic material can be used not only for clothing but other sporting equipment too,  such as knee and elbow bands. This material is breathable and also quickly absorbs sweat to keep you cool during exercise. 

The drawback of synthetic sportswear is mostly tied to how it’s made. It’s produced using chemical synthesis, which creates non-renewable byproducts, which is not good for the environment. 

Bamboo Fiber

If you want super soft yet moisture-wicking activewear, turn to bamboo. Bamboo pulp yields a natural fabric that’s light and has an anti-static nature. Bamboo fiber is also moisture wicking, making it a completely odorless sportswear. It also provides amazing protection from UV rays, so wearing it out in the sun for extended periods won’t pose any problems.

In general, bamboo fibre can be used for practically every application in which cotton is used. Some manufacturers may even prefer this type of fabric to cotton due to its notable attributes that benefit production and manufacturing processes.

For example, bamboo fabric is highly breathable, and it’s also stretchier than cotton. It’s easy to weave this fabric into other fabrics with high thread counts, and the resulting garments are often thinner than their cotton counterparts while remaining similar or greater in malleability.


The first commercially viable synthetic fiber was famously used to make women’s stockings. But it’s now used widely across sportswear manufacturing to make windrunners, tracksuits, and gymwear of all kinds.

Nylon is stretchy, quick-drying, and mildew resistant. It’s also incredibly breathable. The fabric allows cool air to reach the skin and also wicks sweat from your skin to the fabric’s surface, where it can evaporate safely – leaving you comfortable and temperature controlled.


When you’re running, biking, or hiking, you need protection from the worst of the elements. In those scenarios, gore-tex is your best friend. While not really being a fabric on its own, this synthetic membrane coats regular fabrics, making it waterproof and windproof –  yet allowing the skin to breathe and insulate during strenuous activities.

Gore-Tex is a hybrid material that is used to make sportswear clothing; such as jackets, cagools and gloves, but also running shoes. It’s great for garments that are required to be durable but incredibly resistant to harsh conditions.

Regardless of these qualities, it’s still a breathable material that is a good choice for high-intensity sports. Basically, it keeps wind and water outside but allows sweat to evaporate. 

So, there’s a lot of options?

In short, yes.

The first thing to remember when considering what fabric is best for sportswear is the needs of the consumer. Different sporting activities require a specific type of clothing. For instance, sports like football and basketball require apparel that is loose and comfortable. On the other hand, activities such as biking or running can be dangerous if you wear loose clothing, because baggy pants could easily get tangled up in the bike pedals. Winter sports such as skiing, require material that properly insulates the body from the elements.

So, what are your sports consumers’ needs? If you answer that question, then you are much closer to the material you should source than you were before.

If you need any help or guidance on what fabrics might be best suited to your business and output, or need any advice on embroidery and embroidery machines, get in touch with Midwest.

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