Some of the links in this article are affiliate links, meaning if you buy through them, I may receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you. For more information on affiliate links, click here. Thank you for supporting my writing!
If you’re into the fitness sphere on Instagram, it’s no doubt that you’ve come across a million and a half ads for athletic wear brands. Many of the brands founded or promoted by influencers use marketing language centered around women’s empowerment and supporting small businesses. While this seems like a great direction forward, not all of these brands are being transparent, and many are simply re-labeling mass-produced items.
In the last few years, I’ve put more effort into embracing ethical fashion and learned so much about its importance. Below, I’m sharing what I’ve learned to help you to tell if a company is dropshipping, as well as giving a few of my favorite ethical activewear recommendations.
What is Dropshipping and White Labeling?
I’ve been pretty vocal about my journey to embrace #SlowFashion, and dropshipping is decidedly not it. Dropshipping models rely on goods to be sent directly from the manufacturer to the consumer, often using incredibly cheap labor and materials.
Another tactic exists that is more common in the fitness sphere — white labeling. This is similar to dropshipping, except rather than send clothing directly from the manufacturer, the item is sent to be re-packaged with a new logo or new tags before it arrives to the consumer.
A common example of white labeling is what’s referred to as the “store brand”. This isn’t bad for those of us who want to pass off Costco vodka for Grey Goose (although the real star of Costco liquor is their California Chardonnay), but it can be a disappointment when a company’s marketing leads their customers to believe differently.
As “ethical” and “sustainable” brands have become more popular, white labeling has been adapted to convince the consumer that they’re buying something that’s made ethically with fair labor standards rather than mass-produced. Many of these brands focus on “women’s empowerment”, but continue to utilize labor sources that are 80% women, many of whom make less than $3 a day. Ignoring a major global source of gender inequity to sell leggings is not exactly feminist.
It’s deeply disappointing that companies would rather use these as branding words than actually ask themselves why their customers might want more sustainable options, but that’s just business, bab-ay!
How to Tell if a Company is Dropshipping or Whitelabeling
Poorly-made dropshipping sites are super easy to identify. They have flashing ads, spelling errors, grainy photos, and lots of red flags. If it looks like a scam, it probably is.
If the website doesn’t look funky, take a closer look at the photos. If the “company” you’re purchasing it from is using the same photos as the manufacturer because they’ve never seen it themselves, a reverse image search is pretty telling.
Dropshipping sites may also attempt to (badly) blur out watermarks on photos or photoshop models so the photos are just different enough. I’m not great at identifying these types of errors in photos, but if you have an eye for these things, it can’t hurt to try.
Other signs that can help you tell if a company is dropshipping include:
- Super long delivery and return times (2 or more weeks)
- The company doesn’t have a physical address or location on their website
- Weirdly translated phrases that seem to just be an amalgam of keywords
With dropshipped athletic wear, this can be a little more of a challenge. Many brands that dropship or white label won’t use the “common” dropshipping practices, and may have decent content on their site.
Unfortunately, a good amount of athletic wear and Instagram brands seem to be dropshipped. I can’t be bothered to search Ali Baba and DHGate to see if their items are identical, so I generally avoid these brands unless their sites are super transparent about their labor practices and environmental impact.
I also use the site goodonyou.eco to search for brands — while their list isn’t exhaustive, it has detailed information about the environmental and social sustainability of many brands.
Examples of Dropshipped Athletic Wear
Balance Athletica Dropshipping
Can you spot the difference between these two photos? (Sorry, I had to).
The price is really the only thing that differs between these two pictures. The short, which is nearly identical to an item on AliBaba, was originally priced at $8, but is $65 for Balance. It’s hard to believe that a logo on the back warrants a $57 difference.
The remaining profits aren’t going back to the initial laborers or fabric costs. It’s going to the company re-labeling these products so they can pass the items off as being “designed from scratch”. Hmm.
I am so bummed about this one, since I kept getting Halara’s ads for an adorable athletic dress WITH POCKETS, but unfortunately, have seen some comparisons online of their products that exactly match some on AliExpress.
On their site, it states that their founders are “true technologists” at heart, who have developed a proprietary system called HalaraBrain that utilizes machine learning to effectively manage their inventory so their inventory perfectly matches.
I’d be willing to bet that their “low inventory” is likely a way of masking the fact that they don’t have inventory, but that they order it from Ali Express or similar markets rather than stock upfront.
Other likely-dropshipped athletic wear brands:
- Paragon Fitwear
- Free Spirit Outlet
- Peached by Nellie
- KOKO ACTIVE/kokothecollection (note: not the same as South African brand Koko Active, a brand whose owner illustrates all their prints, and is super cute)
- The Fox Active
Avoiding Dropshipped Athletic Wear – Ethical Activewear and Slow Fashion Options
If you’re solely interested in being able to tell if a company is dropshipping to save money, pro tip: the majority of Amazon fashion sellers are white labeling their products. You can likely find the same items directly from the manufacturer for quite a bit cheaper.
But at Girls Love Evidence, cheap doesn’t cut it. Fast fashion is doing a lot of harm to our planet and the people who make our clothes. This is why it is so disappointing to see dropshipped athletic wear passed off as the original designs of a small business.
This is always going to be my #1 suggestion. If you have a local thrift store, browse around to see what you can find. If you want something more specific, sites like Poshmark, Mercari, and ThredUp are great places to find it, often with a pretty solid discount.
I found a cheetah-print Balance Athletica bra on ThredUp for $48, which is still way more than I would spend knowing that it’s likely produced with poor labor standards and cheap material. My point is, it’s there.
Athleta was acquired by Gap in 2008 (and Gap has some pretty dubious practices), but they’ve maintained their status as a B-Corp and have decent environmental practices.
They’re not perfect, but they’re one of like… three companies I know of that makes actually cute and supportive sports bras for people who have a little more boob. This is one of my major complaints with ethical/sustainable brands — a lot of them seem to be focused on yoga clothing, and there isn’t a whole lot to choose from for running, HIIT, and lifting.
I’m absolutely loving these grey and yellow leggings from Alana Athletica on Simple Switch, available in sizes XS-2X. Their leggings fund education for survivors of abuse in Sri Lanka, and are made with a durable poly/spandex blend.
PS: anything on Simple Switch is 10% off with my code ‘evidencebased’
My sister bought these leggings and this crop top for me for Christmas last year and I love them. They are so soft, they HAVE POCKETS, and they hold up extremely well. They’re definitely yoga/light activity focused, but work amazingly for just lounging around as well.
Transparency and Ethical Activewear
A final note: it can be hard and expensive to only buy “sustainable” brands. Finding out if a brand is sustainable can be a challenge, and even if the content on their site all checks out, they could be unaware of or hiding issues in their supply chain.
One of my favorite brands, Senita Athletics, isn’t where I would like with their labor practices and sustainability efforts, but are extremely responsive to questions in their Facebook group. I still purchase from them because it means a lot to me that they listen to customer feedback and take it into account for the future. We can’t expect all brands to be perfect right off the bat, but we should at least expect them to
For more, follow me on Instagram @girlsloveevidence, or check out some of my other posts below.