After trying them out for over a month now, I can confidently say that I’ve never worn anything like Just Breethe’s leggings.They are not only superior when it comes to the quality of leggings you’ll find on the South African market, but arguably also the most comfortable and breathable fitness fashion option out there.
Owner and founder, Marc Barnfather is passionate about making fashion better. “It’s sad that it’s taken a man to look at ladies’ clothing and go: ‘This is wrong, let’s try and change these things and make them work.’ I love women, their form and function and what they can do that we can’t,” he says.
Just Breethe started out as a company producing masks purely out of Marc’s inquisitive personality. He questioned the design of the then compulsory Covid-19 masks and the negative emotions it evoked. Later, this led him to also examine other forms of clothing we wear on a regular basis, often for long periods, like athleisure, socks and even underwear. The mission was simple: Take it and make it better. With fashion, that means improving not only the fit, but also the pattern, the fabric and the production process, including ensuring that the people who worked for and with the brand, were well looked after.
Marc says he had noticed how many women in their fitness attire kept pulling at their leggings, having gotten so used to wearing athleisure that is not necessarily comfortable. He wanted to create leggings that “lives with you.” Hence, together with a well-researched team of experts he embarked on creating leggings that stay on your hips comfortably. In addition, they’ve also added ladies’ underwear, socks and even Polo shirts for women and men to their range.
What I like most about Just Breethe, is that it fits into the realm of slow fashion and that with every product they produce, they have taken the time to think it through. In fact, they’ve been sitting on the idea of a sports bra for more than a year now, and they’re still considering its pattern, fit and fabric. It’s much more about doing it right and doing right by those they serve than about the profits.
A different kind of fit
Marc says they’ve come to coin the saying: “It’s amazing how unnatural natural feels” and that they are slowly, but surely re-educating buyers about what natural comfort truly feels like. Even I had to adjust my perception a little as I fit my very first pair of Just Breethe leggings, because it’s not the usual fit. In fact, it’s often only when you take them off that you realise, it’s so much better than what you would normally wear. We’ve become so accustomed to leggings stitched together from merely two or three panels. Just Breethe’s leggings consist of sixteen different panels and probably four times the amount of stitching than what anyone else has, offering not only breathability, but also the most comfortable, customised fit. There’s also no centre seam – the culprit responsible for that ‘camel toe’ people often refer to – and it literally hugs your body around your waist and your ankles, ensuring that it stays put while you walk, run, cycle, work in the garden or relax on the couch.
“I wanted to create pants that are super comfortable; that you pull on and you forget they’re there,” says Marc.
With the leggings being so specific, you need to be sure to pick the right size, though, so check out the sizing instructions on their website carefully before you make the purchase.
It’s a perception
According to Marc, “big businesses have forced us into synthetics. They have forced us into believing that polyesters are so much better for us in terms of everything – from colour and fit, to general use and fast fashion. You can buy one every week, because they’re so cheap, and it’s easy for them to produce three sizes – small, medium and large – because synthetics just stretch. If you are a size 10 and you take a small, you’ll stretch into it. It might not look great, but it will stretch.”
With natural materials, you have to be much more size-specific. Marc says: “Your patterns have to be well-designed and you have to manufacture them right. There’s no error. When there’s an error, it shows straight away on the garment.” This is probably also why Just Breethe takes so much time in perfecting their garments – it’s trial and error until it’s right. Also, with Just Breethe, everything is put together locally and made locally, which is reason enough to wear it with pride!
In the end, it comes down to a more holistic lifestyle, says Marc. It’s not only about what you eat and how often and how well you exercise. It’s also about what you put in your hair and on your body, which – in addition to soaps, shampoos and skin products – includes clothes. Inadvertently, clothes shed. It depends on what you’re wearing how much effect it will have on the environment around you. Do you shed wool, which can decompose, or do you shed micro-plastics? Ultimately, that’s the question.
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Real-world challenges and sustainability
Socks are Just Breethe’s only synthetic range. They tried cotton, but it wasn’t giving them the durability that they wanted and while they wanted to work with wool, it’s too warm for South African summers. The rest of the garments consist largely of natural fabrics, which poses its own challenges when it comes to sourcing materials, finding the right suppliers and more.
Marc says that many suppliers and importers have had to close down due to the Covid-19 pandemic and because so many Chinese and Indian materials are being pushed into the market, it’s difficult to find technical and specific materials. According to Marc, there are merely two or three mills that spin yarn in South Africa and it’s very limited in terms of what you can get. “If you want to go into athleisure and synthetics, you need to import,” he says.
While Just Breethe is all for natural materials, Marc says that there is still a place for synthetics. “You will rarely get a range that is made solely out of cotton… Wetsuits can’t be made of cotton, so there is a place for everything.”
With labour and products costing more in South Africa, it’s true that most locally made brands are at a disadvantage. Yet, Marc says he won’t give up the quality of his product. “The clothing industry is bad, because it’s bottom-line driven and it’s all about profits, but it’s the same in every other industry,” he says. “We’ve got a serious amount of wastage that we’ve got to look at. Because of the design, we lose 42% of the material once it’s cut. Why? My design ethos in this was to take a product and say I want to better this. How do we do it? Create the right pattern, create the right engineering, build it out of the right materials and get to the final product of what we want.” Where big companies reverse engineer their products to make better profits, Marc says: “That’s what I want, that’s what it costs.”
It’s true what they say then: It’s in the detail. In the case of Just Breethe, it’s in the detail right from the start – from the concept to make something better, right through to the design, the materials, the production, and finally the most comfortable, durable product.
I love my Just Breethe leggings (and the socks, and the shirt). As was the brand’s goal, they live with me, everywhere I go. I guess that means I really did find the one.