When it comes to workout leggings, the general consensus is that the more synthetic and high-tech the material, the better. (If a pair’s not quick-dry, anti-microbial, and ultra-compressing, it basically doesn’t exist—and bonus points if they match your equally high-tech sneakers.)
But one Venice, CA, brand has attracted a hard-core following of celebrities and fitness pros by going the exact opposite route: Their super-soft, hand-dyed, 90 percent cotton leggings pay more of a debt to art than to science.
“People just love the cotton styles—they seem to be everyone’s favorite from our line, which is really interesting,” says Electric & Rose co-founder Erin Chiamulon, a longtime fashion designer who created the activewear brand in 2014 with her husband, actor Eric Balfour.
While Electric & Rose does offer plenty of styles in technical fabrics—which are, admittedly, better for sweaty or bouncy activities—it’s the cotton Sunset leggings ($88) that have been selling out and catching on with everyone from Pilates- and barre-crazy celebs (Charlize Theron’s a fan) to Instagram yogis.
So what is it about this fabrication that’s got everyone so obsessed? “The cotton makes you feel like your skin is breathing, but it’s very absorbant as well,” explains Chiamulon. (It’s also used to make the $62 Paloma bralette.) Kyle Miller, co-owner of Love Yoga in Venice, concurs. “The Sunset leggings are so soft—beyond comfortable—and they never irritate my skin,” she says. “With the more ‘tech-y’ fabrics, I can’t wear them all day without breaking out.”
And then there’s the Sunset’s signature chevron print, which is crafted in LA using Japanese shibori dyeing techniques. “My favorite part is that they’re hand-dyed,” says Chiamulon. “I love that each pair is a little different—it feels much less mass-produced to me. You can’t hand-dye the technical fabrics.”
Electric & Rose isn’t the only brand on board the cotton train—Hard Tail’s been riding it since way before “athleisure” was in the dictionary, and indie brands like Jala, LVR, and Upstate also offer mostly cotton, hand-dyed styles. Yet the options are still few, at least for now. “There aren’t a lot of people doing it, but it’s nice to be able to offer something different, because [activewear] is such a saturated market right now,” Chiamulon points out. Who knew that low-tech could be so avant-garde?
It’s safe to say we’re experiencing a golden age of workout leggings—one big fashion exec is even calling them the new skinny jeans. Here’s why the renaissance matters, and these are some of the pieces that have sparked their own waitlists.