Whilst there are more and more ethical, sustainably made and eco-friendly fabric-based clothing companies around, one essential wardrobe item which is difficult to purchase sustainably is swimwear. Notorious for being synthetic, made from stretchy materials like polyurethane, polyester, and nylon which, swimwear is not biodegradable and certainly not planet-friendly given how much they contribute to plastic waste. However, thanks to the invention of new, recyclable fabrics, there are a few sustainable swimwear brands that are paving the way to a more sustainable swimwear wardrobe options.
1. The fabrics
There are two key upcycled fabrics on the swimwear market, the first is ECONYL® and the second is REPREVE®. Although these materials are still non-biodegradable, in addition to being upcycled fabrics to begin with, the process can can also be repeated, create new swimwear again and again.
ECONYL® is a fabric made by recycling nylon waste into new nylon. It is created using waste such as old fishing nets, fabric scraps, carpet flooring and industrial plastic from landfills and oceans. This synthetic plastic waste is regenerated into a nylon fabric that can be used again and again to make new products like swimsuits and workout gear.
REPREVE® is a new polyester made from recycled plastic bottles, which are upcycled into materials like sustainable swimwear, the cloth seats in the electric Ford focus and fleeces from the brand Patagonia. So far, more than 16 billion plastic bottles have been recycled into REPREVE fabrics.
2. The companies
So now you know how recycled swimwear is mad, but where to buy it? In order to be the most sustainable, it is important to purchase your swimwear from a truly circular swimwear company, where you know the products are recycled repeatedly, as these fabrics do not biodegrade so it is still important to consider what happens to them once you’ve had your use out of them. Here are a few companies whose practices fit the bill.
Founders Itee Soni and Heather Kaye set up Shanghai-based Loop Swim in 2012, when fabric made from recycled plastic bottles was just becoming available as an alternative to virgin polyester. They started the company on the values of timeless, sustainable luxury combined with social and environmental responsibility, as they say, ‘closing the Loop On Waste, Fashionably.’ Today, Loop Swim products are made from REPREVE fabrics from post-consumer use plastic bottles that would otherwise end up in landfill or our oceans.
To ensure sustainable processes they use minimal and recycled packaging and water and energy reducing production techniques, and importantly pay their production workers a good living wage. The website tells you how many bottles were used for each item and so prevented from going into landfill, whilst on purchase a percentage of the cost goes to cause of your choice. To ensure a circular economy, Loop Swim will recycle your swimsuit at the end of its useful life.
Under Sea Wear
Based in Hungary, Under Sea Wear is on a mission to help clear up our polluted oceans and reduce the negative impact of plastic on the environment by recycling waste into fun, high quality swimwear. They use both ECONYL® and REPREVE® for their products, which are ethically made in Hungary as part of their commitment to supporting local businesses. The company aims to make swimwear which not only reflects the style of their customers, but also their values. The company also believes in the conservation and preservation of our oceans, and this season has partnered with Coral Restoration Foundation™ who actively restore coral reefs on a large scale, with donations from purchases supporting the fund. Describing themsleves as a movement, not just a brand, they also organise a beach clean-up project. To ensure a circular economy, the brand offers a 20% discount off your next purchase when you return your last swimsuit from them (provided this is within 2 years), enabling customer to save money and an incentive to continue the recycling process.