Swimwear: The Problem Child of Sustainable Fashion
Fashion is one of the most polluting industries out there, with landfills quickly filling with discarded poor-quality cheap clothes that are now seen as disposable items. The mantra of sustainable fashion usually follows: wear natural fibres, buy basics you can match with many items in your closet, ensure products are produced ethically and extend the life of clothing by buying second hand or swapping.
However, swimwear poses a few unique challenges. Because of hygiene considerations, it cannot be easily donated or sold as second hand. Once it's used, right now, the only way to get rid of swimwear is to dispose of it.
Swimwear is also made from synthetic fabrics such as nylon and polyester, which are derived from petroleum products. They’re essentially plastics that won’t biodegrade for at least 400 years! Synthetic fabrics also release microplastics into the water when washed - these are tiny bits of plastic that come off of our clothes and get washed into the water system, where it eventually gets ingested by marine life (and makes it into our food supply, as we eat these fish!)
Chlorine, sun and saltwater are extremely harsh on fabrics, and you need synthetic material to make swimwear stretchy. An organic cotton or bamboo swimsuit is going to disintegrate after a few uses, so at this point there is no alternative to using synthetic fibres to make long lasting swimwear. So what can we do?
Be Good to the Earth, We’ve Only Got One
What we can do is use recycled fabrics to make swimwear, and also ensure it can be worn as long as possible so you can replace five cheap bathing suits with 1-2 good ones. The raw material for our swimwear is waste plastic, such as single-use water bottles and ECONYL® regenerated nylon fibres derived from carpeting and ghost fishing nets. These are fishing nets left behind in the oceans by fishing boats, either intentionally or accidentally. Experts have estimated that there are roughly 640,000 tonnes of these nets currently in our ocean, accounting for 10% of the total ocean plastic. This is dangerous as marine life can get caught in or ingest these nets. They also collect other nylon waste such as carpet fluff left over from the manufacturing process and used nylon carpeting and upholstery.
The waste materials are collected from recycling plants, landfills, manufacturing facilities and the ocean and then purified and regenerated into nylon and polyester. My fabric supplier uses this to make yarns that are then woven into fabric, which is as good as new fabric (which it essentially is!)
Also by using digital printing for all of my custom prints, we reduce the amount of ink and dye used in the process and reduce the amount of fabric wasted overall.
Who Made Your Clothes?
On 24 April 2013, the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh collapsed.
There were five garment factories there all making clothes for big global brands. Over 1,000 people died and another 2,500 were injured, making it the fourth largest industrial disaster in history. When you think of fast fashion, a large proportion of of brands produce in facilities such as these, paying workers only $95 per month (or even less, as this is the legal minimum wage in Bangladesh) for long hours of work in unsafe conditions.
As an independent brand, we are committed to ensuring we use production facilities that are safe and treat their workers fairly. Our last two collections were produced at a factory in Bali, Indonesia that pays its workers well over twice the legal minimum, as well as a small independent specialized swimwear factory in Guangzhou, China.
Designed With Sustainability in Mind
The design of your swimwear also contributes to sustainability. What I keep in mind:
- Making designs multi-use, reversible and mix and match – our reversible pieces are designed to be worn for both swimming and exercise so you can get more looks and mileage out of your swimwear, ensuring you can wear each piece as many times as possible.
- The kids collections use premium fabrics and have unisex prints where possible so they'll last a long time and can be handed down from brother to sister to friend.
- Swimwear fabric contains spandex, which is what makes it stretchy. The spandex in our women's pieces is Lycra® Xtralife™, a patented technology that helps fabric retain its shape so it can last as long as possible. If you take care of our swimsuit well, it can last you for 5 years or more!