Plastic pollution is one of the biggest environmental issues affecting the planet today, with an estimated 12 million tonnes of plastic reaching our oceans each year – sadly, this figure is only set to rise due to the recent surge of single-use plastic face masks and gloves during the global coronavirus pandemic. There are myriad ways you can do your bit to help save our oceans, from organising beach clean ups to donating to charities, but a good place to start is by making sure you are wearing sustainable swimwear – anything else is adding to the problem.
Synthetic oil-based fibres, such as nylon or Lycra, have long been the basic components of bikinis and one-piece swimsuits – not only does their production need a large amount of water and energy, they also don’t biodegrade. The result is that they end up adding to the amount of virgin plastic on the planet and contributing to the accumulation of microplastics clogging up our shorelines, poisoning marine life and infecting the food chain.
Thankfully, a number of swimwear designers are making the change to stem this tidal wave of damage, using recycled and sustainable materials, and pioneering manufacturing techniques. One popular solution lies in Econyl®, a regenerated nylon yarn made entirely from waste products, including the ‘ghost’ nets littering our oceans. Not only does this help remove deep-sea plastic waste, it also cuts down on the use of water, oil and energy used during the manufacturing process.
Elsewhere, natural fibres such as organic cotton and hemp prevent the release of microplastics into waterways, as do laundry bags that capture microfibres when washing. Laundry is a big factor in the sustainability of clothing, as the way you wash them affects the lifespan of each piece – swimwear should always be hand-washed with mild soap and cold water after every use, to preserve the fabric as long as possible and remove chlorine, salt and sand. Meanwhile, more durable designs and in-store reuse systems are helping fight the war on waste.
As swimwear takes its place in the fight against plastic pollution, we take a look at the innovative labels paving the way for a cleaner, greener future – while, in many cases, also giving back to charity – with their covetable, sustainable swimwear.
This London-based brand was founded by Argentinean fashion photographer Josefina A. Theo and inspired by her childhood on the Uruguayan coast. After several years working with brands including Net-a-Porter and Matches Fashion she decided to make a career pivot and launch her own luxury label – the result is her elegant, refined take on sustainable swimwear. The pieces are all ethically made in a female-only couture factory in Portugal using high-tech but ecological fabrics, including Econyl® and a renewable yarn made from castor beans. Expect minimalist one-pieces and mix-and-match bikinis in bold block colours and modern silhouettes.
At New York Fashion Week last year, beachwear designer Mara Hoffman received the Repreve Champions of Sustainability Leading the Change Award. Known for her flattering, retro shapes and beloved by the fashion set, Hoffman is well and truly committed to reducing her environmental impact – and has been doing so for the last 15 years. While she uses Econyl® for her sustainable swimwear range, the designer has also started working Repreve into her textured pieces, a fibre made from upcycled plastic bottles that would otherwise end up in landfill or in our oceans.
Ayla’s playful, feminine designs instantly conjure up feel-good holiday vibes and memories of cocktails on the beach, which was exactly the aim when London-based founders Kirsty Ames and Heidi Sommerau started the label – the idea was dreamed up while they were on the beach in Tobago, and many of their collections are inspired by the Caribbean islands. For SS20 they’ve opted for coral-inspired prints, with a percentage of the profits going toward the Coral Guardian charity, which is dedicated to coral reef conservation. All of their sustainable swimwear range is created from recycled fibres, while their sarongs are made with Cupro, a by-product of cotton that would normally be thrown away.
Founded last October by Australian designer Patreece Botheras, this environmentally conscious collection has already its fair share of celebrity fans, with Elle Macpherson, Karlie Kloss and Kendall Jenner all having been spotted in the sports-luxe pieces that flatter and sculpt the body. The high performance active wear for the water is aimed at surfers, swimmers, divers or sun loungers who can mix-and-match swimsuits and separates that are simultaneously light, warm, supple and stretchy. The entire range is crafted from Repreve and every purchase is sent out in 100% compostable, zero waste shipping bags.
Growing up on St Barths, Swedish designer Agnes Fischer has always had an affinity with the ocean. Horrified at the rapidly diminishing health of the planet’s coral reefs, she pledged to create a luxury sustainable swimwear brand handmade in Italy using only fibres from regenerated fishing nets and ocean waste. The collection, designed to be worn from the beach to the bar, features hand-painted ’80s-inspired prints and scrunchie-inspired straps. Plus, 10% of profits are donated to the Healthy Seas project – a team of volunteer divers who recover ghost nets from the sea, which then go on to be made into the fabric that Fisch uses.
Family-run Australian swimwear label Peony takes its name from the blooming peonies in founder Becky Jack’s garden. With a nostalgic bohemian aesthetic, the capsule collection features ditzy floral prints and soft colour palettes. Printed designs are made with Econyl®, while the lining of each piece is created entirely from recycled and sustainable fabrics, developed in-house, with all meeting Oeko Tex Standard 100. Plans are afoot for a reuse programme, so customers can send back old pieces to be repaired or regenerated, taking this label one step closer to its goal of being fully sustainable by 2021.
Stay Wild Swim
London-based sports-luxe swimwear brand Stay Wild Swim was co-founded by Natalie Glaze and Zanna van Dijk, and frames its ‘buy less, buy better’ approach with thoughtfully cut, block-colour one and two-piece designs made from recycled nylon. Tags and packaging are fully recyclable, the label’s shipping is 100% carbon neutral and they’re currently working on the technology to recycle old swimwear into new pieces. The brand was also one of the first UK stockists for the GuppyFriend bag, designed to prevent microplastics entering the system during washes.