Swimwear brands dive into sustainability

Conventionally made using fossil fuels, swimwear has been slow at adopting sustainable practices. Emerging brands and innovative suppliers are now embracing new ways of creating beautiful bikinis that are not only more respectful of the ocean but also helping to restore it.

Morgane Nyfeler

By Morgane Nyfeler28 juillet 2022

The fashion industry is largely responsible for the pollution of the oceans, particularly because of the synthetic fibres used in the manufacture of clothing (DR)

An overwhelming number of bathing suits today is made from polyester, nylon or Lycra that are all derived from non-renewable resources using an energy-intensive process. These fabrics are counted as part of the almost 400 million tonnes of plastics produced each year, a figure which has been predicted to more than double by 2050. If the world is heavily reliant on plastic for any kind of production, the fashion industry is first in line. Polyester is the most widely used fibre in the world, accounting for roughly half of the fibre market according to Textile Exchange. It’s been used since the 1970s for its long-lasting, wrinkle-free and stretchy qualities, yet isn’t biodegradable and will end up in landfill for years unless recycled.



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What we are only beginning to understand however is that synthetics shed microplastic fibres when being washed, which then end up polluting our waterways before being consumed by fish and eventually humans. Depending on the way they are produced, synthetic fibres used in clothing account for around 35% of the microplastics that are found in the ocean today. So how ironic that garments made to enjoy swimming in the water are so damaging to this very same environment?

Plastic waste turned into an innovative fabric

35% of microplastics found in the ocean come from synthetic clothing fibres (SLO ACTIVE)

Fashion brands are waking up to these issues and starting to use alternative materials for swimwear. ECONYL® developed by Aquafil is one of the first fibres upcycled from nylon waste like fishing nets, carpet flooring and fabric scraps. Thanks to its durable characteristics, regenerated nylon can be recycled infinitely without losing its quality and help drive the industry towards a circular future. Many fashion brands from high-end designers to sportswear are already hooked, and by using this fabric, participate in reducing the global warming impact of nylon by up to 90%. Sadly, regenerated nylon cannot avoid the shedding of microplastics, although Aquafil is committed to finding ways to minimise pollution through scientific research.

Replacing plastic with natural fibres

So the solution might lie in plant-based materials, usually a better alternative for the planet and our skin if produced correctly. Based in Los Angeles, Natasha Tonic chose hemp grown in the area as her fabric of choice for her eponymous swimwear brand. “Growing hemp is actually beneficial for our soil that is currently in danger from all the pesticides we’ve recklessly used for decades,” explains Tonic. This robust crop is cultivated without pesticides and very little water, while absorbing a significant amount of CO2. Made locally in small batches, the label’s breathable and anti-microbial styles are hand cut and hand dyed with low impact dyes and recycled water prints to have the least impact possible on the environment.

The Slo Active swimwear collection is made from a natural rubber alternative to petroleum-based neoprene (JONNY WEEKS)

Always on the lookout for the most innovative eco-friendly materials, Janaya Wilkins founded SLO ACTIVE “on the ethos that all our choices have an impact”. The brand’s entire swim and activewear signature collection Clean Lines is made from a natural rubber alternative to petroleum-based neoprene by American company Yulex with cutting-edge design at the forefront. On top of that, the newly launched Retreat Collection is created using EVO® by Fulgar, a stretch fabric made from castor beans that’s totally renewable with no impact on the food chain. “All of SLO ACTIVE’s pieces are mindfully designed with careful consideration for every stage of the product lifecycle, including after use, and are delicately crafted in a family-run factory in Italy,” adds Wilkins.

Size-inclusive swimwear

Offering bathing suits that fit all women’s body types and shapes is also an imperative for these sustainable brands. London-based brand Hunza G has taken social media by storm with its one-size-fit signature crinkle styles made with no deadstock fabric or wastage. This state-of-the-art material has a figure-flattering fabrication that flexes to sculpt and support all shapes, while also reducing returns from sizing errors. With a localised production, the brand operates in a fair trade setting and has become a carbon-neutral company with the help of BeZero Carbon Ltd.

Inspired by women in her community, Wilkins not only expanded SLO ACTIVE’s size range to include S-5XL but also created activewear for women from various backgrounds. “I spent hours speaking with different sized ladies who enjoy myriad activities such as surfing, working out, diving and yoga, and learning from their challenges,” she says. The Retreat Collection hence features an array of coverage options from yoga bikini bralettes to comfortable surf suits and a modest swimsuit.

Restoring the ocean

Younger generations, increasingly concerned about climate change, expect transparency from fashion brands (DR)

Climate change and conservation is a growing concern for the younger generations. If humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, according to a study, roughly a third of all marine animals could vanish within 300 years. Yet extinctions could be cut by 70% if the world takes swift action to curb fossil fuel use and restore degraded ecosystems.

Giving back to the ocean is at the heart of everything we do, it’s our way of expressing gratitude

Janaya Wilkins, founder of SLO ACTIVE

Enter Organico Official, “a Made in Italy brand that aims to blend together contemporary aesthetic, sustainability and activism,” say the founders Giulia and Chiara. “Our new collection is called Extinction to raise awareness of the problem that is the huge disappearance of marine species.” The brand supports the non-profit ONLUS Plastic Free by giving back 2% of profits and works with a recycled nylon fabric derived from the fishing industry to create low-impact styles with an artisanal flair. It also uses plastic-free packaging and encourages customers to do their part to respect the planet.

Similarly, Wilkins is passionate about sharing critical information and shining a light on initiatives that are driving change to educate and empower customers in their decision-making processes. For every piece sold, SLO ACTIVE donates to Earth to Ocean with the end goal to help restore ocean health. “Giving back to the ocean is at the heart of everything we do, it’s our way of expressing gratitude,” she adds.

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