The definitive guide to sustainable swimwear
Unless youve been too distracted by Love Island, youve probably noticed that the world is burning.
According to Common Objective, the fashion industry is responsible for around 5% of all manmade greenhouse gas emissions. Most of these emissions come from producing raw materials i.e. the fabrics that make up your new clothes.
Swimsuits are made from synthetic fibres like polyester and nylon (more on that below) and these make up 65% of all fabric production, causing a huge burden on the planet.
Luckily, there are now swimwear brands making use of recycled synthetic fibres to produce their suits – but sadly, its not just fabric we need to think about.
The sustainable swimwear world is a minefield, so here are some key questions to ask when shopping for summer.
What fabric is sustainable swimwear made of?
When you think of sustainable fashion, you think of organic cottons and natural fibres, but these are a no-go when it comes to swimwear.
Natural fibres absorb water – which is why they make great summer clothing, as they suck up all that delicious sweat – but this isnt great for swimming. You really dont want to be dragged down by holding half the ocean in your bikini bottoms now, do you?
Swimwear is usually made from synthetic fibres as these repel water, but synthetic fabric is terrible for the environment.
Polyester and nylon are by products of petroleum, and creating them uses a huge amount of energy and water. Theyre also non-biodegradable. Two thumbs down.
So, whats the solution? Recycled synthetic fibres, thats what.
Using recycled materials saves on raw materials and energy, as well as preventing waste materials going to landfill. Win.
It usually takes less energy to transform waste into recycled material than it does to make a whole new material. Double win.
Econyl regenerated nylon is a hugely popular choice for many companies making sustainable swimwear.
The company collects waste like fishing nets, old carpets and industrial plastic from landfill and the ocean, before sorting and cleaning to recover any nylon.
Its then recycled back to its original purity, meaning it has the same properties as virgin nylon.
Ideally, garments made with Econyl will last forever, but theres always the option to recycle them over and over, closing the loop.
For every 10,000 tonnes of Econyl raw materials, 70,000 barrels of crude oil are saved, and 57,100 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions are avoided.
Smaller, independent swimwear brands have the advantage of using old fabric scraps (waste from the fashion industry) to make new products.
Who made it?
You can use all the eco fabrics in the world, but if youre taking advantage of fellow human beings to make your clothes, youre hardly being sustainable.
Is your new swimwear made by people with fair contracts, wages and working conditions? Or is the company greenwashing, and exploiting vulnerable communities to produce its eco bikinis?
Look into where your favourite swim brands are being produced – its often a lot easier to locate the end of the supply chain with smaller, independent brands.
To create truly sustainable swimwear, it should be made in a way that doesnt harm the environment i.e. the factory should comply with environmental regulations.
How far did it travel to get to you?
Unfortunately, most of the swimwear I fall in love with comes from independent brands based on the other side of the world in Australia.
While I might be helping out the planet by purchasing a beautiful suit made from old fishing nets, Ill also be adding to its carbon footprint by having it flown halfway across the world to me.
So its always worth trying to find eco swimwear thats manufactured closer to home, stocking up while youre on holiday somewhere that sells it, or getting an order in when a friend travels from that country.
Youve also got to think about what the swimwear is sent to you in – do they use recycled/recyclable packaging? Or a whole load of unnecessary wrapping that will head straight to landfill after youve ripped it open?
To be honest, the sustainable swimwear world is a bit of a minefield. It took a long time to find some of the brands I now have in my swimwear collection, so to help you on your way, heres a selection I discovered.
Batoko is a small, independent brand based on the North West coast of England, specialising in one pieces with fun, bold prints. It also does matching suits for kids – adorable.
The fabric Batoko uses for its swimwear is made from recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic waste i.e. the most common type of plastic, used for bottles, food containers and textiles.
The plastic is sorted, shredded into clean flakes, melted, extruded and then spun into polyester yarn, which is pretty neat.
Each swimsuit prevents the equivalent of around 10 plastic bottles going to landfill.
Batoko suits are manufactured in China, in an audited factory that takes necessary measures to avoid both environmental degradation, along with following and respecting the labour principles set out in the BSCI Code of Conduct which ensures a fair and safe working environment for all its workers.
The swimwear is digitally printed, allowing them to pre-cut fabric and use the exact amount of ink needed, meaning minimal waste.
Batoko keeps packaging to a minimum, using only compostable paper bags and recycled plastic mail bags when required.
I have the cockatoo swimsuit, £50, which most definitely isnt for watery wallflowers, and is a refreshing change from dull, sporty swimwear.
Sure, £50 seems quite a lot for a swimming costume but youre usually going to pay a premium for buying from independents as their unit costs will always be higher than a fashion giant, as theyre not mass producing.
Batoko gives comprehensive advice on prolonging the life of your cossie, to ensure you keep it in your swimming arsenal for years to come, and avoid unnecessary clothing waste.
Fast fashion, this is not.
Love & Honor
Love & Honor is a small, independent swimwear brand by France-based Marie-Claire, who makes sustainable swimsuits and separates for women and children who love frolicking in the sea.
I have the Margot long-sleeved swimsuit, £80 which has the (surprisingly rare) ability of looking cute and also being functional. Youd be surprised at the amount of big surf brands who create suits that arent fit for purpose i.e. theyre not lined/dont protect your modesty when you need it most.
This particular swimsuit also double-lined all over, which is perfect for those of us with dark hair who still want to wear pastel colours on the bottom half.
The Margot suit is made from recycled polyamide and Econyl regenerated nylon Lycra, and is super comfy to wear, with elasticated legs that stop them slipping up and revealing your vulva in wipeouts.
Marie-Claire is also trialing an entirely natural alternative fabric made from castor beans thats biodegradable – but not when swimming – so we could see this put into production in the future.
Love & Honor goes the whole hog by posting its suits out in recycled (and recyclable) paper packaging.
The swimsuits are ethically produced in a small factory in Poland.
Finding a factory to work with was the biggest challenge when started the business, Marie-Claire tells Metro.co.uk.
We we finally discovered the one were using we were really happy as the team have stayed there for a long time and all work together really well.
I think manufacturing in Europe where factories have to be checked and certified made it easier to weed out any of the worst potential pitfalls, and small batch production means its a friendlier operation anyway.
Poland isnt the obvious choice for swimwear but the distance for shipping is really short which is another small victory for the environment.
Cool Scandi brand Weekdays entire swimwear collection is now made from recycled materials, such as plastic bottles and production waste, which is hugely impressive for a high street store.
Weekday stores even allow you to drop off any old textiles you want to send away for recycling.
I tested the Latitude swim top, £12 and Latitude high-waisted bottoms, £10, both made from recycled polyester. The set is comfy, looks great and has washed really well, despite being splattered with sunscreen on many an occasion.
Weekday has a huge range of cool one pieces and bikinis and its so refreshing to find affordable, sustainable swimwear on the high street.
However, the Latitude set is made in China, which loses points for its carbon footprint.
Weekday has an entire sustainability section on their website, detailing their goals for the future, and current information on fabric, chemicals and labour.
However, this has been called into question by the Clean Clothes Campaign, who argue that not a single worker producing clothes for H&M is being paid a fair living wage.
Part of the ongoing problem – which was discussed at the H&M group Fair Living Wage Summit 2018 – is that the living wage hasnt yet been decided.
Until workers unions and manufacturers agree on a figure, we do not know what a fair living wage is, David Savman, H&Ms Global Head of Production told Reuters.
Savman notes its not as easy as swooping in and raising wages for their factory workers, as he doesnt deem that a sustainable approach. Instead, he believes the problem should be tackled by the whole industry, including other brands who use the same factories.
Negotiations are still ongoing.
According to H&M, the average wage at supplier factories producing for H&M group is between 24% (Cambodia) to 93% (China) higher than the minimum wage level.
However, according to Reuters, at an average of 49 cents an hour, many staff in H&Ms supply chain were still earning hourly rates that violate Bangladeshi labour laws.
The end of the fashion supply chain is a potentially murky world, regardless of which store you shop in, and its important to note that just because a price tag is higher, it doesnt mean quality of working conditions are.
A £100 sweater could have been made in the same factory as a £10 one, so when it comes to larger brands, if youre serious about sustainability, its a good idea to do your research and make your own mind up.
Deakin & Blue
Deakin & Blue is a London-based swimwear brand founded by Rosie Cook, who was inspired when she couldnt find any swimsuits that offered both style and substance.
She wanted to create an ethical and inclusive brand for all body shapes.
Cook designs each swimsuit/bikini in three different styles to suit the varying body shapes within a dress size – the Hepburn for AA-B busts, the Monroe for C-E busts and the Hendricks for F-HH busts.
All Deakin & Blue products are made using Econyl regenerated nylon, and are manufactured at a small factory in London.
The company works with Oeko-Tex® certified suppliers, environmentally and socially responsible manufacturers and partners who pay fairly, use chemicals safely and minimise waste where possible.
You can read about their sustainability efforts on their website.
I tried the Signature swimsuit, £105, which looks chic as well as being comfortable to swim in. Its so great to be able to find a swimsuit that fits in all areas of the body, so youre not left with tight/baggy cups.
This suit is made of a supportive thick fabric to give you confidence in the water, and the high neck is great for a bit of extra coverage on the delicate chest area.
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