As we’re now in the middle of our much-loved Australian summer, we’ve got beaches on the brain.
But in our journey toward a more sustainable lifestyle, we’re inevitably confronted with the ethical dilemma that comes with outfitting ourselves in something new:
What sustainable ethical swimwear can help make our summer enjoyable for us and eco friendly for the environment?
After a bit of digging in the sand, we realized there’s a whole sea of ethical swimwear companies out there. In fact, the pool of candidates was impressively large. We found 50+ brands that make some form of environmentally sustainable swimwear.
Needless to say, narrowing down this list to only the best ethical swimwear was harder than swimming upstream. We had to get down to the nitty gritty details (of not just the swimwear, but the brands as a whole) to find the best of the breast stroke.
On this list, we were particularly impressed with RubyMoon who are a not-for profit and built for impact – they really do an incredible job. Patagonia of course is the leader in sustainability, we love what they’re doing with wetsuit innovation. Reformation impressed us with their transparency and sheer depth of information on what they do to constantly improve.
One important note: all swimwear is made from synthetic materials – best to use a guppy wash bag to prevent microfibers washing into the ocean when you wash your swimwear.
Oh and if you’re interested to know how we decide which fashion brands make the cut (i.e. are sustainable) check out our super in-depth sustainable and ethical fashion guide. Also scroll to the bottom of this page to find more information specific to swimwear.
So what are we waiting for? Let’s take a dive into the best ethical swimwear brands.
QUICK LINKS FOR ETHICAL SUSTAINABLE SWIMWEAR
For ethical swimwear in the UK, RubyMoon offers a versatile line of award-winning GymToSwim items, including swimsuits, sports bras, crop tops, rash guards, and leggings. It’s “Activewear for Activists!”
As the only not-for-profit swimwear company in existence, RubyMoon maintains a circular economy to strive for as little negative impact as possible. They’re also a registered Community Interest Company, and they’ve integrated 9/17 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals into their business practices.
RubyMoon was the first swim & activewear company to use ECONYL, 9+ years ago! Their ethical vegan swimwear includes a range of “gym to swim” wear with tops, bottoms (including shorts), a one-piece and a rash vest . It’s “Activewear for Activists!”
RubyMoon’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: Partnering with HealthySeas.org, RubyMoon uses Econyl yarn and digital printing to be efficient and eco-friendly in its ink usage. They also accept old swimsuits and other stretch fabrics to reuse in the making of new ones in exchange for a 5% discount.
The finished PETA-certified vegan ethical swimwear is not only Oeko-Tex 100 certified but chlorine- and salt water-resistant and UPF 50+ sun protective.
- Supply chain & labor practices: RubyMoon will answer any questions you have about its supply chain. Just send an email! Everything is manufactured in safe, ethical environments either at home in the U.K. or nearby in Spain. Distribution is then handled by bagsofsupport.co.uk, a charity that employs working mothers.
By using recycled fabrics, they have received certification for producing 42% less carbon emissions. As a registered Community Interest Company, RubyMoon follows 9/17 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
- Inclusivity: Ruby Moon is powered by an all-female team of designers and entrepreneurs. Their swimsuits come in an inclusive range of sizes, from XS-XL and their bras that go to 38DD.
- Community & charitable giving: Being not-for-profit, Ruby Moon puts ALL of its profits toward loans to support educating female entrepreneurs across developing companies in order to break generational cycles of poverty. In fact, every different garment bears the name of one of these women. Read their stories here.
Here’s a name that might be familiar: iconic outdoor clothing maker Patagonia, a company well aware of its inevitable environmental impact but “committed to trying” to become a truly sustainable business.
They specialize in using sustainable fibers, such as organic cotton (which they’ve been using for decades now!), hemp, and recycled polyester or nylon, in just about all their product line, including their athletic-inspired ethical swimwear for men and women.
Best of all, since they’re such a large, established company, you can easily buy sustainable swimwear from Patagonia at just about any outdoor retailer.
Patagonia’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: All solid-colored swimsuits are made of 83% recycled nylon and 17% spandex, while prints are made of 83% recycled polyester and 17% spandex. Their Wayfarer board shorts (sold in both men’s and women’s styles with choices of different inseam lengths) are made of 100% recycled DWR-coated nylon.
Patagonia instead uses Yulex plant-based rubber for 85% of their wetsuit material (the other 15% is still petroleum derived). The rubber itself is FSC Certified and produces 80% less climate altering CO2. They are also Fair Trade Certified
- Supply chain & labor practices: As part of its vow to practice Corporate Responsibility, Patagonia tracks and publicly shares every step of its spiderweb of manufacturing through The Footprint Chronicles. This also means adhering to the California Supply Chains Act of 2010 SB 657.
All garments are certified FairTrade sewn by skilled workers across the world, all of whom are paid a living wage. Staff regularly travel the globe to the mills and factories to ensure they’re upholding ethical standards (e.g., no child labor or human trafficking).
For a really in-depth look at Patagonia’s sustainable business model, read founder Yvon Chouinard’s memoir Let My People Go Surfing. They’ve got a lot of good stuff going on.
- Inclusivity: As an outdoor company, Patagonia’s clothes are geared more toward active individuals. There’s not much diversity from that on their website, but the swimwear is all-size inclusive.
- Community & charitable giving: As a founding member of the 1% for the Planet program, Patagonia gives 1% of every sale or 10% of pre-tax profits (whichever is more) to various environmental groups. They’ve also been known to get politically active when public lands have come under legal threat.
To encourage its customers to get involved in local activism, the Patagonia Action Works connects you to grassroots initiatives near you.
3. PICTURE ORGANIC
About Picture Organic
Here’s one of the best sustainable swimwear options for the adrenaline junkies out there.
Based in France but now with over 700 retailers in 30+ countries, Picture Organic started in 2008 as the brainchild of best friends and snowboard fanatics Jeremy, Julian, and Vincent. A decade later, they make not only men’s and women’s ski/snowboard wear but also adventure swimwear (which is surf oriented, including full body wetsuits, board shorts, and impact vests).
Picture Organic is a Certified B-Corp and clearly spends a lot of time thinking about and implementing sustainability-related initiatives. Their #1 goal is to wipe our fossil fuels.
They boast materials that are almost 100% recycled as per their Zero Oil Objective. See just how they turn plastic bottles into ski jackets in this video.
Picture Organic’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: Picture Organic uses some innovative tech and does an impressive job of explaining their position on materials. All wetsuits are made of recycled polyester and Eicoprene, laminated with a water-based Aqua-a glue. Eicoprene is made from Japanese Limestone and recycled tyres. Read more on this topic here.
Their swim trunks and board shorts are made using recycled ski jackets.
In 2020, Picture Organic plans to implement a lifetime guarantee in some European countries, eventually expanding globally.
- Supply chain & labor practices: Picture is Fair Wear Foundation certified and they partner with Agence Innovation Responsable (AIR) to better manage their supply chain. They now outsource to 20 factories (though 2 of them account for 84% of production) and visit them regularly to ensure high workplace standards.
- Community & charitable giving: Picture partners with a wide variety of activism-based organizations, including the WWF (where they help protect polar climates and their dependent animals from oil drilling), photographer Ruben Salgado (to promote solar energy), the Summit Foundation (to reduce human impact on wild spaces), and Beyond Boarding (a Canadian campaign against oil and gas farms).
In late 2018, they launched Picture For Good, through which they put out a call for environmental action plans and proposals. The winner gets his or her environmental or social project funded by Picture.
Lastly, when they had to issue a recall of backpacks with a minor defect, they donated them to school children in Nepal.
- Shipping & other initiatives: They use their Picture Your Impact tool to keep track of the impact of all their products. They ship only via freight, never by plane.
They’re also increasing the renewable energy sources incorporated into their manufacturing – currently about 20% – but they’ve implemented a plan to be 100% renewable by 2030.
4. DAVY J
About Davy J
Another option for sustainable swimwear in the UK is Davy J, an ethical active swimwear company that focuses on sustainability derived from durability. They design suits to “survive the dive.” All suits sport a double lining and high elastane content to maintain their shape and last for longer than just a summer or two.
Choose between a cut-out-back one-piece suit or a modest variety of two-piece styles, including longer tops, crops, and high-waisted bottoms. Since their color schemes are bold and blocky, in just black, white, red, and blue, you can easily mix and match.
Davy J’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: Their Waste Collection is made of 100% Econyl yarn regenerated from fishing nets. The swimwear also features an invisible rubber lining (“to ensure you surface from the water in the same condition as you entered it”), though they do not note where this rubber is sourced from.
- Supply chain & labor practices:All suits are made right at home in Britain in factories where their workers earn an actual living wage.
- Green business practices: According to a company member we spoke to, they’re “constantly innovating with new sustainable materials and looking at ways to work towards a circular economy.” Though designed to resist wearing out, if they finally do, Davy J accepts them back to be remade into new suits. By prioritizing this form of circular economy, they hope to have 60% closed-loop resourcing this year (2020).
Part of minimizing company waste means using all recycled and composting packing materials for shipping.
- Inclusivity: While Davy J believes “size is just a number” and offers an inclusive range of sizes, not every suit is best for every body. For example, they admit their Cut-Out Suit is somewhat lacking in chest support and thus may not be best for bustier women.
Honesty upfront prevents people from ordering suits that don’t fit and won’t get worn.
For help with sizing suggestions and finding which suit designs are best for your body, see their sizing page.
5. WOODLIKE OCEAN
About Woodlike Ocean
Woodlike Ocean Eco Swimwear minimalistic in its single-color designs and each one is designed to have a figure-flattering effect. Seamless construction means they’re both comfortable (no scratchy tags in the armpit!) and reversible, so each suit is effectively two. They have four different design lines: tanning, one piece, movement, and shape.
Woodlike Ocean’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: All Woodlike Ocean suits are made using 78% recycled Italian-spun Econyl and 22% Xtra Life Lycra. The Lycra is not recycled, but its shape-maintaining and chlorine-resistant properties are designed to help the suits last longer and need to be replaced less often. With UPF 50+ protection, you’ll be protected from the sun, too.
- Supply chain & labor practices: WDLK purchases its Econyl directly from Italy, and it is sewn into suits by a partner in Turkey, with whom they work closely to maintain quality workplace conditions.
- Community & charitable giving: A member of 1% for the Planet, they donate a portion of every purchase directly to the Healthy Seas Initiative, the largest organizer of volunteer-based efforts to collect ghost fishing nets.
- Shipping: Suits are shipped only in the Dirt Bag compostable satchel, a plastic-free mailbag that home composts in 3-6 months. Any other mailing and labeling is done on recycled and eco-certified materials.
Australian maker of conscious sustainable swimwear, Baiia was started in Brisbane by design student Amber Boyers after she won a grant competition. The name Baiia means “one who has the capacity to change the world for the better.”
Baiia won the Laureate Business award for Sustainable and Social Good Projects. Amber recently received DHL’s Emerging Australian Designer of the Year award for her innovatively elegant three-piece wrap suit. These wrap suits and all other swimwear are reversible designs, which means you don’t have to sacrifice variety for minimalism.
See this video about them for more info.
Baiia’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: Baiia’s swimwear is made from recycled nylon 6 that’s certified by Oeko-Tex 100 and Clear to Wear. The fabric dyes are water-based and GOTS certified. The recycled nylon makes up 78% of the fabric and the other 22% is elastane.
- Supply chain & labor practices: Baiia encourages everyone to ask Who Made my Swimsuit? Which is why they tell us exactly. All swimsuits are handmade in a caring factory in Guangzhou, China, where the lowest-paid seamstress is still paid triple the Guangzhou minimum wage. Employees are all given free transportation and housing options, medical insurance, and paid leave.
This includes sick leave, maternity leave, 20 days of holiday (not including the month and a half they automatically et off for the Chinese New Year. All in all, their employees receive 60 days of vacation each year (if only we should all be so lucky!).
Frequent factory visits by the core Baiia team ensure the factory maintains good working conditions.
For shipping, all suits come in a complimentary hemp drawsting bag (great for storing your suit in the off season!) and are shipped in compostable outer satchels.
- Inclusivity: All Baiia suits have a timeless look that is flattering to pretty much anyone. The V-style front and adjustable hip tie of the wrapsuit suits any figure, whether flat or busty. Also, check out their Baiia Women Series on their blog, where they feature inspirational travel and lifestyle stories of the diverse women they sponsor.
- Community & charitable giving: Through their supplier in Guangzhou, Baiia sponsors various charitable projects there, such as local age-care homes and earthquake relief.
- Shipping & Packaging: Online orders arrive in a protective hemp drawstring bag, which you can either keep using or compost. For domestic orders, satchels are 100% recycled and recyclable paper satchels.
Reformation is an LA based label that focuses on making ultra-current, beautiful clothing. They put a big empahasis on sustainability, releasing an annual sustainability report and explaining their various sustainability initiatives at length on their website.
Reformation’s 2018 report shows how Reformation performed vs their sustainability goals. We like that they are very open about their failures and how they plan to improve. They talk about so much more than we cover in this article so if you’re interested, take a look at their sustainability framework.
It’s clear that Reformation are doing some amazing things and really doing a great job of making sustainability extremely attractive. As you’ll see below, they have thought through a great deal of their impact. However, as Good On You points out, they haven’t quite got the full tick on transparency around chemical use, especially as it relates to viscose/rayon which is a chemical intensive process.
Their swimwear line however does not use viscose/rayon so read on…
Reformation’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: Reformation typically use a blend of 78% Econyl and 22% Elastane.
- Supply chain & labor practices: Reformation has factories all over the world including in China and India. They perform regular audits to ensure their supplier requirements are upheld and are quite transparent about the % of their factories that need to improve, or on on probation and need to address concerns. These audits however don’t appear to be third party certified so it is Reformation themselves doing the audits.
We look forward to reading their 2019 sustainability report as the 2018 report indicated their intent to achieve more third party certifications and to move towards fairer pay for their workers. Their Q3 2019 report shows great progress so far.
Reformation host tours of their factory in LA where customers can meet the people that make their clothes.
- Inclusivity: Probably something Reformation falls a little short on. Their range of swimwear comes in sizes XS to XL although they market their wares without much diversity.
- Community & charitable giving: Reformation participate in the community in various ways. They run collaborations with eco minded organisations like online thrift stores thredUP and Depop.
Interestingly, they also provide their staff with one day off a month to volunteer, doing things like beach cleanups and working in regenerative agriculture.
- Packaging, Shipping, Carbon and Upcycling: Reformation have a variety of other impressive initiatives. Their packaging is made from 100% recycled paper products and compostable bio-based films. They use 100% compostable vegetable bags to send the clothing.
They also are working on re-using both their fabric scraps and re-using or recycling garments. Their Q3 2019 report report lists out their impact so far.
About Riz Shorts
This one’s for the gentlemen. Riz makes sustainable swimwear for the U.K. (though they ship free worldwide). London-based Riz has been on the swim scene since 2009 when “tailors of sunshine” Riz Smith and Ali Murrell decided the market needed more ethical swimwear for men.
Riz’s main goals are centered around having a cyclical supply and manufacturing process. “For us sustainability seems too general a term. We want to focus on the entire product life in a 360 degree process.” Through their “Rizcycling” program, they give 25% discounts for donating your old suit to be repaired or recycled into new shorts.
Riz’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: Riz’s shorts boast hyper durable triple stitching and quick-drying fabric made of 100% recycled plastic bottles. These “bottles to boardshorts” are inspired by London’s Savile Row for the Sea, so the cuts are classic and designed to last.
To prevent microfiber pollution from getting into the waterways, Riz recommends washing its shorts in Guppyfriend wash bags (which it also stocks).
- Supply chain & labor practices: As a certified B Corp, Riz is held to the highest third-party-affirmed standards of ethical accountability. All shorts are made in small batches (no mass production) just off England’s shores in Portugal. Once construction is finished, the shorts return to the U.K. for digital printing.
- Community & charitable giving: As a 1% for the Planet member, Riz donates £1 for every pair of shorts sold to the Marine Conservation Society. They also work with various other organizations to create environmental awareness-boosting short films and organize monthly beach cleanups on the banks of the River Thames
9. AMARA TULUM
About AMARA Tulum
With a name meaning “eternal love of the sea,” AMARA’s sustainably savvy luxury swimwear has been featured in Vogue, Allure, and Forbes, among others. With a simple aesthetic and geometric design elements, AMARA has curated a fearlessly feminine look.
Each suit is also reversible, mix & match (for separates), and some even convertible, so you can still express your own personal style without the excess. Founder Lisa explains: “We’re minimalists at heart and want to teach the world to do more with less.” Be prepared to pay a little bit more for the versatility of this luxury swimwear.
AMARA Tulum’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: AMARA’s women’s ethical swimwear is also made using a blend of recycled Econyl and Lycra Xtra Life for an elongated swimsuit lifespan.
- Supply chain & labor practices: Fabrics are milled in an ethical Italian factory that closely monitors its carbon emissions and uses water-saving production techniques. The suits themselves are designed in Tulum by skilled local artisans who are paid fair living wages. These operations support local Mexican communities and help to preserve local traditions.
However, according to a rep we spoke to, they are currently working toward in-house manufacturing to have even greater control of the well being of their workers.
- Green business practices: For shipping, they use use compostable polybags and recycled cardboard mailers but are switching to a reusable silicon pouch with the release of their next collection. It will be designed to either store a wet swimsuit or valuables at the beach, or can be returned to the company for credit toward a future purchase.
They also hope to move toward more sustainable shipping initiatives in the future, though they haven’t quite gotten there just yet.
- Community & charitable giving: Aside from the Mexican community support and economic benefits provided through their business, AMARA works to minimize the negative effects of tourism on the environment by organizing beach cleanups in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere.
Otherwild started in 2012 as a conglomeration of artistic resources. It’s a studio, store, workshop, and event space open to all local artists and designers to sell and showcase their creations.
The Otherwild Hirsuit is a line of androgynous swimwear specifically tailored for any gender expression or fluid identity. Oh, AND it has hidden pockets.
Otherwild’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: The Hirsuit is made of 82% recycled polyester blended with 18% long-life spandex. This fabric stretches comfortably and fits all shapes, and it resists stretching out for a long time.
- Supply chain & labor practices: Everything sold or shown by Otherwild, including the Hirsuit, is designed and made right in their N.Y.C. studio. According to Otherwild, “We… support ethical practices, advocacy and activism as we continue to evolve within an exploitative, extractive, extreme and excessive consumer capitalist culture.”
- Inclusivity: The whole purpose of the Hirsuit is to provide inclusivity for individuals – “designed for a wide variety of bodies and gender expressions” . Ranging from XS to XXL, the Hirsuit is for any and all bodies bound for the water.
- Community & charitable giving: While primarily operating as a means for independent creators to run their own business, any profits to Otherwild itself go back into supporting these artists as well as grassroots social justice movements and health care organizations for the underprivileged.
“An ode to the Ocean,” NOW_THEN creates couture swim and oceanwear. Their name is a play on the idea of a future world and hopefully a better one. With ocean conservation and female empowerment at the core of their company manifesto, they make four different lines of ecoluxury swimwear.
NOW_THEN’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: All swimsuits are seamlessly made from Econyl that helps to upcycle about 300 grams of nylon ocean debris per swimsuit. Their debut Biomarine line of sportier wetsuits are made with a petroleum-free neoprene called Ecoprene made by replacing the petroleum with limestone mineral. This makes for a hydrophobic, stretchy, and far more sustainable neoprene-like material.
All swimswear is also Oeko-Tex 100 certified non-toxic.
- Supply chain & labor practices: All of NOW_THEN’s pieces are “ethically produced in a socially responsible workplace.” Their By Women for Women philosophy specifically calls upon the talents of women at risk of social exclusion.
- Inclusivity: Aside from designs intended to empower all women, “the ones with a free spirit, the ones who build their own fires and find their own peace,” NOW_THEN’s By Women for Women line gives opportunities to disenfranchised female fashionistas.
The themes of their different lines also pay homage to various other cultures. For example, their Japanese-inspired Port of Tarō line uses the deep, rich colors of traditional Japanese art and asymmetrical designs.
Their sizing runs from x-small to large.
Want to show some skin or shred the gnar? Either way, California-based Abysse probably has the answer. They make a wide range of suits from teenie weenie bikinis to high-end neoprene swim and wetsuits.
Abysse’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: Abysse make bikinis and one pieces made entirely of Italian recycled nylon created from ghost fishing nets.
They also make neoprene swimwear, which is made of 100% Japanese limestone-based neoprene, an alternative to traditional neoprene that uses limestone instead of petroleum in production. For more on this material, jump to our explanation below.
- Supply chain & labor practices: After sourcing their materials, everything is designed and assembled locally in California, which ensures their workshop is held to stringent U.S. labor standards and earn living wages.
- Green business practices: Local production means not only more ethical production, but a lower carbon footprint, which was priority for them. They also only produce one swim collection and one neoprene collection per year to prevent overproduction.
For packaging, everything is 100% recycled and plastic-free. This includes tags, poly bags, and even the bikini liners.
- Inclusivity: Abysse is a woman-run company. It’s actually mother/daughter owned! Everything they do is “Made by women, for women with our perfect imperfections” to empower women “in and out of the water.” From skimpy bikinis to long sleeve rash guards, Abysse’s very designs encourage ladies to wear however much (or little) they want. Their sizes range from XS-XL.
- Community & charitable giving: Abysse states, “We believe charity work is a core ethos of Abysse, and we want to help educate and provide solutions for future generations regarding issues such as plastic pollution.” They regularly give to two such reef conservation organizations: Sirens for the Sea and Moorea Coral Gardeners.
If you’re wondering where to find affordable ethical swimwear, check out this company’s bold and brightly colored swimsuits you can buy for under $100. In fact, every one piece is exactly $95, thanks to their “honest pricing. always” guarantee.
Based in St. Louis, Summersalt is a veteran-owned maker of women’s eco-sustainable swimwear, activewear, travelwear, and sleepwear.
Summersalt’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: Summersalt’s “beach-proof” fabrics are made of 78% recycled polyamide sourced from post-consumer materials (like retired textiles) and ocean-salvaged plastic. The rest is a highly compressive Lycra they claim gives their suits 4x the compression and shape-retention of average suits. They conducted live wear tests in over 100 hours of chlorinated water to demonstrate.
They do note that sunscreens containing avobenzone may stain their suits. We recommend steering clear of avobenzone altogether; try some all-natural reef and swimsuit-safe sunscreens instead (Link).
- Supply chain & labor practices: Summersalt’s only info on its website about its supply chain is that its fabrics are Italian made. But since they do promise to “always be transparent with you about our processes,” we will be requesting more information about sourcing and manufacturing. Stay tuned!
- Inclusivity: Summersalt designs its suits to fit real women, thanks to their data-backed fit. After taking over 1.5 million body measurements of 10,000 women, they created a wide range of styles to literally suit everyone. Take their style match quiz to find one that provides the perfect cup support and butt coverage for your beachy bliss.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN ETHICAL SWIMWEAR CLOTHING
Of course no brand is perfect but when it comes to sustainable fashion, first and foremost, we look for sustainable fabric.
In most cases, that means organic, biodegradable fabrics. As you’ll see shortly, this is tricky to accomplish with swimwear, so we at least want the garments to be made of non-virgin recycled synthetic fibers.
Ideally, these fabrics will also be vegan and renewable.
We also want these sustainable swimwear brands to practice a fair bit of corporate responsibility in the way they conduct their business dealings down the entire supply chain.
- Supply chain and labor practices: We want transparency. We want to know #whomademyclothes and that it was done according to Fairtrade standards. We also want to see sustainable manufacturing practices, such as carbon offsetting, using renewable energy, and implementing low-waste packaging and shipping.
- Inclusivity: Especially for something in which it is so easy to feel self conscious, ethical swimwear companies should promote a positive body image. This means marketing to a diverse audience and being size-inclusive in their designs.
- Charitable endeavors: To be truly ethical, a company should step outside its own sense of wellbeing to extend a hand to others in need, whether it be through social or environmental initiatives.
Those are the big ones, but it’s a bonus if garments are hand-made or made to order. This creates jobs, eliminates machine emissions, and reduces overproduction (and the waste that comes with overstock).
Mainstream swimwear: Dead in the water.
Before we get to the good, let’s get an understanding of the bad.
Conventional swimwear is typically made of virgin petroleum-based nylon, polyester, and lycra. In other words, plastic, which will never actually biodegrade and fuels our need to continue drilling for more and more petroleum.
The amount of plastic manufactured between 2000 and 2010 (including that for clothing) was more than that of the last century. Read that sentence again.
When you consider that fast fashion profits on poor design and planned obsolescence, it’s hardly a wonder we’re burning through plastic at a horrifying pace.
Most swimsuits are so cheaply made that they stretch out and fall apart (or worse, fall right off as you dive in the pool) practically every summer. And if they don’t, trendiness tricks us into buying the latest summer’s style anyway.
It’s high time we turned the tide.
SUSTAINABLE SWIMWEAR FABRIC
Turning Bottles into Beachwear
When it comes to sustainable fashion, the most ideal fabrics are organic ones, or ones that have the ability to entirely biodegrade at the end of their life. These fabrics include organic cotton, hemp, linen and bamboo.
But when it comes to swimwear, whose sole purpose is to maintain fit and shape when wet, sometimes organic materials just aren’t durable enough. Since sustainability = durability, the best sustainable swimwear is swimwear that lasts. Plus, it’ll save you money in the long run, so it’s a swim swim!
Recycled synthetic fabrics may not have quite as good an end-of-life outcome as compostable fabrics, but using recycled swimwear fabrics is still good for a number of reasons:
- It reduces the need for crude oil harvesting.
- It repurposes non-biodegradable plastic waste, reducing plastic build-up in landfills and oceans.
- It requires 90% less water and 85% less energy and produces 75% fewer CO2 emissions. It’s considered much more favorably on the Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s Material Sustainability Index.
- The process of recycling these fabrics is practically infinite. They can be made from melted plastic, then melted down and remade into new fibers for new swimsuits. This advantage, of course, relies on us as consumers to properly dispose of them. Let’s step up!
What exactly are these recycled polyester and nylon fibers made from?
Recycled plastics, is the obvious answer, but it dives a bit deeper than that. Most ethical swimwear on this list is made from Econyl, produced by the Italian company Aquafil.
Econyl is spun from recovered ocean plastics, primarily abandoned fishing nets, or ghost nets (which would be much cooler if they actually caught ghosts). These nets account for 1/10th of all ocean litter (about 640,000 tons of fishing nets every year). Since a mere one of these tons produces enough nylon fiber to make 10,000 swimsuits, there’s no shortage of material.
Other sustainable swimsuits are made from disposable plastic bottles, natural rubber, and even recycled fibers. The innovations in this fashion field are really inspiring. Using these recycled alternatives means we’re not just reducing demand for more oil but also turning dangerous, indestructible trash into something useful.
You’ll still find some companies on this list use a small blend of virgin Lycra, which is not considered a sustainable fabric but the argument here is for durability. The lycra helps increase the elasticity of swimwear so it maintains its shape and lasts much longer, which helps balance out the unsustainability of Lycra itself.
Are wetsuits and neoprene sustainable?
Neoprene is pretty nasty stuff. The very short answer here is don’t buy it unless you really have to as even the more sustainable options are still not very sustainable! The most common environmental concern cited is that neoprene is made using petrochemicals, obviously something we all want to avoid as much as possible. Per Patagaonia, it was originally used to line landfills so truly the antithesis of a sustanabible material.
So where does this leave us in our search for sustainable alternatives. Here are the traditional neoprene alternatives that are currently hailed as more sustainable, although unfortunately, it looks like the industry still has a long way to go to make meaningful change:
- Japanese Limestone Neoprene: Made by Japan’s Yamamoto Corporation , this material comes up fairly often on this list. Considered more sustainable than traidtional neoprene because it is made from limestone instead of petroleum, is argued to be extremely durable and according to Yamamoto, some of the carbon emissions required to produce this neoprene are offset by their use of hydro power.
However, some (including Patagonia) disagree about the sustainability attributes of Japanese Limestone Neoprene arguing that it is still made from a non-renewable resource and doesn’t differ much from traditional neoprene.
- Natural Rubber: Another option is to use plant-based natural rubber. Currently made by two suppliers: Arizona based, Yulex makes plant-based rubber which they say produces 80% less climate altering CO2 and is FSC certified and Taiwan based Sheico Group has produced a similar material called NaturalPrene. Sheico is Blue Sign certified and some of the brands on this list that use Sheico’s “NatrualPrene” also claim FSC Certification.
So clear as mud then… despite the industry not yet solving this problem fully, these developments are exciting so if you are in the market for a new wetsuit (remembering that not consuming in the first place is the most sustainabile you can be), then consider supporting one of the brands that are working to find more sustainable options.
Certifications for Conscious Sustainable Swimwear
Aside from all those fresh fabric words we learned above, there are a few other sustainable fashion certifications we want to float by you. Each of these certifications represent third-party verification of a company’s claims.
- Oeko-Tex 100: Fabrics and processing methods are free of any harmful chemicals, such as colorants, heavy metals, formaldehyde, and other preservative agents. The fabric also has a skin-safe pH.
- Fairtrade: This ensures fair workplace ethics from all suppliers and factories involved in the supply chain. It prohibits discrimination, harassment, abuse, child and forced labor, and unsafe/unhygienic work environments. It also requires all employees to be paid a living (not just the minimum) wage, receive proper training, and be limited to working a reasonable number of hours.
- B-Corp: The gold standard of ethical business certifications. This yearly audit assesses a company’s operations (both environmentally and socially) across 80 impact areas.
- Bluesign: Focuses on healthy, eco friendly production methods. It accounts for things like water conservation, dye toxicity, and chemical exposure both for workers and customers.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON ETHICAL SUSTAINABLE SWIMWEAR BRANDS
The time to sink or swim is now. As a society we need to take the plunge toward plastic-free oceans.
We hope this guide to ethical and sustainable swimwear brands has been helpful in your search for summertime sustainability. Let us know if it has and how it goes if you try any of these brands.
Remember to use this list as a resource only when you need to upgrade and buy sustainable swimwear. If you have a functional swimsuit already, keep using it until you can’t, then find a way to recycle it properly.
It’s high time we turned the tide. Let’s all channel our inner Dory and just keep swimming toward a cleaner, healthier planet!