Most Sustainable Swimwear Fabric?

Most Sustainable Swimwear Fabric?

With us ocean lovers often seeing first-hand the damage caused by plastic pollution in the ocean, it feels only right that we reduce it. 

Traditional swimwear is usually made of plastic in some form or another, and we’ve all had that terrible bikini which falls apart after one summer of wear only to end up in a landfill. 

Luckily, sustainable swimwear brands are appearing at a rapid rate. However, this leaves us with another problem - how do we choose the right one for scuba diving?

We’ve put together the ultimate guide to choosing sustainable swimwear for scuba divers and ocean lovers - from which fabrics to look out for, how to know whether the brand you choose is truly sustainable or just pulling the eco-friendly wool over your eyes, to sharing our favourite brands for the best eco-friendly bikinis, swimsuits and bodysuits. 

Keep in mind that the most sustainable swimsuit is the one you already own, but if you need to upgrade your scuba swimwear wardrobe read on for some help in making the right choice!

What Fabrics Are Used for Sustainable Swimwear?

Swimwear fabric is something that many people don’t think about, but it can make a huge difference in the environment.

What are some sustainable fabrics for swimsuits? There are so many different options! Let’s take a look at what they are and why they may be better than others. 

Econyl

The most well-known sustainable swimwear fabric, Econyl. For this fabric, waste is collected from landfills and oceans to turn this back into usable fabric.

About 640,000 tonnes of fishing gear end up in our oceans every year, so why not make swimsuits out of it?

It’s a way of getting rid of plastic pollution and repurposing waste. Please note that it’s not just made from fishing nets and recycled clothing.

This fabric is still ‘plastic’, so we need to be very careful about how we treat it.

Just because it is made of recycled materials, which is a big plus, doesn’t mean it’s 100% good.

This fabric can still release microfibers when washed, for instance. Make sure to wash your recycled polyester or Econyl swimsuit by hand. 

This kind of material not only sheds microplastics into the water with each wash, but it’s also a waste of resources.

Thankfully, there are several innovative, sustainable swim fabrics out there.

One of the best eco-friendly materials is ECONYL – it’s regenerated nylon from pre and post-consumer products. 

To make ECONYL, waste like fishing nets, fabric scraps and carpet flooring is used in a regeneration and purification process.

Then, the nylon is processed and turned into new swimwear products.

Amni Soul Eco

Solvay, a Belgian company, created a biodegradable polyamide that allows bacteria to gain access to and digest the waste materials, accelerating the biodegradation process.

Amni Soul Eco is eliminated from the planet in about 5 years, whilst other fibres take decades to decompose.

A real innovator in a sustainable swim, Amni Soul Eco is changing the eco-friendly and ethical swimwear world.

Whereas other fabrics mentioned here are focused on recycling previously used materials, Amni Soul Eco has created a biodegradable yarn product.

Just as strong as other yarns when worn, this yarn will completely biodegrade within 5 years into organic matter.

Now that’s an excellent sustainable swimwear option!

Like other biodegradable products, once it is in the landfill, this fabric breaks down into organic matter (biomass) and biogas; both can then be exploited as new environmental resources and used to cogenerate electricity.  

This fabric is also used by Lenzing, one of the most sustainable fabric manufacturers who created Tencel, to create innovative fabrics.

VITA PL

The next type of fabric to highlight is Vita PL, made by the same people that created ECONYL.

Interestingly, Vita PL is made of 100% recycled polyester from pre & post-consumer materials.

This sustainable swimwear fabric option is perfect for transfer printing and is available in lots of great colours. In addition, Vita PL is ideal for creating swimwear (or even activewear) resistant to things like chlorine and sunscreen lotions.

Repreve

The fibre of Repreve is made from recycled plastic bottles. They created a tracing technology that verifies recycled content claims to guarantee the recycled content in their fabrics.

If you’ve ever purchased something which claims to have been made with recycled bottles, you’re likely already familiar with recycled polyester.

Polyester, which would otherwise be destined for landfill, is cleaned, broken down into small “flakes”, melted into pellets to be later formed into yarn, and eventually woven into fabrics. REPREVE is a common brand of recycled polyester.

The company that makes Repreve, Unifi, is a global textile solutions company that has recycled over 20 billion bottles up to date.  

Hemp

When you think of swimwear made from cotton and hemp, you might think of hippie swimwear. However, this is most definitely not the case anymore.

Hemp is one of the most sustainable natural fabrics.

Hemp grows without pesticides, enriches the soil and clears the air from co2. Next to that, hemp fabric is also anti-microbial, UV resistant and very durable.

This means the fabric doesn’t contain the harsh chemicals some companies use to make synthetic fabrics anti-microbial, UV resistant, and chlorine resistant.

Yulex

You may have heard of Yulex as an emerging material becoming popular in sustainable wetsuits.

Do you know neoprene? It looks pretty cool and comfy, especially whilst surfing, but it’s not environmentally friendly.

A few years ago, Yulex came to the market.

This is an innovative plant-based and sustainable alternative to limestone or petroleum neoprene. It’s soft and supple neoprene-free material that is lightweight and super-stretchy.

The natural rubber is derived from sources that are Forest Stewardship Council® certified by the Rainforest Alliance. While neoprene is made in factories, natural rubber is produced by hevea trees that absorb carbon throughout their lifespan—reducing CO2 emissions by up to 80%. 

A potential challenge for this fabric is deforestation – which is why responsible sourcing from the start is important.

While scuba-specific swimwear designers are not making the most of this yet, we predict this may become more popular as supportive, neoprene-style swimwear trends continue.

Natural Fibres

Arguably the best swimwear decision for the planet would be choosing a natural fibre instead of a man-made recycled one (read on to learn why).

Some swimwear manufacturers are cleverly reinventing cotton and hemp to make them more flexible and appropriate for underwater use. 

However, these natural fabrics may tend to absorb water as well as a sag or lose shape over time, and making them flexible often means combining them with elastane (i.e. plastic).

So when it comes to sustainability, it’s a delicate balance to find something which will be long lasting as well as causing minimal disruption to the environment when it’s produced in the first place. 

How to Care for Recycled Swimwear?

One thing to consider is that all of the recycled fabrics mentioned above will still shed highly polluting microplastics, which makes some people refute the claims that recycled swimwear is good for the environment.

Arguably, it’s the lesser of two evils compared to products made from virgin man-made fabrics, and there are ways to take better care of recycled swimwear to ensure it sheds fewer microplastics.

Bonus - this also helps to ensure it lasts longer, making it more sustainable in the long run. 

Most microfibre pollution occurs when washed items, as the fibres are soaked into water agitated during the washing process.

Unfortunately, many of us are guilty of washing our items way too frequently, so unless swimwear is heavily soiled, it generally doesn’t need a trip in the washing machine after every wear. 

Wash minimally and hand wash where possible; if you must use a machine, wash gently and at a low temperature.

Stick to minimal detergent and avoid using fabric softeners, making fabrics less effective over time.

If you use a washing machine, you can use a guppy bag to contain the microfibres and prevent them from washing into our waterways. 

Keep your swimwear out of bright sunlight as much as possible (when not wearing it, i.e. when drying), and avoid using chemical sunscreens, which can degrade fabrics.

Using these tips, you should get the longest life possible out of your recycled swimwear, and the longer you own it, the more sustainable it becomes!

How to Avoid Greenwashing in Sustainable Swimwear?

A truly sustainable product goes beyond the item itself and spills into the ethics of the company.

Some brands may claim the “sustainable” label as a trendy, woke buzzword when in fact, their eco-credentials leave a lot to be desired. 

This is known as “greenwashing”, and it’s easier than you’d think to fall into the trap.

It does take a little bit of work to tell the good from the bad, but here are some things to look out for to check whether a brand is truly sustainable or just doing a good job of pretending. 

Do’s:

  • DO read full product descriptions. If something claims to be “made of recycled plastic bottles”, check the percentage to see if it’s still using virgin polyester too. 
  • DO check whether the company values the people making their product; look for transparency about their supply and production chain. 
  • DO choose products made using low impact dyes which require less water. 
  • DO check what the product is being shipped in. Look for mentions of compostable/recycled outer packaging and minimal tags. 
  • DO prioritise brands that champion diversity. Not only is sustainability greenwashed, but it’s also whitewashed, and we should be celebrating the brands that represent a diverse range of bodies by including diverse skin colours and bigger bodies and people with disabilities.
  • DO lookout for brands contributing to environmental efforts. Many of the best sustainable brands contribute to clean-ups, conservation, marine research, and action to governments to have a longer-lasting impact on our planet’s wellbeing. 

Dont’s:

  • DON’T buy “sustainable” options from fast-fashion retailers. If they’re producing clothing in bulk, they’re still creating pollution regardless of whether that specific bikini claims to have saved seven plastic bottles from landfills. Likely, the quality won’t upstand the demands of a swimsuit for scuba diving anyway, and chances are they’re exploiting their workers in the production process. 
  • DON’T buy from halfway around the world just because the product is sustainable. Prioritise sustainable brands closer to home where possible. We’ve included the locations of our favourite brands below to help you with this.

These do-s and don’t-s should steer you in the right direction when choosing sustainable brands.

You’ll find that the price tag is generally higher, but you’ll know that you’ve made a better decision for the planet, and these better quality products will last longer, so you’ll need to buy less in the long term. 

The Future of Sustainable Swimwear Fabric

All plastic-derived fabrics such as nylon and polyester shed dangerous microplastics into our oceans.

That’s bad! But don’t lose hope – designers and consumers can make a difference!

The future of sustainable fabrics is unknown, so it’s important to keep our eyes open for new options.

Progress will come from advanced work being done in laboratories around the world, believe it or not.

For example, exciting developments are happening now to create bio-nylon from plant oils. 

When done and ready to be rolled out, this product will be the first 100% sustainable swimwear fabric on the market!

Of course, it’s still a few years away. But when it’s ready, it’ll be a game-changer for the sustainable swimsuit fabrics industry.

FAQs About Sustainable Swimwear Fabric

What Is a Sustainable Bathing Suit?

In bathing suits, synthetic fabrics benefit since they don’t retain as much water and dry a lot faster.

For more sustainable swimsuits, it’s best to look for good quality swimwear made from recycled materials, so no new resources were used to make it.

For example, existing plastic from things like fishing nets and bottles can be repurposed into something usable.

Is Polyester a Sustainable Fabric?

Recycled polyester, also known as rPET, is obtained by melting down existing plastic and re-spinning it into new polyester fibre.

While much attention is given to rPET made from plastic bottles and containers thrown away by consumers, in reality, polyethylene terephthalate can be recycled from post-industrial and post-consumer input materials.

But, to give an example, five soda bottles yield enough fibre for one extra-large T-shirt.

Although recycling plastic sounds like an indisputably good idea, rPET’s celebration is far from being unanimous in the sustainable fashion community.

Polyester generally has a significant negative environmental impact during production, use, and disposal.

However, polyester has often been considered more sustainable from a consumer care standpoint – polyester garments last a long time and require less water, energy and heat for washing.

How Do I Keep Chlorine from Damaging My Swimsuit?

Chlorine from pools and spas can strip those fun colours, break down the elasticity, and not look quite like how you bought it.

Damage happens largely because suits are made of Spandex or other stretchy fabrics — materials that can react badly to hot tub chemicals or the sun’s heat.

In addition, the fabric that makes them cling just right to your body makes them vulnerable to heat and harsh chemicals.

So here are some tips for keeping your favourite swimsuit looking like new:

Pretreat Your Bathing Suit

Before wearing a new swimsuit for the first time, treat it in a water mixture and vinegar to seal in the colours.

Mix 1-2 tablespoons of vinegar with a quart of cool water and let your swimsuit soak in it for 20 to 30 minutes. The cold water will help the vinegar penetrate the fabric, sealing in colour.

Shower Before Swimming

Fabrics absorb and retain the most water when they first get wet. While wearing your swimsuit, shower before getting in the pool or hot tub and make sure your swimsuit is thoroughly wet.

This will ensure that the fabric absorbs fresh water and prevents it from soaking up too much chlorine.

Keep Cool

Hot water is bad for swimwear. Never wash your bathing suit in hot water, and avoid too many dips in the hot tub with a favourite suit.

Hot tub daily? Reserve one suit just for the hot tub and make it your cheapest suit!

Rinse the Bathing Suit in Cold Water

Whether on the beach or at a swimming pool, immediately rinse your suit to remove as much chlorine or salt spray as possible.

Suits need a rinse even after sunbathing as sunblock, and the body’s oils can do damage. 

Gently Wash the Suit by Hand Washing 

Machines agitate all the delicate parts (like the cups, padding, ties, etc.). All this movement can damage a delicate suit, leaving things bunched, stretched, or otherwise ill-fitting.

Wash your suit immediately when you get home. Fill a sink basin with clean, cold water. Warm or hot water opens up the fibres of the fabric, causing it to fade faster. Submerge your swimsuit and add a detergent meant for delicates.

A standard laundry detergent is too harsh. Gently plunge the swimsuit into the water and rub the fabric together.

Thoroughly Rinse the Swimsuit

After draining the water from the sink:

  1. Rinse your bathing suit under the faucet with cold water.
  2. Rinse until the water runs clear, and no detergent residue remains.
  3. If you have a two-piece swimsuit, rinse each piece separately to ensure thorough rinsing.

Even mild detergents can damage the fabric if not thoroughly rinsed.

Let Your Suit Drip-Dry

Do not put your swimsuit in the dryer. Instead, open a window or turn on a fan to speed up drying. If your bathing suit has moulded bra cups that absorb a lot of water, gently squeeze out excess moisture before you hang the suit to dry.

Resist the urge to wring out every last drop of water, however.

Doing so can damage, leaving your suit sagging in all the wrong places.

Hanging a swimsuit (especially by the ties) can stretch it out, too. Instead, lay the suit out on a towel, roll the towel up and squeeze gently, then lay your swimsuit out to dry.

Avoid drying it in the sunshine, which can fade the colour. Always dry the suit out completely before putting it away.

Rotate Suits

Spandex is a “memory fabric,” meaning it needs a full day to snap back to its usual position.

So if you’re on vacation or wearing bathing suits often, it’s essential to have more than one so that each suit has 24 hours to bounce back (not to mention the time to wash and dry it completely).

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