What Is Sustainable Swimwear And Why Does It Matter?

What Is Sustainable Swimwear And Why Does It Matter?

Sustainable swimwear is important because it's made from easy to clean materials and won't pollute the oceans when they're sent out to be recycled. 

You can help by choosing sustainable brands or making your own at home! This article will give you tips on making your own sustainable swimwear, so read on if this interests you.

Sustainable swimwear matters because the materials used to make these clothes are better for the environment. There is a huge demand for sustainable swimwear, and we want people to know why they should buy it and how it can be beneficial to them. Read on if you're curious! 

Sustainable swimwear can be defined as any garment made with fabric that has been created using processes that do not harm the environment. While this term may sound new to many, it is actually something you have probably heard before since this type of material has been around for decades now. 

Many people don't realize how much damage is done to the environment when buying and wearing clothes. For example, making textiles, such as cotton or polyester, uses many water and chemicals that pollute waterways and hurt wildlife. 

Even synthetic fabrics like spandex are made with nylon which takes thousands of years to decompose in landfills. That's why it's important to choose sustainable swimwear whenever possible! 

Luckily there are many great brands out there that create high-quality swimsuits using recycled materials, organic cotton, low impact dyes, etc., so you can feel good about your purchase while also looking cute at the beach!

Sustainable swimwear is a movement that aims to reduce the amount of waste and pollution created in the manufacturing and production of swimsuits. According to The Huffington Post, "About 1.4 million tons of textiles are discarded every year." 

This number excludes all other materials used in clothing. The goal for sustainable swimwear is to reduce the environmental impact and focus on creating high-quality products that are low cost or free from exploitation of humans or animals.  

Sustainable brands work closely with manufacturers to ensure their factories do not use sweatshops, child labour, or animal cruelty practices while still being able to keep costs affordable for consumers. These companies aim not only at minimizing their carbon footprint but also at helping local communities.

Sustainable swimwear is all the rage right now, including those who want to make sure that they protect their skin and save our oceans. Here's what you need to know about sustainable swimwear and why it matters. 

Sustainable swimwear has become a growing trend, and for a good reason. Swimwear is the third most popular clothing item to be purchased in the world, next to socks and underwear, so why not invest in something that will last? 

Sustainable swimwear is made from materials like recycled plastic bottles or organic cotton grown without pesticides that are great for your skin and the environment. Read on to learn more about sustainable swimwear!

Let's get started!

What is sustainable swimwear?

Sustainable swimwear is made using materials that are environmentally friendly and won’t harm sea life.

Sustainable swimwear companies work with suppliers who follow all labour laws and produce clothing in safe working conditions. They also use eco-friendly production methods, like solar or wind power, which cut down on harmful emissions.

Early efforts to create sustainable swimwear used recycled plastic bottles to create fabric, which often results in an unattractive product. Now the most common way is to combine a mixture of bamboo fibre, which is naturally antimicrobial and hypoallergenic, and eco-friendly!

Why is it important to switch?

Swimwear made from unsustainable materials can release thousands of tiny pieces of microplastic into the marine ecosystem every time it is washed, posing a major threat to fish and other animals.

Some studies have shown that one item of clothing could release more than 700,000 microfibers per wash. This plastic doesn't just sit in the ocean; it also enters the food chain and ends up on our plates.

As a result of all this research, many clothing companies have begun to change their manufacturing processes to save the oceans from being polluted by microplastics.

Benefits of sustainable swimwear over traditional polyester and nylon swimwear

Microplastics are everywhere. They're in our oceans and even the air we breathe. There's also good reason to believe that these tiny plastic pieces can end up in your food, too, if you eat seafood frequently enough.

So what can be done?

Switching to sustainable swimwear made from bamboo, which is naturally antimicrobial and hypoallergenic, will help reduce your carbon footprint on this planet. You’ll be able to feel better about yourself knowing you’re doing your part to save our environment by buying one of these items for your next beach trip!

As a bonus, bamboo fabric is very soft against the skin, so wearing it feels great!

Not only does sustainable swimwear help the planet, but also the employees who manufacture them. The materials they use are better for the Earth, but they’re also healthier to work with.

Sustainable swimwear brands do their best to ensure that every worker in their supply chain is treated fairly and with respect. This means no child labour or forced labour.

All this contributes to a better quality of life for workers in the sustainable swimwear industry and anyone who gets to wear these items!

What are the implications for this?

As consumers, we can have a huge impact on the industry by simply purchasing sustainable swimwear instead of regular clothing made from unsustainable fabrics.

When you buy a bikini or bathing suit, look for one that has been made using materials that are environmentally friendly and won’t harm sea life. For example, opt for swimsuits made from recycled polyamide instead of conventional polyester.

By choosing this type of clothing to purchase, you can help create demand for sustainable clothes, which in turn will encourage more companies to produce them.

Where can you find sustainable swimwear?

Luckily, you don’t have to go far to find sustainable swimwear.

A few online shops offer an appreciable range of styles and sizes made from bamboo or recycled plastics, such as Econyl.

Etsy is another great place where you can buy one-of-a-kind pieces handmade by local artisans worldwide, many of whom target the eco-conscious community!

With the increasing popularity of eco-friendly swimsuits, you may already have a shop in your town that offers exactly what you want! You'll be surprised at how many sustainable swimwear brands there really are these days!

Why sustainable swimwear is everywhere now

To kick off Paraiso at Miami Swim Week, showgoers attended the inaugural Upcycle Challenge. Hosted by The Upcycle Project, a program that encourages upcycling by providing fashion schools with discarded textiles and garments, the competition paired specially selected fashion students from Parsons, FIT, Miami International University of Art and Design and Miami Dade College's Miami Fashion Institute to create swimwear pieces made from deadstock fabric donated by Cynthia Rowley, L*Space, Maaji, Vitamin A and Volcom

(Designers from these brands also mentored the students throughout the process.) Finally, the students presented their looks to a panel of industry experts (disclosure: I was one of the judges) for a chance to win the final prize of $5,000, which was granted to FIT's Hannah Myers for her Cynthia Rowley creations.

"If you're a designer, you should really understand where your materials come from, what your supply chain looks like and making sure that the clothes that you're producing are made ethically. That starts a sustainable circle of life," says The Upcycle Project Founder Gabriella Smith. "And sustainability, ultimately, starts with the student through education."

Sustainability was a major talking point throughout Miami Swim Week, across brands, runway shows, activities and even the venues themselves. Colombian swimwear label Maaji, which closed Paraiso with a runway show at Brickell City Centre, debuted its Earth Warriors line, an eco-conscious range made from recycled materials. 

For Vitamin A's Resort 2020 show, a slew of models made their way down the catwalk in "Sustainability is sexy" T-shirts. Cabana, a trade show which moved to the Miami Beach Convention Center this year, highlighted its roster of eco-friendly brands, along with banning single-use plastics, offering reusable water bottles for attendees and providing donation bins for used swimsuits.

Swimwear brands mostly stood out for highlighting their sustainability efforts, which has become increasingly important to today's consumers. And with sales declining by 4% to $5.8 billion in the U.S. over the past 12 months — due in part to the late arrival of summer temperatures — the category needs innovation to drive future growth, says NPD. 

For starters, why not aim for sustainability? While some brands have already started offering eco-friendly garments, this conscientious practice is on the rise.

At New York Fashion Week, climate change was top of mind for Chromat's Becca McCharen-Tran, who's been designing sustainable swimwear for the past five years. 

Her newest collection, titled "Climactic," was mostly inspired by Miami, where she opened a second studio location. "I've never really talked about our own sustainability because we had so many things to deconstruct, and I kinda thought our customer didn't care," 

McCharen-Tran shared in her runway show notes. "But now I see how important it is, and I want to make sustainability a bigger part of our messaging."

We've also seen Madewell launch its first-ever swimwear collection made from recycled plastic in February, followed by Reformation's new sustainable swimwear — also made from recycled plastic waste — in March. 

Nearly four years ago, Mara Hoffman started to implement sustainable practices within her namesake brand. Her first step? Swapping out one of the standard fabrics used in its popular swimwear line for a textile made of 78% recycled polyester.

"[Sustainable swimwear] has been there for quite a while, but it's now becoming the main talking point, a main message and a main selling point," says Chantell Fenton, senior trend forecaster of swim and intimates at WGSN. 

"I think one of the things before the last few years was that people were almost a bit afraid to say what they were doing, whereas now, brands are feeling a bit more confident about really telling that story."

Fenton says that sustainable swimwear has become so prevalent because of the quality and easy accessibility of recycled materials, such as Repreve (a fibre made from recycled materials, including plastic bottles) and Econyl, which is made up of regenerated nylon. 

"They look identical to [synthetic materials]; it's so easy to swap them," she adds. "And I think it's easy to imagine a world, particularly swimwear, where virgin qualities and virgin materials become obsolete."

But beyond using recycled synthetics, what other solutions can swimwear labels apply? "I think the brands that are really winning in this space are almost taking a 360-degree approach, recognizing that the entire journey of the garments can only calculate sustainability, so from fibre going right through to packaging," says Fenton.

Smith suggests that consumers can be environmentally conscious when caring for their swimwear, as well. Guppyfriend washing bags, for example, can help to prevent microplastic pollution that occurs while doing laundry. 

She also advises being more mindful when it comes to shopping for swimwear. "If you buy 17 bathing suits a season, then it's counter-productive," says Smith. "Buy only what you love because if not, then you're going to end up with a whole bunch of bathing suits that you're going to want to throw away. And then that's a whole other story."

Natasha Tonić, who founded her own sustainable, hemp-made swimwear label, would like to see more innovation in natural materials instead of creating more synthetic fabrics. 

"The idea of regenerating waste from the ocean is amazing, but it still goes back into the water stream," she says. "I would like to see more research for ways to improve even better hemp fabric." For her own brand, she's experimented with textiles made from mushrooms as a possible alternative for padding in bathing suit tops.

However, finding a solution for plastic pollution from textiles is pretty complicated, according to Marcus Eriksen, co-founder and research director of the non-profit 5Gyres. "Every human being on the planet is likely wearing some form of synthetic textile clothing," he says. 

"On average, there are three or four to 10 garments per person around the world, so that's around 80 billion pieces of clothing that are all shedding microfibers." With that, he's come up with a system that swimwear brands can implement towards a more sustainable business: waste, wear, weave, and wash.

Companies can apply a circular economy around textiles to manage waste, like offering to take back used swimwear. Encourage heirloom culture by advising customers to purchase and wear quality swimsuits — and most likely expensive — that will last much longer than one summer. 

"I think bringing that back into society is going to help get us away from this single-use, make it to break it, canned obsolescence, a very wasteful economy that we have on materials," says Eriksen. 

When it comes to weaving, brands can think about how recyclable every detail of a swim garment really is, from the label to stitching. "Maybe a swimwear company can sign on a buyer to take the bulk waste and other remnants from them — all the excess — and re-spin that into a reusable fibre," he adds.

Similarly to Smith's suggestions of Guppyfriend bags, laundering garments can impact the planet, so hand or front-load washing pieces are more friendly to the environment. (Heat from drying your swimwear can damage the elastic, too, which can potentially cause microfiber pollution in the future.)

"There is no more room for waste in the world. We have to shift back to a circular economy. We were in a circular economy when all materials were natural materials — they were made of metal, would rust, biodegrade and go away," says Eeiksen. 

"Then we began making technical materials with no plan for their life cycle. Now we're waking up to that, and consumers are demanding that we don't make things that make trash and that trash the planet."

If You’re Shopping For a New Swimsuit, Try a Recycled One

Spandex is a petroleum-based material that also releases microplastics into the water supply. So when shopping for sustainable swimwear, what’s best?

In the first half of the year, before the spectre of the delta variant arose, consumers were in a liberated mood. 

Along with airline tickets and high heels, swimsuits became must-haves for shoppers eager to escape quarantine. Globally, consumers spent $2.7 billion on swimwear in the first half of 2021 — a 19% jump from the same period in 2019, according to industry analysts at NPD Group.

For decades now, most swimsuits have been made with Spandex, which was invented by materials scientists at DuPont in 1959 as a lighter, more breathable alternative to rubber. 

The petroleum-based material quickly became standard in the apparel industry, and in 1972, Speedo became the first company to sell Spandex swimwear. According to Allied Market Research, as of 2017, polyester and Spandex make up about 65% of the fabrics used in the swimwear market.

As new bikinis, one-pieces, and briefs rotate into people’s wardrobes, the worn-out ones typically wind up in landfills. “Spandex is a very difficult material to recycle,” says Shannon Bergstrom, sustainability brand manager at Recycle Track Systems

The synthetic fibres are too short for mechanical processes to sort, and no effective chemical methods yet exist to recover the used material. Of course, consumers can always donate or resell used suits, but there's no guarantee anyone will buy them, even if they're new with tags. "I'm hopeful that companies will pick up the bill to create solutions," Bergstrom adds.

Some are trying. The Lycra Company's EcoMade line includes fibres drawn from pre-consumer Spandex scraps and blends of recycled polyethylene terephthalate, a common plastic. 

Speedo sells souped-up performance suits in chlorine-resistant Spandex and Lycra's Xtra Life fibre, which promises to last longer than conventional fibres, thereby creating less waste. 

Perhaps the most popular among boutique and fashion-oriented swimwear lines is Econyl, made by the decades-old Aquafil, which recovers fishing nets from oceans and industrial carpets from landfills to spin into yarn.

"Swimwear is our biggest challenge," says Dana Davis, head of sustainability at the eco-conscious brand Mara Hoffman. The company designs its suits with Econyl and Repreve, a performance fibre made from recycled materials such as plastic bottles. It will soon work with another recycled nylon called Q-Nova. 

“We’re not taking virgin fossil fuels,” Davis says, “but let’s be honest, this isn’t the end all be all. There’s no way to take a swimsuit and recycle it into another swimsuit.” Plus, Davis points out, these recycled plastic suits release microplastics into the water supply just like brand new Spandex.

The brands using Econyl and Repreve hope those products’ parent companies figure out how the materials can be further reused, and soon. 

“We’re emailing them quite often to find out when we can recycle these materials,” says Abigail Lorick, creative director at sustainable swimwear line Ansea. “Our big goal for 2021 is to figure out how we can start taking back end-of-life swimwear.”

6 Sustainable Swimwear Picks from Our Team

1. Patagonia Reversible One-Piece Swimsuit

I love my Patagonia one-piece swimsuit. The colour is a beautiful blue, and the fit is super flattering. It's also two-sided, so you essentially get two swimsuits for the price of one. 

The fit is perfect for active swimming and surfing, just as the website promises. Also, a very important point for me: The swimsuit is Fair Trade Certified sewn.

2. Wolven Santorini Swimsuit

The texture of a Wolven swimsuit has no comparison. It’s made up of 84% RPET and 16% spandex derived from recycled water bottles, yet it doesn’t have the same slick feeling one might expect. 

The bonus of this softer material is that many of their swim tops feel comfortable enough to wear as a workout bra or undershirt. If you're in between sizes, I would recommend sizing up for your perfect fit. However, their tighter fits make for a great support.

3. prAna Vivienne Bikini

I’m a sucker for bikini tops that tie in the front. They’re always so flattering! This one is especially great because it has a secure back and adjustable straps to keep everything in place. I also like that the bottoms aren’t cheeky. 

prAna swimsuits - They provide a lot more coverage than other options and have side ties, so you can perfectly fit them into your body. Another pro: The sustainable swimsuit was made from recycled materials in a Fair Trade Certified factory.

4. Ansea Reversible Sporty Bikini

I got Ansea's Reversible Sporty Top and Reversible High-Wasted Bottom. I love the colours and fit. Since both pieces are reversible, you get four swimsuits in one! 

Both pieces are made in New York from Econyl regenerated nylon, a fabric made entirely from the ocean and landfill waste (such as industrial plastic and fabric scraps). How cool is that?

5. SEPTEMBER Eden Swimsuit

September Swimsuit - This might be one of the cutest swimsuits I’ve ever owned. I don’t always love the way high-waisted bottoms look on me (I don’t have a long torso!), but this one is super flattering with its belt that ties into a bow in the back. I also love the square neck top. 

The material is amazing, too. It's really comfortable; it's a soft, luxury Italian recycled fabric that comes complete with SPF 50. I'll be wearing it all summer long!

6. prAna Ruby Sands Swimsuit

This swimsuit came in plastic-free packaging, which was great. And the material is sturdy; it doesn't seem like it will fade or stretch out after a few swims. I also love that it ties in the back instead of having a latch, making it feel super secure.


Sustainable swimwear is an eco-friendly alternative to traditional swimwear. It can be just as stylish but doesn't harm the environment in the process of its production.

Switching to sustainable swimwear made from bamboo or recycled plastics such as Econyl will help reduce your carbon footprint on this planet. 

In addition, you'll be able to feel better about yourself knowing you're doing your part to save our environment by buying one of these items for your next beach trip!

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