What Is The Most Sustainable Swimwear Fabric?

What Is The Most Sustainable Swimwear Fabric?

Swimwear is a summertime staple, but it can be hard to find the best fabric for your needs. There are so many different fabrics to choose from, and each has its pros and cons. So what do we need, you ask? Not just any old fabric will do! 

The most sustainable swimwear material is recycled plastic bottles or other plastics that would otherwise end up in our oceans. 

This type of fabric offers an eco-friendly alternative that protects our environment and saves money on production costs due to the low cost of materials. Check out this blog post about what type of swimwear is best for you!

What is the most sustainable swimwear fabric? There are many different opinions on what makes a fabric "sustainable", but one of the most important qualities is how it has been made. Sustainable fabrics will often use less water and chemicals during production and be made with fair trade practices. 

Some natural fibres like bamboo or hemp can also be considered sustainable because they require no pesticides to grow and maintain themselves. 

Even if you're not in the market for new swimwear, knowing about these materials can help you make more informed choices when considering clothing in your wardrobe. 

Swimwear is a popular summertime choice for those looking to have fun in the sun. However, with so many swimsuit options available, it can be difficult to know the most sustainable fabric. To help you out, we've compiled some of our favourite eco-friendly fabrics below! 

Swimsuits are a staple in summer, but the logistics of finding a sustainable fabric for your suit might be daunting. Eco-friendly fabrics such as polyester and nylon can last a long time with proper care, but they may not be what you're looking for this year. 

What if we told you that a piece of fabric is less expensive than those options made from marine plastic pollution?  

This type of swimsuit is called an "upcycled" swimsuit because it uses old plastics to create new products! Upcycling creates less waste and will help our oceans by turning ocean trash into something useful.

Swimsuits and bikini tops come in many different materials, but which one is the most sustainable? Unfortunately, it's tough to say. A swimsuit may be made from a technically more sustainable material than another, but it doesn't mean that your suit will last you as long. 

When considering how long your suit will last and if it is worth the investment, you'll want to consider factors like the cost of fabric per unit area or shirt weight per garment area.

We all want to be able to enjoy the water and the sun, but we're also aware of our impact on the environment. For us to continue enjoying these luxuries, we must make smart choices when making purchases. One way you can do so is by choosing a sustainable fabric for your swimwear! 

In this blog post, I will outline what makes each type of fabric more or less sustainable so you can make an informed decision about which material is best suited for you. 

Let's get started!

What Fabric Is Used For Swimwear?

Regular swimwear is often made from synthetic materials like nylon, polyester and Lycra. These fabrics are cheap, drying quickly, have an easy fitting, and make sure the swimwear keeps its shape. 

However, these materials are not biodegradable, and it will take years before they decompose. I've recently come across this report of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which concludes that 35% of microplastics in the ocean comes from synthetic textiles. 

Besides releasing microfibers by washing our clothes, cheap synthetic fibres also emit gasses like N2O, which is 300 times more damaging than CO2. Super gross!

Sustainable Swimwear Fabrics

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 that falls apart after one summer of wear only to end up in a landfill. Luckily, sustainable swimwear brands are appearing at a rapid rate.

Consumers have become increasingly aware of their ecological footprint and are making fashion choices that reflect this. As a result, fast fashion is out, slow sustainable fashion is in.

This is especially true when it comes to eco-friendly swimwear, sustainable bathing suits, and bikinis! 

Years ago, no one would have ever thought of the term "ethical swimwear"…are you kidding? Dreaming about the possibility of clothing being made from regenerated plastic or recycled nylon… Get out of here!

Nowadays, you see them popping up like crazy, ‘sustainable swimwear’ brands. These brands are often putting effort into ethical production but also sustainable materials. 

The most well-known and used material in sustainable swimwear today is Econyl. However, there are innovations and sustainable alternatives available, which you definitely should know about.

Thankfully technology and eco-conscious fashion designers and consumers have changed all that!  

Many different fibres and fabrics are being used to make sustainable swimwear, so what should you be looking out for? Here are some of the most common sustainable swimwear fabrics and some of the brand names they might go by.

Here we've listed a few of the most popular sustainable swimsuit fabrics. But, of course, this is an ever-changing field with new and interesting options being introduced often. 

We'll work on updating this list as new players come along.  In the meantime, here are a few of our favourite eco-friendly swimwear fabrics.

1. Econyl

Let's start with, I think, 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. 

ECONYL is a form of recycled nylon sourced predominantly from fishing lines and carpets. These raw materials are regenerated via a four-step process that makes a final product chemically identical to virgin (fossil fuel-based) nylon. 

The manufacturers estimate that the emissions of producing ECONYL are 90% lower than those of producing virgin nylon. In addition, the fabric produced is endlessly recyclable back into future ECONYL yarn and products, offering the potential for closed-loop production systems. 

You may also find products made from Carvico Vita - this is a fabric produced from ECONYL yarn.

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.

As mentioned before, ECONYL remains a very popular brand of sustainable swimwear fabrics, and for a good reason. This Italian product is created from regenerated nylon collected from landfills and oceans around the world.

Interestingly, the primary nylon products collected that create ECONYL are used clothing, carpets, and nets from fishers! The possibilities are endless!

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

A few brands use Econyl in their sustainable swimwear collections: Woodlike Ocean, Casa Raki and Mara Hoffman.

2. 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.

A brand that uses hemp in their sustainable swimwear collections: Natasha Tonic.

3. 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.

4. Yulex

Do you know neoprene? It looks pretty cool and comfy, especially whilst surfing, but it's not environmentally friendly. So, a few years ago, Yulex came to the market. 

You may have heard of Yulex as an emerging material becoming popular in sustainable wetsuits. This fabric, produced from natural rubber, is biodegradable and a fantastic alternative to petroleum-based rubbers. 

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.

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%. However, a potential challenge for this fabric is deforestation – which is why responsible sourcing from the start is important.

A few brands that use Yulex in their sustainable swimwear collections: Patagonia, Finisterre and Slo Active.

5. 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.

One of the most innovative sustainable swimwear fabrics out there it's Repreve. This unique material is made from recycled plastic bottles and turns them into usable fibres. It is used by some of the largest global brands that create fashion apparel, athletic wear, and swimwear.

Reliable and durable, Repreve is also known for its wicking, adaptive warming, cooling, and water repellency qualities. In addition, Repreve is proud of itself for emitting fewer greenhouse gases during production and conserving less energy and water.

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

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. 

A few brands that use Repreve in their sustainable swimwear collections: Mara Hoffman, Seea and Vitamin A.

6. Amni Soul Eco

A real innovator in 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.

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 five years, whilst other fibres take decades to decompose.

Just as strong as other yarns when worn, this yarn will completely biodegrade within five 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.

A few brands that use Amni Soul Eco in their sustainable swimwear collections: Aurai Swim and Made Trade.

7. 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). 

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. 

The Microfibre Problem And 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. 

We'd argue that 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. 

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. 

By 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. Unfortunately, some brands may claim the "sustainable" label as a trendy, woke buzzword when in actual 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 read full product descriptions. For example, if something claims to be "made of recycled plastic bottles", check the percentage to see if it's still using virgin polyester too.  

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. 

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. 

DON’T buy from halfway around the world just because the product is sustainable. Instead, prioritise sustainable brands closer to home where possible. We've included the locations of our favourite brands below to help you with this.

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. 

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. 

Ethical And Sustainable Swimwear Brand List

1. Woodlike Ocean

  • Style - Econyl, bikinis, one-pieces, surf and yoga
  • Country - Germany

I’ve known Woodlike Ocean for a few years now, and they have grown so much over the years. Speaking from experience, the quality is amazing. They have cute styles that are perfectly fitted and are really comfy. Besides swim, they also have a set which you can use for yoga and surf or a swim.

2. Baiia

  • Style - Econyl, recycled polyester
  • Country - Australia

Amber created Baiia, and they have the loveliest versatile bathing suit you can imagine. The bathing suit can be worn in multiple ways and is available in different colours and designs. 

So actually, you will get more than one bathing suit for this price. So if you're looking for a beautiful bathing suit, I would definitely recommend checking Baiia out.

3. Londre

  • Style - Made from Recycled plastic bottles
  • Country - Canada

Londre was started by two women who wanted to make a change. They wanted to create the most flattering, high-quality swimwear with the lowest possible impact. 

So far, Londre has recycled 90,000 plastic bottles off of the streets and beaches of Taiwan into their sustainable swimwear offering. The styles made from recycled plastic bottles are feminine and cute!

4. Vitamin A Swim

  • Style - EcoLux, EcoRib, EcoTec and BioSCulpt, also extended sizes
  • Country - United States

Vitamin A is a player that has been around for a while; it started in 2000. Amahlia, the designer, used to do a design project with Patagonia founder and environmentalist Yvon Chouinard. 

She is inspired by the '70s beach glamour and the modern muses who collect her designs. She designed the EcoLux fabric made from recycled nylon together with mills in Canada, Italy and California. Such a boss babe.

5. Natasha Tonic

  • Style - Hemp swimwear!
  • Country - United States

Natasha is a designer who wants change. No more microplastics, and that's exactly how we like it too. I love her war on Plastic and polyester, and she shows that we can think further than the conventional.

6. Mara Hoffman

  • Style - Econyl, Amni Soul Eco, designer, also extended sizes
  • Country - United States

Mara Hoffman is a designer label with care for craftsmanship and design. She uses innovative fabrics such as Econyl and Amni Soul Eco. They aim to design and manufacture with greater care, reduce impact, and generate awareness. They also sell a few beautiful styles in extended sizes!

7. Clo Stories

  • Style - Econyl, cute, vintage-inspired
  • Country - Spain

I see this brand popping up more and more on my Instagram. Clo Stories is a sustainable brand from Barcelona. Their designs are contemporary but vintage-inspired, I would say. Some of their swimsuits are reversible as well! So cool.

Tips On How To Take Care Of Swimwear

The most sustainable bikinis and bathing suits are the ones that last for years! To make sure they will stay with you for a long time, you need to take care of swimwear properly, but how do we actually do this? Herewith are my top tips for caring for your swimwear.

1. Hand Wash In Cold Soapy Water

It's best to wash your swimwear right after you've used them, even if you used it just for sunbathing. After that, chlorine is going in for the kill. 

Threads can get weaker, and colours may fade! Also, sunblock and other body's oils can damage your swimwear. Mineral-based lotions and oil formulations are said to be particularly adept at causing yellowing and gradual stains.

Rinse your swimwear in cold water; never use hot water for your swimwear, damaging the fabric. Instead, use a block of mild hand soap or a delicate detergent. Whenever you do want to use the washing machine, make sure to use a Guppyfriend Bag to catch microfibers.

2. Lay Flat Out To Dry, Out Of Direct Sunlight

Although you might love to wring out your swimwear, don’t do it! Instead, roll it tightly in a towel for a few seconds to take out most water. Afterwards, lay it flat to dry – don’t hang the pieces! Also, make sure you do this out of direct sunlight as this can fade out the colour.

3. Switch Them Up

Elastane needs time to recover. It takes time for your swimsuit to get back in shape (just like we need some time to get back in shape). Switching your swimwear on your holidays will definitely help your swimwear to retain its shape.

4. Watch Out For Mold

To avoid moisture building in garments, it is important to keep your dry swimwear in a dry place, with frequent airflow and ventilation. Also, avoid storing your wet swimwear in your towel for a longer period.

5. Don’t Sit On It

Sitting on wood or other rough materials can snag and tear the fabric, which would be a pity. Also, be careful with sand and dirt, as these can be abrasive.

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.

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