What to Know When Choosing a Sustainable Swimwear?

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We're sure you've heard a lot about sustainable fashion lately. Just like any other trend, sustainability is getting popular in the swimwear industry too.

It's not only great for the environment but also for your wallet!

So if you're looking to purchase a new bikini this season and want to do it in a more environmentally friendly way, read on to learn how! 

First things first: what is sustainable fashion? Sustainable fashion isn't just clothing that comes from organic or recycled materials; it can be made with less water or energy.

Some people might think that items marked as "organic" are automatically sustainably made, but that's not always true! With so many different ways, manufacturers can create something sustainable, particularly sustainable swimwear.

What Does Sustainable Mean?

When it comes to sustainable swimwear (and clothing in general), companies usually mean that the material they use is of sustainable origin.

This could mean that it's made with natural materials (think cotton, silk and wool), sustainably sourced, and recycled materials are being used.

Most swimwear is made out of synthetic material because it needs to be stretchy and moisture-wicking. This makes using exclusively natural materials quite tricky.

Although it might look fabulous, we don't think a silk swimsuit would be comfortable or functional.

That is why sustainable swimwear relies heavily on the use of recycled materials for its fabrication. Fabrics like Econyl, made out of recycled nylon or Repreve, which is made with recycled plastic bottles. 

These companies take material that would otherwise end up in a landfill or floating around in the ocean and transform it into a new fabric used to create your new favourite sustainable bikini.

While it's not a perfect solution by any means, it's a fantastic way of reusing and repurposing already existing material.

Recycled Swimwear FAQs

What Is the Problem With Microplastics?

The reason why it's not perfect is microplastics. Even though using recycled materials is great, that doesn't change that these materials are ultimately made out of plastic.

For example, no matter what it's made of, clothing sheds fibres when used and washed. These fibres are microscopic, invisible to the human eye. So when the clothing is made out of synthetic materials, it will shed these tiny pieces of plastic even if it's recycled.

Unfortunately, these pieces, known as microplastics, pose a great threat to the environment. They end up in our water, ocean, and food, leaching toxic chemicals like BPA and phthalates, also known as endocrine disruptors

We know this sounds super scary, and you might be thinking, "Then...why to use these materials at all?" We hear you, but the alternative is to use virgin plastic, which does the same thing.

At least by using recycled material, we are lessening the stress of having to extract more resources from the Earth to create new plastic. It is the lesser of two evils. 

How to Reduce Microfibre Shedding from Swimwear?

The keys to reducing the effect of microfibre shedding from your swimsuit are:

  • Wash less often
  • Spot wash (wash only the part of the garment that is dirty or stained)
  • Hand wash instead of machine wash (the gyration of the washing machine increases shedding). If you decide to machine wash, make sure it's a full load -- this will make the items gyrate less during the cycle.
  • Soak instead of agitating, twisting or wringing the garment.
  • Use a Guppy Bag or Cora Ball to catch the microfibres and discard them appropriately.

Which Fabrics Make up Sustainable Swimwear?

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.

ECONYL

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. 

Recycled Polyester

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. 

Yulex

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.

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Natural Fibres

Arguably the best swimwear decision for the planet would be choosing a natural fibre instead of a recycled artificial 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. 

What Makes a Bathing Suit Sustainable?

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 Swimwear Bad for the Environment?

For one thing, the suits are not biodegradable. They also shed tiny pieces of plastic called microfibers when you wash them.

These particles end up in the ocean, where they're swallowed by sea animals, before ending up in our food chain. 

Common Sustainability Problems in Swimwear

For those of us who live in the sun year-round, perhaps we can get carried away (myself included), filling our drawers with the newest statement trend or print. But, aside from succumbing to a fast fashion cycle, swimwear also presents another problem for sustainability: plastic.

Synthetic fabrics—like nylon, polyester, and spandex—are perfectly suited for swimwear because they wick moisture and stretch across the body, reducing friction in the water.

They are also versatile and inexpensive to make, so the fashion industry relies on them heavily: not just for swimwear but also activewear, outerwear, and other cheap fast fashion garments.

This is a major problem because plastic is not biodegradable, meaning it never decomposes, which is an issue from the production phase through to the release of microfibres when washing, all the way to dispose of the garment at the end of its life.

Luckily the best way to look after your swimwear—gentle hand washing—is the best way to reduce microfibre releases, too. It also makes the most sense since swimwear is most often worn for a very short period and should rarely require a machine wash!

Eco-Friendly Bikini Materials

Thankfully, there are alternatives to these polluting plastics most swimwear is made from.

Eco-friendly materials such as ECONYL, created by Italian firm Aquafil, use synthetic waste like industrial plastic, waste fabric, and fishing nets from oceans, then recycle and regenerate them into a new nylon yarn that is the same quality as virgin nylon.

Even better, other swimwear brands are meeting this need, innovating in their capacity and creating their luxe materials from recycled nylon fibres or other natural alternatives.

Addressing Microplastics Pollution in the Fashion Industry

An obvious solution is to minimise the use of synthetic fibres. As far as swimwear is concerned, however, natural fibres won't cut it.

Cotton and wool are neither appropriate for in-water use nor durable enough to stand up to the many stressors of the environment.

Similar obstacles exist for activewear and sports clothing.

Some brands recognise these challenges and opt for a compromise. For example, making clothes out of natural fibres or even reusing synthetic fibres like recycled nylon and reinforcing them with pure synthetics can increase the longevity of a piece while reducing its impact.

After all, making pseudo-disposable clothes out of solely natural fibres is just kicking the pollution can down the road.

But, of course, there's a tradeoff between making clothes out of synthetic fibres and keeping clothes out of landfills.

The news isn't all bad. Sustainability is becoming trendy, believe it or not, and the fashion industry is certainly not above capitalising on trends.

Customers are increasingly gravitating toward brands that display their eco-friendly initiatives.

Many brands are offering to repair their clothing for free and reaping the brand affinity that can follow.

Some fashion companies have even committed to full-circularity, a huge step in the right direction.

In the end, if apparel giants are making the switch to a circular clothing system, then even smaller brands will find the necessary infrastructure already in place, smoothing the transition to a more sustainable fashion industry.

And when labels like Reformation step into the fray and point out room for improvement, it certainly raises the bar. 

Tips on Finding a Truly Sustainable Swimwear Brand

As you probably know, plastic is not biodegradable, and in reality, there is no need to extract virgin plastic to make new swimsuits. There is plenty of it around already.   

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This is where sustainable swimwear brands come in. 

Do They Use Sustainable Fabric?

The innovation happening in this area is incredible, with new fabrics and solutions being created every year.

So let's look at some of the fabrics you should look out for when purchasing your sustainable swimsuit.

Understand the Difference Between Ethical Vs. Sustainable

Knowing where the material of your swimsuit comes from is important. But so is how it was made. It would make little sense to talk about a "sustainable" swimsuit if made under poor conditions in a sweatshop exploiting workers.

Unfortunately, the word "sustainable" doesn't necessarily take these things into account.

This means that a brand could market its swimsuit as "sustainable" without guarantee acceptable conditions during the fabrication process. This is where the word ethical can be useful.

When buying sustainable swimwear, you want to know: Who made it? Under what conditions? With what material? Where in the world? These things will let you know if the brand in question is actually conscious and not just practising greenwashing to get your business.

Greenwashing: How to Spot It

The definition of greenwashing is the disinformation purposely disseminated by an organisation or company to present an environmentally responsible public image.

This happens when a company spends more time and money appearing sustainable to the public rather than being sustainable. 

Greenwashing can look very different depending on the brand, but here are a few things to look out for when you're scrolling: 

  • Buzzwords like "eco", "green", "sustainable", "conscious", "natural" with little or no information to back it up. 
  • Packaging with neutral or earthy colour palettes.
  • Using the colour green in their packaging/messaging.
  • Not being clear on where materials come from.
  • Information on the product isn't easy to find.
  • Campaigns asking consumers to "recycle and repurpose" their products instead of taking responsibility for the waste they are creating. 

All in all, when greenwashing is present, it seems like it's more of a way of making the consumer feel better when purchasing having any positive environmental impact.  

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 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. 

Look for Transparency

The true key to finding a sustainable swimwear brand is transparency. Let's be honest here; doing things right as a brand takes a lot of effort.

It's hard work to find sustainably sourced materials, produce ethically and make a profit.

And, of course, no one is perfect. You are never going to find a company that does everything to the tee.

But, when you have trouble finding this kind of information about a brand, be suspicious.

Because a brand that is truly trying their hardest and has your best interest, their employees and the planet's at heart, is going to make that information very easy to find. 

Conclusion

Finding an awesome swimsuit can be hard enough. Don't get stressed out when trying to find sustainable and ethical options.

Do a little bit of research on the brands you find, and remember that transparency is key. No matter what you do, get ready for a Sustainable Girl Summer!

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