Why Did Recycled Swimsuits Become Popular?

Why Did Recycled Swimsuits Become Popular?

Recycled swimsuits are a recent trend that has been gaining popularity. The idea of these suits is to use recycled pieces of material from other garments and repurpose them for swimwear. 

There are many different reasons why people might decide to buy or wear recycled suits nowadays.

Some may want the suit because it's eco-friendly and sustainable; others might just be looking for an inexpensive option that still looks good enough for their taste. 

Plastics in swimsuits? That's right: plastics. For decades, swimsuits have tended toward fabrics made with plastic fibres, such as nylon, polyester and spandex. Swimsuit designers have used these fabrics to create suits that fit snugly, dry quickly and stand up over time to multiple dips in the pool and ocean.

And today's new recycling technologies help create swimsuit fabrics from recycled plastics.

Here's something you may not know: thousands of recycled swimwear options in the fashion sphere.

There are so many. We think there's no reason to buy swimsuits made from virgin plastic ever again.

Swimwear has traditionally been made from synthetic materials like nylon, polyester, and spandex.

But over the last ten years, many recycled fabrics have been developed that use recycled nylon or polyester. As a result, many sustainable swimwear brands have now incorporated these eco-friendly fabrics into their designs.

These recycled swimwear fabrics behave just like traditional fabric, but they help clean up the planet. 

A Brief History of Swimwear

The concept of swimsuits was invented in the mid-1800s. Before that, most people (especially men) usually bathed naked.

But swimsuits became more prevalent around the mid-1800s, as recreational activities became more accessible thanks to the growth of the railroad and other means of transport. People were now able to get to locations like the beach far more easily.

At the time, the main purpose of swimwear was to hide the human body, particularly the female body.

Therefore, early swimsuits for women were far more different than what we consider swimwear now – e.g. a belted dress was worn with stockings and bloomers or pants.

And during this same period in the mid-1800s, men were banned from bathing in the nude, not without some uproar, of course!

Early swim costumes for men were shoulder to one-piece knee bathers, with a small skirt for modesty.

These early swimsuits were made from heavy materials such as flannel, wool, or even hessian (or burlap) for both men and women. The fabrics became heavy when wet and could make it difficult to swim.


As the mosaics found in Villa Romana Del Casale show, women wore headscarf tops and bottoms to participate in sports in ancient Greece and Rome.

Furthermore, with their increasing interest in spas, the Victorians favoured restraint in their incursions in outdoor bathing: the first photos of beachwear showed women in long dresses and shorts to face the ocean waves.

However, the first half of the 20th century saw a rapid reduction in the fabric needed to go to the beach. A journey surrounded by controversy, which included the arrest of Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman in Boston in 1907, when she wore a tighter single-piece bathing suit, even though it covered her from neck to toes.

Several years later, in 1913, stylist Carl Jantzen introduced a two-piece made up of shorts and a tight top, but in the beginning, the industry and society didn't accept it very well.

With the arrival of the 1920s, society started to consider that showing off more skin than usual was less daring.

The 1930s saw the back and sides gaining not only space but serious exposure.

From the beautiful cut-out swimsuits by Claire McCardell to the appearance of stars like Jayne Mansfield, Rita Hayworth and Ava Gardner – not to mention countless pinups and showgirls – in more revealing unique pieces and, increasingly, two pieces, the nature of what was an acceptable suit kept changing continuously.

But, at the time, there was The Hays Code: a set of rules in effect in Hollywood from 1934 that prohibited the display of the belly button in films. That meant that the bottom of the two-piece had to reach to the waist.



It was only after World War II that the belly button would be displayed. In the summer of 1946, two designers innovated in the creation of swimwear. With a very similar intention, Jacques Heim and Louis Réard appeared. The new pieces were provocative for the social imaginary of the time and therefore took a while to be adopted effectively.

The costume was initially banned on many beaches. But little by little, it was incorporated into films, art, and, later, into many people's daily lives around the world. 

In 1962, a bikini stopped the movie industry, and from that moment on, the modern swimsuit became more accepted. Ursula Andress starred in Dr No, one of James Bond's movies.

Andress's white bikini was a huge success and made a mark on history. The lower part of the two-piece features a wide white British Army belt with brass buckles and fittings and a scabbard on the left side to hold a large knife.

Each society has a different type of swimsuit. In Brazil, bikinis are usually a little smaller. In Europe, men have shorter shorts than those in California. There are different formats, colours, styles and types of beachwear to suit different personalities.

It wasn't until 1896 when swimming became an Olympic sport, that design flaws were finally addressed.

More streamlined and lighter swimsuits were developed. Into the early 1900s and beyond, swimwear for both men and women also became more form-fitting and less restrictive, with shorter lengths and sleeves removed. 

And in some cases they even became attractive!

Recycled Swimwear FAQs

What is Swimwear Made From?

As we mentioned above, early swimsuits were made from materials like flannel or wool. Unfortunately, these fabrics would become heavy with water making it difficult to swim. 

Fortunately, as designs started to change during the early to mid-1900s, so too did the fabrics.

New fabrics were designed with properties better for the form-hugging swimsuits being developed – and closer to what we see today.

So fabrics like nylon and latex were used early, and polyester, spandex, and other blended fabrics were introduced a little later.

Let's go over some of the key materials:


Nylon (also referred to as a polyamide) is a plastic polymer where amide bonds link monomers. However, nylon is generally considered a synthetic or human-made polyamide, naturally occurring wool or silk.

Nylon is durable and absorbs moisture but does not retain it, perfect for tight hugging clothes.

It's stretchy, soft, and doesn't crease. As well as clothing, nylon is used in many everyday objects like rope, thread, fishnets, drapes, combs, and of course, stockings and tights.


Polyester is also artificial plastic. It is made by polymerization of ethylene glycol and terephthalic acid. It is the same material as PET or polyethylene terephthalate, the plastic used to make plastic water bottles.

Polyester is durable and moisture-absorbing like nylon, plus it retains its shape, is colourfast, and can resist sweat and UV rays.

Polyester is commonly used in fashion, activewear, and outerwear such as coats and anoraks. It is also used in textiles like soft furnishings or bedding, duvets, and even footwear.


Spandex is another synthetic fibre, a polymer with the base material of polyurethane. It is also referred to as Lycra or elastane.

Spandex can be stretched to 5 to 8 times its size – ideal for swimming and movement. 

Spandex is often blended with other materials to improve its stretch. It is commonly used in activewear, leggings, skinny jeans, or underwear and socks.


Swimwear edges are often given additional support with elastic strips. Elastic is usually made from either rubber or latex but may use spandex. The rubber or latex is woven with polyester, cotton, or nylon to hold it together.

Other fabrics

Other materials are used to make swimsuits, including neoprene, velvet, cotton crochet, other knitted fabrics, and mesh. You can also find swimsuits made using natural fibres like cotton. However, they are often lined with polyester or nylon.

Why Use Recycled Fabrics

As we covered above, most swimsuits or swim trunks are made from plastic. Unfortunately, plastic––as we're sure all of you know––is something we have too much of right now, with too much unable to be recycled. 


Textile waste is challenging for us to address, but it's an area we need to get better at, and here's why:

  • Almost 17 million tons of textiles are generated each year in the United States alone.
  • Only 15% is recycled, which means more than 11 million tons end up in a landfill.

Clothing production is continuing to grow too. The average consumer buys 60% more pieces of garment compared to 15 years ago. Each clothing item is now also kept only half as long.

It's true buying recycled swimwear will not solve all of these issues. But, every small step helps.

For example, using recycled materials in place of raw materials will reduce the amount of plastic waste produced. It also sends a message to the fashion industry that we want to change. 

There's another reason we should support swimwear brands using recycled fabric. Many of these companies are aligned with other sustainable and ethical practices.

They are making an effort to reduce their brands' impact through waterless dyeing, sustainable packaging, reduced carbon footprints, and transparent and ethical manufacturing – and our support helps their effort grow.

Besides, with so many great recycled swimwear options available, why not choose recycled?

Why Is Recycled Swimwear Important?

The reason why sustainability is so important to eco-friendly brands isn't just because it's environmentally friendly but also for the durability of their products.

Recycled synthetics allow eco-friendly brands to use fewer natural resources and make their products more cost-effective while still offering high-quality goods that last through many washes.

For example, a lot more people are now looking towards sustainable swimwear due to its ability to resist dirt buildup and provide comfort all day long.

What Is the Most Sustainable Swimwear Fabric?

Hemp is the fabric of choice for sustainable swimwear. Hemp has a rich history with uses in clothing dating back to 2500 BC, making it one of humanity's oldest surviving materials!

Upcycled fabrics are just that- garments reworked from previously used items like old scarves or sheets into something new and fashionable - perfect if you're looking to save on some cash without sacrificing style points.

Is Nylon or Polyester Better for Swimsuits?

Nylon absorbs more water than polyester, so it dries a little more slowly. However, it's slightly stretchier—making it an excellent option for water sports. When it comes to the look, polyester is more matte, while nylon has a shiny finish. Both polyester and nylon are soft, durable, and easy to clean.

Recycled Swimwear Fabrics

Let's dig a little deeper into recycled swimwear fabrics.

Traditionally, the nylon, polyester, and spandex used to make our swimsuits have been made from virgin resources.

The majority of these fabrics are produced at chemical plants using either coal or petroleum resources.

But nowadays, there are better options. For example, recycled nylon swimwear fabrics like Econyl® or EcoLux TM or fabrics made from recycled plastic bottles (PET) like Repreve®. Here are the top three eco-friendly swimwear fabrics used for swimsuits.


Aquafil's Econyl® is regenerated nylon made from discarded fishing nets, fabric scraps, carpet flooring, and industrial plastic.

First, the waste is sorted and cleaned to save as much of the nylon as possible. Then, the nylon is recycled back into its original form, the same as virgin nylon.

Designers fashion the recycled nylon into new products like swimsuits, and we get to enjoy them. Once they reach their end of life, the cycle can begin again.


Another recycled swimwear fabric is Repreve® by Unifi. This is polyester made from recycled plastic bottles and is often referred to as recycled PET or rPET.

Plastic bottles are made from plastic number 1 or PET, the same plastic used to make polyester. Unifi created reprieve, and so far, they have recycled over 20 billion plastic bottles.

Econyl and Repreve are used regularly to make activewear, and you can learn more with our other blog post: Recycled Leggings! Yoga Challenge Accepted!.


EcoLux was created by Vitamin A, and it is a recycled fabric made from reclaimed nylon fibre waste. EcoLux is a blend of Repreve recycled nylon and Xtra Life Lycra. The Xtra Life Lycra helps the fabric keep its shape longer, hopefully giving the swimwear a longer life. A similar blend is used by the brand Summersalt.

How to Create Recycled Plastics for Swimwear

To enable the recycled swimsuit trends, used plastic beverage bottles are refined into a soft but strong polyester thread woven into fabric.

While this recycling process has become common for wintry fleece, it's also now used for various garments. Or post-consumer nylon is refined into a thread that is then combined with spandex for a softer feel and stretch.

The resulting soft, lightweight fabrics not only look great but also divert plastics from landfills, creating a new use for this valuable material. And because these plastic fabrics are durable, your swimsuit could last summer after summer.

Brands Embracing Recycled Plastics Swimwear Fashion

Beachwear manufacturers have embraced recycled plastics as part of a larger trend toward more sustainable swimwear design.

As a result, swimwear made with recycled plastics is now available at mainstream retailers, so it has never been easier to find a stylish swimsuit that fits you—and your more sustainable lifestyle.

So whether you're a surfer, a competitive swimmer, a beachgoer or simply a backyard sunbather, embrace this ecological swimwear fashion! Swimsuits made with recycled plastics can benefit both your wardrobe and the environment.

Recycling Your Old Swimwear

Most swimsuits, including recycled swimwear, are made with a blended fabric making them more difficult to recycle.

While some new techniques are being developed to help separate the different fibres, we'll have to do our best to make our suits last as long as possible. 

For clothes and textiles not suitable for reuse, including swimsuits, can be recycled (or down-cycled) into other items. For example, they can be turned into rags, shredded into shoddy, or used for padding in car seats.

Below are a few options for how to dispose of your old swimwear:

Swimwear Brands

Contact the company you purchased it from to see if they have a recycling program or recommend other options.

Brands that use Econyl, for example, may take your swimwear back when it's worn out. Likewise, the fabric can be sent back to Aquafil and recycled.  


If your swimwear is in good condition, then try donating it to charity.


Uses Thredup. Customers can send wearable or end-of-life products to them, and they will sort and recycle them appropriately.


Will take back your old garments, including swimwear, in-store.


Patagonia will take back clothing through their Worn Wear program.

Apparel (was Manrags)

Sell socks and recycle socks and have now expanded into a clothing recycling program. They will even pick up clothing from your door. Available in Australia only.


Here's our wrap-up.

  • Almost all swimwear is made out of synthetic materials.
  • But many companies are transitioning to using eco-friendly swimwear fabrics made from recycled nylon or polyester.
  • Not only are they helping rid the world of plastic waste, but they're also creating something useful.
  • There are different types of recycled swimwear fabric available, with some made from recycled polyester and some made from recycled nylon.
  • There are so many different types of recycled swimwear no one should ever need to buy virgin plastic swimwear – find the perfect suit for you.

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