Many brands are now using regenerated nylon, reducing the need for new petroleum-based fibres.
This story was published on Thrive
While recycled fibres are the current sustainable standard for swimwear, natural fibres are an even better option, writes Fiona Ralph.
I’ve worn my fair share of vintage togs, including a particularly memorable set with a cone-shaped bikini top, found at a retirement home garage sale. The lovely man I purchased it from had bought it for his wife in London in the 1950s and she had never worn it, so the tags were still attached.
Not all the secondhand swimsuits I’ve owned have been so pristine – and I know not everyone wants to wear previously worn swimwear – so it’s good to know that some companies are producing more sustainable options.
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Many brands are now using regenerated nylon, reducing the need for new petroleum-based fibres. The Italian-produced Econyl, made with 100 percent post-consumer waste such as fishing nets and carpet, is one of the most widely used recycled fabrics in the swimwear industry. Repreve is another option, made from recycled plastic bottles.
A number of ethically produced New Zealand brands use regenerated nylon in their swimsuits, including Seer & Wilde (made in Bali), Aurai Swim (made in designer Natalia Bertolo’s Brazilian hometown), Nisa (made in Wellington by women with refugee and migrant backgrounds), new brand Waihetian (designed on Waiheke and made in Indonesia), Ruby (made in Auckland), Salty Swimwear (made in Australia) and Euphoric (made-to-order in the Wairarapa and offering a more inclusive size range, up to size 20).
New ways with naturals
While diverting plastic waste from oceans and landfill – and reducing the need for virgin nylon – is an important step, recycled nylon is still plastic, and will still release microfibres during swimming and laundering. These small pieces of plastic never biodegrade and are consumed by fish (and, in turn, us).
There are also not many recycling options once swimwear reaches the end of its life cycle, although some brands are initiating recycle and repair options.
London-based social enterprise SLO Active is one brand offering consumers the chance to repair and recycle swimsuits, while supporting conservation charities and educating consumers on plastic pollution.
Its line of swimwear and surfwear was launched last year by New Zealand designer Janaya Wilkins, with items made in Italy from Yulex Pure, a plant-based alternative to petroleum and limestone-based neoprene. Yulex Pure is made with natural rubber from trees that are Forest Stewardship Council-certified, and was co-developed by sustainable outdoor clothing brand Patagonia.
Another designer using natural fabric in innovative ways is Los Angeles-based Natasha Tonić, who makes swimwear from a blend of Fair Wear Foundation hemp, organic cotton and a small amount of Lycra.
Crochet is also a good option. Bali-based Akoia Swim sells handmade organic-cotton crochet bikinis and one-pieces, coloured with plant dyes.
You can also support small makers of cotton or crochet swimsuits on sites such as these Akoia Swim crochet shorts and top, $260, or make your own. Some vintage bikinis and swimsuits are made from cotton too – search in op shops, vintage stores and on eBay. Dianne Ludwig, another vintage swimwear fan, also sells secondhand togs on her Instagram shop, @welcomeback_slowfashion.
Natural fibres appear to be the solution to the plastic problem (although many swimsuits made from natural fabrics have small synthetic components) but because it is fast drying and stretchy, nylon is here to stay for now, so look for regenerated fabrics when possible.
Make it last
The effects of the sun, sunscreen and chlorine can make your togs wear out quickly. Look after them by gently hand washing in cool water and letting them air dry in the shade.
Use a Guppyfriend washing bag (available from shops including Ruby and Kathmandu) if washing synthetic togs in a machine, to help prevent microfibres from entering waterways.