Summer is usually a simpler time for ethical fashion. As we indulge in long-awaited sunshine and shed our layers, there is no wool, fur, leather, or down in sight, making wardrobe choices simpler and more streamlined. After all, bikinis are always vegan, right? But – not to put a cloud in your bright-blue summer sky, there is a dark side to swimwear. Read our new article by Sascha Camilli to find out more, and how you can choose a more sustainable option.
What's wrong with traditional swimwear?
Traditional swimear is made from petroleum-based synthetics, such as nylon, which derives from oil – a declining natural resource. Both extracting the raw material and transforming it into the figure-hugging fabric we all know so well can put a heavy strain on the environment and cause high levels of pollution. These fibres will also take many years to biodegrade once discarded, continuing to leach harmful substances into ecosystems for a long time.
Another problematic aspect of materials frequently used in swimsuits is the fact that, when washed, synthetics shed small particles called micro-plastics, which end up in waterways, polluting ecosystems and putting marine life in danger. To combat this problem, washbags such as GuppyFriend can be used that capture some of the particles. This won't get rid of the problem entirely, but can help minimise it.
Can swimwear be sustainable?
Creating swimwear that is truly sustainable is no easy feat. The main focus of companies dipping their toes in the waters of eco-friendly design is to eliminate the wasteful and toxic production cycle of constantly creating new petroleum-derived materials by using what is already in circulation – and perhaps comes from wasteful industries, harming ecosystems. One such example is ECONYL, a regenerated nylon material from Italy, made entirely from pre- and post-industrial waste. One of the main components of ECONYL is fishing gear. The fabric incorporates ghost fishing nets lost or discarded in the oceans – highlighting once again how harmful fishing is to our oceans – and is a creative way to reuse waste to make new products, in this case sustainable swimwear.
How is ECONYL sustainable?
ECONYL is a solution, albeit partial, to a problem that plays a large role in the ocean-plastic crisis: in a time where ocean pollution is gaining more awareness, dumped fishing gear is a major issue. Over 640,000 tonnes of industrial fishing equipment is left in the ocean every year, the equivalent of 55,000 double-decker buses. Making sustainable swimwear from some of those nets may not solve the problem entirely – but it is a step in the right direction.
There are further advantages to ECONYL in addition to the regenerative aspect. “As well as being a solution on waste, ECONYL regenerated nylon is also better when it comes to climate change,” says Aquafil, the company that introduced ECONYL in 2011, on its website. "It reduces the global warming impact of nylon by up to 90% compared with the material from oil."
Which brands use ECONYL?
Stylish fashion brands creating sustainable swimwear using ECONYL include Sundar Swim, a UK company producing locally made swimsuits in Bali. Founder Tanya Netherway says: “We researched many material options and concluded that ECONYL yarn was the most aligned and suitable for the quality of sustainable swimwear we wanted to produce. The quality allowed for our swimwear to be reversible, with added UV protection. ECONYL is a wonderful material – it is able to be recycled and repurposed, avoiding any waste going into landfill.”
While prioritising sustainability, ECONYL also has the advantage of being a flattering material. Erika Togashi, founder of eco-friendly swimwear brand SEPTEMBER, says about the material: “As a result of using this premium recycled nylon for both layers of our sustainable swimwear, when you put on one of our swimsuits, it feels like a second skin. It sculpts, supports and smooths in all the right areas, giving you confidence in and out of the water.”
Like many other areas of eco-friendly fashion, sustainable swimwear is definitely a work in progress. But with the power of regeneration and innovation, many companies are making a splash (pun very much intended) to save and protect oceans while creating swimsuits that make a style statement.
By Sascha Camilli
Sascha Camilli is the founder of the world's first digital vegan fashion magazine, Vilda Magazine and the host of fashion podcast Catwalk Rebel. She was selected as one of Glamour UK's Most Empowering Nu-Gen Activists and is a frequent public speaker on the topic of vegan fashion and material innovation. Her book Vegan Style is out now on Murdoch Books. For more about Sascha, read our interview with her.
Cover image by SEPTEMBER
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