Whether you’re an all-conditions pool dweller or are simply in it for the summer dips, you’ll likely have come across a torrent of swimwear brands shouting about their sustainable credentials. And if recent reports of a consumer shift away from so-called fast fashion toward less throwaway styles (in much the same vein as the rise of reusable coffee cups and biodegradable packaging), the changing tide of swimwear seems to be coming at just the right moment. That being said, you’d be forgiven for exercising caution before adding any old board shorts or bikini to cart with an environmentally friendly tagline in its product description.
The majority of labels producing sustainable swimwear sing the praises of one fabric in particular – Econyl. The regenerated nylon fibre is made entirely from recycled plastic polymers such as fishing nets, rigid textiles and even carpets. The material comes from leading Italian nylon manufacturer Aquafil Global, whose chairman rightly stated ahead of its 2011 launch that “Either you become sustainable, or you will have to exit the business.”
In its commitment to recycled materials, Econyl is also responsible for helping to clean up our oceans and protect sea life from entanglement in fishing wastage, which accounts for 10% of ocean junk. Recently, the eco-conscious yarn has been used in the production of underwear, too, and was even the subject of furniture designs for the RO Plastic Prize at this year’s Milan Design Week.
But there are, of course, other important factors in the quest to make truly sustainable swimwear, including the use of non-toxic dye ingredients and manufacture in environmentally-compliant factories. And while mass-market eco-friendly swimsuits are still lurking in the shallow end of production, waves are being made by a choice few brands – the most notable of which, we’ve listed below.
Made from 99% of its own signature Amni Eco Soul fabric, BOLD Swim is committed to sustainability across every point of its supply chain, including fair wages and eco-friendly practices throughout. Along with swimwear produced using recycled water, any production waste from its biodegradable fabrics is donated to local artisans who reuse for textiles. At the end of the supply chain, it uses minimal and 100% recyclable packaging.
All of Fisch’s swimwear is made from Italian Econyl woven in Lombardy, located in close proximity to the factory they then produce it in to minimise their carbon footprint. What’s more, Fisch is dedicated to supporting Healthy Seas – a team of skilled divers dedicated to cleaning up our oceans from both plastic and ghost fishing nets – donating 10% of global profits to the initiative every year.
Patagonia started life as a climbing equipment brand but has since become an industry pin-up for ethics and eco-consciousness. Since 1986, it has donated 10% of its profits to grassroots movements, and it was the first brand to officially join the network of bluesign system partners to ensure all chemicals, processes and materials are safe for the environment, workers and customers.
Few brands love the sea quite as much as British surf brand and fellow B Corporation Finisterre, so it’s no surprise that the label was an early adopter of Econyl yarns for its swimwear. Varying percentages of Econyl are used in conjunction with organic cotton and other post-consumer recycled materials on board and bikini shorts, plus rash tops and leggings primed for cold water pursuits.
The Hladky brothers who founded Everest Isles saw firsthand the impact of ocean pollution and sought to create a brand that always kept this front of mind. Even the brand name is derived from the threat that climate change brings to the Himalayas. Their latest designs are made from bluesign system textiles and 100% Econyl yarn.
Premium Swedish men’s underwear brand CDLP delivered its first foray into swimwear last season, collaborating with an Italian institution – Grand Hotel Tremezzo. Not only are the three shorts styles designed in a colour palette inspired by the picturesque Como lakeside, the swim briefs, trunks and shorts are all made with Italian-sourced Econyl and handmade in a family-run fábrica in Portugal.
Laguna Beach-based Vitamin A opts for EcoLux over Econyl – a fine, matte jersey swim fabric locally produced in California. In blending the recycled nylon fibre with a lycra material known for its longevity, it extends the life of a swimsuit far beyond throwaway fast-fashion labels. What’s more, its prints are often created using a waterless digital technology at factories which prioritise conserving both water and electricity.
A pioneer in high street adoption of Econyl for its swimwear, Arket is championing the material across much of their men’s and women’s lines this year. Those seeking to be truly eco-conscious in their purchases are right to be wary of its wider commitment to sustainability, but the widespread adoption of the material in their latest designs is a step in the right direction for larger enterprises such as this.
For a deeper dive into the fashion industry’s efforts to incorporate sustainable practices into production, check out The Guardian’s article here.