5 Tips On Finding a Truly Sustainable Swimwear Brand
Summer is so close, we can practically smell the sunscreen (reef-friendly of course 😉). But before you reach for your favorite bikini, let’s break down why it might be time for you to swap it out for a more sustainable version.
Wait so what is the problem with your regular swimsuit?
Well, it comes down to one simple thing: plastics. Swimwear is made out of synthetic fabrics like nylon or polyester – in other words, plastic. As you probably know plastic is not biodegradable, and in reality, there is really no need to extract virgin plastic to make new swimsuits. There is plenty of it around already.
This is where sustainable swimwear brands come in.
But what does sustainable swimwear even mean? Let’s break it down. When shopping around you’ll find the words “sustainable”, “ethical” and “recycled” being used as synonyms. However, they don’t necessarily mean the same thing and we’re here to clear it up.
What Does Sustainable Really Mean?
When it comes to sustainable swimwear (and clothing in general), what companies usually mean is that the material that they use is of sustainable origin. This could mean that it’s made with natural materials (think cotton, silk and wool), that they are sustainably sourced and/or recycled materials are being used.
The reason most swimwear is made out of synthetic material is that 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 that 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, which is made out of recycled nylon or Repreve, which is made with recycled plastic bottles.
These companies take material that would otherwise end up in landfill or floating around in the ocean and transform it into a new fabric, which is 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.
1. Microplastics: What is the Problem?
The reason why it’s not totally perfect is microplastics. Even though using recycled materials is great, that doesn’t change the fact that these materials are ultimately made out of plastic. Clothing, no matter what it’s made of, sheds fibres when being used and washed. These fibres are microscopic, invisible to the human eye. When the clothing is made out of synthetic materials, even if it’s recycled, it will shed these tiny pieces of plastic. These pieces, known as microplastics, pose a great threat to the environment. They end up in our water, in the ocean and in our 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 use these materials at all?” We hear you, but the alternative is to use virgin plastic, which does the exact 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 really is the lesser of two evils. 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 do 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 appropriately.
2. Do They Use Sustainable Fabric?
The innovation happening in this area is absolutely incredible, with new fabrics and solutions being created every year. So let’s look at some of the fabrics that you should look out for when purchasing your sustainable swimsuit
ECONYL® transforms nylon waste rescued from the ocean and landfills. The quality of the fabric is exactly the same as brand new nylon and it can be continuously remade and recycled.
For every 10,00 tons of ECONYL® raw material, they are able to save 70,000 barrels of crude oil and avoid 65,100 tonnes of CO2 eq. emissions.
Now in Rio swim is actually made from Renew Cult Fabric, a sustainable fabric made of a ECONYL®. We choose this particular fabric because it is high performance, compact, non see-through, and super elastic, it ensures a perfect fit under any circumstances and follows the body every move.
REPREVE® transforms recycled bottles into a fiber and is used by the world's leading brands to make swimwear (among other fashion apparel). So far, they’ve managed to recycle more than 20 billion plastic post-consumer bottles.
Compared to making what's called virgin fiber, making REPREVE offsets using new petroleum, emitting fewer greenhouse gases and conserving water and energy in the process.
Natural polyester is not environmentally friendly - it uses a large amount of water, chemical and fossil fuels. However, recycled polyester is a different story.
Polyester which would otherwise be destined for landfill is cleaned, broken down into small “flakes”, melted into pellets to later be formed into yarn, and eventually woven into fabrics.
As wetsuit brands become more aware of their impact on the environment, limestone neoprene has rapidly gained popularity. Different companies use different names for their more environmentally friendly neoprene. Some brands use Japanese Yamamoto neoprene or Geoprene in their high-end wetsuit models. Bioprene is a different version of limestone neoprene, made from seashells.
And finally, Yulex uses natural rubber as the main ingredient. It is now possible to produce eco-friendly wetsuits with a Fairtrade classification. One eco-friendly neoprene wetsuit company that is particularly loving is Srface.
3. 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 makes little sense to talk about a “sustainable” swimsuit if it was made under poor conditions in a sweatshop exploiting workers, right? The word “sustainable” doesn’t necessarily take these things into account. This means that a brand could market their swimsuit as “sustainable” without guarantee of 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 a conscious brand and not just practicing greenwashing to get your business.
4. Greenwashing: How to Spot It
The definition of greenwashing is the disinformation purposely disseminated by an organization or company so as to present an environmentally responsible public image. This happens when a company spends more time and money in appearing sustainable to the public rather than actually 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 color palettes.
- Using the color 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.
These things are best shown with concrete examples. Let’s take a fabulous example explained by Heidi Kalulza from @the_rogue_essentials. In this video, Heidi talks about a concrete greenwashing example from fast fashion brand H&M.
Recently, H&M have come out with what they are calling “The Conscious Collection”. In this collection they claim to use “more sustainable” materials for 50% of each item’s composition. Which means that 50% of the garment isn’t even sustainable at all. In addition, there is little to no information on what is considered “sustainable materials” on their website.
And of course this “conscious” collection says nothing about the conditions in which the garments were made or the overall environmental impact.
All in all, when greenwashing is present, it seems like it’s more of a way of making the consumer feel better when making the purchase than actually having any positive environmental impact.
5. 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 sustainable 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.
An example of a sustainable and ethical swimwear brand is us: NOW IN RIO SWIM.
Our swimsuits are well-made, wearable and size inclusive. With classic styles and made with recycled nylon, sourced in Europe, they stand the test of time. Our collections are manufactured in small quantities in Portugal to try and eliminate the waste caused by overproduction. We wanted a great fitting, timeless swimsuit. And if we were going to create something, it might as well be planet-friendly!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!