As summer approaches, days lengthen, temperatures warm, and the sun’s kisses are sweeter. Many of us look forward to relaxing at the beach, pool, lake, or river. With summer plans may come the need to purchase a new bathing suit. With many sustainable clothing options available, this should be easy right?
Unfortunately, swimwear is very hard to produce sustainably. This is in part because much of the fabric is plastic-based; as we know, plastic is not biodegradable and is created from fossil fuels, making it particularly tough on the environment. Additionally, since swimwear is exposed to the elements such as saltwater and sunlight, it can quickly degrade and need to be replaced. Swimwear is hard to recycle so, once discarded, it likely ends up in a landfill. Creating swimwear also comes with other environmental and moral impacts such as water pollution from runoff, and workers rights violations.
However, some swimwear companies are creating more sustainable swimwear from recycled materials and deadstock fabrics (deadstock is surplus fabric). Many of them are also committed to protecting the workers producing their garments. While sustainable swimwear is still not perfect, these are some of my favorite options for the summer of 2023.
Sustainable Swimwear Brands
Skatie Swim has fun, unique prints that will brighten your day. While the process of printing fabric can damage the environment due to high levels of water usage and potential for chemical runoff, Skatie uses a heat printing process to limit the amount of water used. They manufacture their swimsuits in LA to help minimize carbon emissions. Skatie uses recycled fabrics or deadstock fabric that is already in LA, and ships in compostable mailers. Additionally, Skatie and their production partners pay at or above minimum wage, keep standard hours, and provide paid vacation time to employees.
This brand has a beautiful array of bathing suits as well as active wear. Wolven uses recycled fabrics for their swimwear, and ships with environmentally friendly packaging. A Climate Neutral Certified brand, both Wolven and their suppliers abide by codes of conduct for health and safety, fair wages, child labor, and more.
Seea is a line of swimwear designed for water sports, most notably surfing. Some of Seea’s styles are made with recycled fabrics; others utilize deadstock fabric to save it from ending up in landfills. They use Yulex rather than Neoprene in their wetsuits. Yulex is a plant based material made from Forest Stewardship Certified Rubber trees, while neoprene is made from harmful petrochemicals. They make their suits in California and endeavor to minimize waste in production and packaging processes. The company supports diversity and inclusion in water sports through various projects.
With a wide variety of colors to choose from, Toast Swim’s products are soft and comfortable to spend the day in. Made from recycled materials, Toast Swim ships in eco-friendly packaging. However, information available about the company’s production processes and labor practices is limited.
Rhea Bikini’s prints are designed in house and created using eco-certified Huntsmans Dye. Each suit purchased in one of their prints facilitates a donation to a nonprofit organization dedicated to conservation. Rhea uses a mixture of Italian and American produced fabrics created from plastic bottles or ocean waste. They ship using plastic free, compostable packaging. Their website states that swimwear is manufactured in Bali, Indonesia by a company that pays employees above minimum wage, provides free medical insurance, optional overtime, and an air conditioned facility.
Made in Bali by a female run factory that guarantees fair wages, safe working conditions, no forced labor, and no child labor, Sundaze Bikinis makes 100% of their swimwear from recycled fabrics. Produced in small batches to avoid excess stock and shipped in biodegradable packaging, Sundaze is also a Carbon Neutral Company.
A 1% for the planet member, Maoi Swim is a woman and minority owned business based in Hawaii. They make all their bathing suits in small batches from recycled Italian fabric, and ship in recycled and biodegradable materials.
Hunza G’s crinkle cut fabric and seamless constructions allow their swimwear to expand and contract to fit different bodies. The company claims to produce no deadstock or wastage. They are a carbon neutral company, use environmentally friendly mailers, and make a variety of charitable donations each year.
Abysse uses recycled polyester or recycled nylon to make their swimsuits. They not only create swimwear but also wetsuits. Their wetsuits are made from Ecoprene rather than Neoprene. Rather than using petrochemicals, Ecoprene uses natural limestone and canola oil. The tags and packaging are recyclable or biodegradable. The company’s production facilities have invested in making the manufacturing process more sustainable by adding solar panels and water recycling.
This swimwear brand is not only sustainable, but also affordable and size inclusive! Available in sizes XS-3X (in some styles), Dippin Daisy’s makes 95% of their swimwear from recycled nylon. They use recycled foam for their bra inserts and ship with recyclable materials. Dippin Daisy’s is working on a two year plan to create a recycling program and move towards more sustainable shipping materials.
While all of these brands are taking steps in the right direction, there are still substantial environmental impacts from swimwear production. Like any new clothing, resources must be used to create the final product. Even when utilizing recycled fabrics, printing, cutting, sewing, and shipping use vast amounts of water and energy. Swimwear also sheds microplastics, which contribute to pollution. Fortunately, there are things that can be done to help diminish these effects.
How to Make Your Swimwear Even More Sustainable:
First of all, when buying a piece of swimwear, select one that you will wear for a long time. Make sure the suit is comfortable, durable, and fits your lifestyle. The best way to prevent plastic pollution is to reduce the amount of plastic created. Purchasing high quality clothing (if possible) and using what we have until the end of its lifespan reduces demand for fast fashion and keep excess clothing from ending up in landfills.
Second, make sure that you are taking proper care of your swimwear. This extends its lifespan. Swimwear is often exposed to damaging sun, chemicals, and salt. To help protect your suit, rinse off with freshwater after swimming. This helps remove chemicals and salt. Wash your swimwear according to the manufacturer’s instructions; washing correctly helps prevent your suit from being damaged in the process.
Lastly, wash your swimwear with a microplastic filter. Microplastics are increasingly problematic for our environment, most notably our oceans. Washing swimwear with a filter helps prevent more plastic from entering the environment. Popular options include the Cora Ball and the Guppyfriend. There are also microfiber filters such as this one that you attach to your washing machine. Small actions like these can help reduce the amount of plastic we put into the environment.
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Photo: Sam Wermut via Unsplash