While conventional swimwear was once excluded from the eco-conversation now dominating fashion, given its reliance on synthetic virgin materials such as nylon and polyester, industry innovations as well as a return to natural fibers has seen a whole host of brands now stepping up to the sustainability plate.
Here are five companies from different corners of the globe that are not only offering more environmentally-friendly beachwear options, but are also considering the needs of local communities as part of their core strategy.
Founded in 2016 by Anna Nielsen and Henna Kaarlela, OHOY swimwear is designed for water babies and beach lovers alike. After meeting through a shared love of surfing, the Scandinavian duo discovered that they also shared a pet peeve - neither was a fan of the swimsuit options available for women – so they decided to design their own.
“It’s quite hard to find something that is not very athletic,” said Nielsen in a recent interview, and she went on to explain how as well as the performance aspect, it was important that the suits be fashionable, which has translated into the brand’s simple, clean Scandinavian aesthetic.
But just as important as aesthetics is ethics, and a responsibility to look after the environment. Every piece in each collection is made with 100% ECONYL® regenerated yarn, produced from discarded nylon fishing nets, and indeed, Neilsen and Kaarlela have partnered with Dutch NGO Ghost Fishing, which is devoted to removing fishing nets that have been lost, dumped or abandoned around the world.
Manufactured in a small family-owned factory in Sri Lanka, 1% of the sale of each swimsuit sale goes to another non-profit, Organization Healthy Seas, to support the volunteer divers that help recover the ghost nets before they are sent to the regeneration facility.
This LA-based brand’s ethical swimwear is made from a unique, natural hemp fiber that is anti-microbial, durable, breathable, biodegradable and UV-resistant. Founded in 2017 by Natasha Tonić, her namesake brand is known for its soft-to-the-touch pieces that are designed to be worn everyday - as lingerie, daywear and at the gym - as well as poolside.
Designed, sewn and dyed in Los Angeles, the company continues to experiment with sustainable alternatives to traditional materials and methods. For example, for her latest collection Tonić applied a closed-loop system to dye and print a gold hemp leaf motif onto swimsuits, a jumpsuit, a tank top and a slip dress. "The water and ink that's used is being recycled, so it doesn't go back into the ground," the designer explained to fashionista.com. She is also investigating possible alternatives for padding in bathing suit tops, such as textiles made from mushrooms.
To help the fight against ocean plastic pollution, the company has partnered with non-profit organization 5 Gyres which is based in California, and 5% of the price of each Natasha Tonić swimsuit sold is donated to the cause.
Initially a means to reconnect with her roots after a move to London, Brazilian native Julia Almeida-Bailey set up swimwear brand Florita in her hometown of Rio de Janeiro. Today, she spends much more of her time in Brazil, living close to the production site that champions both sustainability and social inclusion.
Florita swimsuits are produced under Fair Trade working conditions by mixed communities around Rio, and manufactured with as minimal environmental impact as possible, including minimized energy and water usage. Created with Amni Soul Eco®, a biodegradable environmentally friendly polyamide yarn that enables garments to decompose quickly in landfill sites, they are also dyed using recycled water and water-based dyes.
In addition to traditional swimwear, Florita also produces recycled PET canga sarongs, each made from 14 PET bottles reclaimed and recycled in Brazil, and to address the inevitable problem of fabric offcuts, has a range of colorful scrunchies.
For fans of the luxe-boho look conjured up by crochet swimwear, Mallorcan-based brand Mylo Beachwear offers artisanal designs made from natural, certified cotton.
Launched in 2016, company founder Esperanza Perelló comes from a family of artisans, and wanted to find a way to support local textile traditions with pieces that also capture the Mediterranean spirit. The result is a range of sustainable swimwear, made individually to order, and hand-woven from OKEO-TEX certified cotton.
Handcrafted in limited numbers, no two pieces are the same. “Faithful to our values that strive towards a more sustainable world, we make all our products upon request, in this way only ordered pieces are produced,” said Perelló.
Another brand with social principles at its heart is Tulum-based AMARA. All items made by the company are produced in Mexico by local artisans to help support their communities, with the company creating livable-wage jobs, working to minimize the negative impacts of tourism, promoting cultural exchange and helping to preserve local traditions.
AMARA was founded by Toronto native Lisa Jackson, who originally travelled to Tulum for a four-week trip and now calls the town home. Producing ‘sustainable swimwear made for the minimalist’, the brand uses eco-friendly ECONYL® for its designs, which are reversible, mix-and-match styles, and some are even convertible, enabling consumers to cut down on their beachwear wardrobe.
As part of its commitment to the environment, AMARA also organizes regular beach clean-ups in the Sian Ka'an Biosphere, an area of outstanding natural beauty that's home to thousands of species of flora and fauna, to help protect wildlife from the plastic washing up ashore.