Sustainability is well and truly in fashion. While a lot of clothing we buy is still made from hard-to-break-down synthetic fibres (including polyester, nylon, rayon and spandex), more and more designers are looking to sustainable alternatives that are gentle on the environment. And consumers have become more conscious about where their clothes have come from, and how they’re made.
Econyl, a product made by synthetic fibre company Aquafil, is being used by designers who like that the material can be recycled again and again. It’s made from recycled post-consumer products including fishing nets, fabric scraps, discarded carpets and industrial plastics, which are found in landfill and oceans around the world. The waste is sorted, cleaned and then reborn again as swimwear, activewear, furniture and more.
If you’re a conscious consumer, here are five Australian (and two international) swimwear labels to check out.
Designer Amelia Mercoulia founded her Melbourne-based swimwear label, Baaby, in 2015. The Italian lycra she uses is made from recycled products, while the nylon component is made from plastic waste and discarded fishing nets found in the ocean. “We don’t want to add to the environmental issues the fashion industry is responsible for, so creating fashion from waste is a really amazing thing,” says Mercoulia. The bathers come with removable padding and adjustable straps, and the latest collection is inspired by old photographs of Audrey Hepburn in a 1950s bathing suit. “It was a time of such class.”
Everyday basics with a focus on simple design is what you can expect from Melbourne-based Vege Threads. It was founded in 2013 and is committed to using ethically made garments. Vege Threads uses recycled Italian nylon – a blend of 78 per cent nylon and Xtra Life Lycra – for its swimwear. “[It’s a] blend that will prevent them from bagging out [and it’s] more chlorine resistant,” says director and founder Amy Roberts. In a bid to resist the fast-fashion approach, the label keeps its shapes consistent year-round, with a new colour offering each spring. “It keeps our collections small, enabling us to have more flexibility in what we make and limits overflow of excess stock.”
Spell and the Gypsy Collective
Spell’s bohemian prints have earned the label a serious fan base in Byron Bay since 2009. Founders and sisters Lizzy Abegg and Isabella Pennefather have recently started making their swimwear using an econyl yarn, which is then knitted into fabric in Italy. “When it comes to using recycled nylon, it’s quite amazing that it has the potential to be infinitely recyclable – you can recycle it over and over again with very little quality loss,” says Abegg. The latest Oasis collection was inspired by the wardrobe in the classic Australian film Picnic at Hanging Rock. One per cent of every online sale goes to the Climate Council or the Women’s Earth Alliance.
May and Hugo
Established in 2015, Byron Bay-based May and Hugo was born out of a desire to create beautiful swim and leisurewear with complete transparency. Its aesthetic is both sophisticated and playful. “We use first-grade recycled nylon or polyester-fibre fabrics for our swimwear,” says director and designer Emily May Bello. It’s manufactured from waste including fishing nets, plastic bottles, old clothes and carpets, which have been sourced from oceans and landfill. “I'm usually first inspired by colours, which then evolve into prints and silhouettes,” Bello says.
This ethical New Zealand fashion label first forayed into swimwear in October this year. The range uses nylon made from discarded fishing nets, which are regenerated in a factory in Italy to produce econyl. In organic shapes and vibrant colours, the recent collection draws on works by artists Henri Matisse, Bruno Munari and David Hockney. “Swimwear sits so close to the body, so getting the best fit was essential,” says founder and creative director Gosia Piatek. “We fit the prototypes on different people with different body shapes and worked to the millimetre.” Kowtow is certified by the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation and the Global Organic Textile Standard.
Founded in 2012, Byron Bay-based label Salt Gypsy offers surf and swim apparel in bright colours and intricate patterns. The label has been using regenerated nylon fabrics since 2015. “I've seen firsthand how imperfect, polluting, wasteful and unethical the fashion production and industry status quo can be. We have the power to change the way we produce and consume apparel,” founder Danielle Clayton told Broadsheet in 2017. The latest collection comes in blue, and merlot red.
Ohoy Swim was founded in Dubai in 2017 with a Scandinavian-inspired, minimalist style. Swimwear is made from econyl , which is made from fishing nets salvaged in Europe’s seas by divers of the Healthy Seas organisation. “All the plastics are brought to a plant in Slovenia where it is recycled,” says Henna Kaarlela, who founded the label with Anna Nielsen. “The finished fabric is made in Italy; all dyes [and] colours used are environmentally friendly too and disposed properly.”