A Deep Dive into Sustainable Swimwear
As the sun begins to kiss our skin and we’re left to deal with the blazing heat, it’s only natural for those of us on the coastlines to find solace in the ocean's rolling waters. We find happiness and calm while swimming around in the Earth's most abundant resource. A refreshing dip into the sea and the roar of crashing waves is the encapsulation of summertime bliss.
Nearly three-quarters of the Earth is covered with our beloved oceans. Home to thousands of species and responsible for regulating the global climate, it is currently facing a myriad of stressors and threats. Something we hold so dear to us is facing unimaginable levels of pollution and damage. (We've all seen Seaspiracy, by now, right?) Aside from the fact that most of this damage is being done by big-business (sign petitions here), as swimmers and vacationers, we must also be aware of the impact we have when visiting our summer oasis. It's quite simple, really- leave the beach better than when you found it by cleaning up after yourself, protecting the coral reefs by wearing reef-safe sunscreen, and doing it all while donning sustainable swimwear.
For this article, I've done research into sustainable swimwear companies and have found five fantastic brands to shop from while simultaneously supporting our oceans. Not only will you look good and feel comfortable, but you'll be making a difference while doing so.
1. Vitamin A (Click me to shop!)
“We believe style & sustainability are inseparable.”
Who Are They?
Vitamin A is a sustainable bikini and bodysuit company located in California celebrating its 20th anniversary. They are dedicated to keeping our oceans healthy and through their partnerships with 1% For the Planet, they proudly donate a portion of their sales to environmental organizations working to protect sea animals and ocean life.
Sustainability + Fabric
Vitamin A is proud to boast that they have been making environmentally friendly choices for nearly 20 years. Founder and Designer Amahlia Stevens worked with top mills in Italy, Canada, and California to design a fabric called EcoLux™ —the first premium swim fabric made from recycled nylon fibers. She continues to pioneer new eco-friendly materials, leading the swim industry into a more sustainable future. Since EcoLux’s inception, the company has incorporated additional sustainable high-performance fabrics along with eco-conscious textiles like organic cotton, linen, recycled cotton, and Tencel®. All are certified to meet the global Oeko-Tex standard for safe textiles.
Production and Packaging
Vitamin A ensures that they reduce their environmental footprint by employing waterless digital printing technology and producing their fabric and swimwear locally, which drastically reduces carbon emissions for shipping and transporting raw materials.
Additionally, the company is vigilant in their packaging materials, using 100% biodegradable, recyclable, and compostable bags to send the garment in and mailers that are 100% recycled, recyclable, and biodegradable as well.
In addition to donations, the company partners with organizations and people that protect the environment and use their voices to mobilize support and community for their cause. For example, the company has organized several beach clean-ups in California and Florida with hopes of cleaning more coastlines. You can stay posted on upcoming locations and dates by following their Instagram account @vitaminaswim.
Like most high-end sustainable fashion brands, the items are pricy, costing close to $200 for a one-piece and $100+ for swim tops and bottoms. These are definitely to be looked at from the slow fashion perspective; as investment pieces and items you hope to keep in your wardrobe for years to come.
To learn more about their factory practices and distribution, click here.
To learn more about founder Amahlia Stevens, click here.
"It's clear that the future of fashion is sustainability, and we hope to be a part of the solution, both in combating climate change and promoting female empowerment."
-Designer + Founder Amahlia Stevens.
“For me, OCIN is a vehicle to raise awareness, shift perspectives, build community, and create global openness. By leading with more open minds and open hearts we give ourselves the space to lean on and support one another. We allow ourselves to feel and be more thoughtful about our choices and individual actions that we take every day. Because, the little things you do add up and has incredible impact on our collective future.” -Human, Friend, ocean lover, & OCIN founder, Courtney Chew
Who Are They?
OCIN is a lifestyle collective and eco-swim label that’s mission is to exist as a platform to inspire and motivate kind and positive actions for communities, the planet, and oceans. They make sure to give back a percentage of their proceeds each year to organizations that are committed to ocean protection.
This year, by supporting OCIN, customers are contributing to help support the work of their non-profit partner Sustainable Coastlines Hawai'i. For more information on their efforts, click here.
Founded in 2018 and based in Vancouver, they make it a point to pay homage to the fact that they exist on the unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples: Squamish, Tseil-Waututh, and Musqueum nations.
Design + Fabric
The swimwear collection is designed with seamless details, snaps, functional pockets, easy clasps, and comfortable, quick-dry fabrics with the hopes that their apparel will "help take you from a morning workout or a hike, to the beach to dinner and back for a sunset ride in the waves."
The bulk of their collection is made from 100% recycled polyesters from plastic bottles saved from landfills and recycled nylon. The fabrics used for the women’s styles are made of ECONYL® yarns and offer UPF 50+ protection from the sun. They are Standard 100 certified by Oeko-Tex, meaning they are free from any harmful chemicals.
ECONYL® Nylon Yarn is an innovative fiber developed by Aquafil and is produced with nylon waste that has reached the end of its product life. The company works with global social initiatives to clean up and then recycle discarded fishing nets from the oceans, together with other discarded nylons, and turn them into high quality 100% regenerated and 100% regenerable Nylon. Apparently, for every 10,000 tons of ECONYL® raw material used, it positively impacts the environment by saving 70 thousand barrels of crude oil and avoiding 57 thousand tons of CO2 equivalent emissions.
For packaging, the company uses post-consumer recycled and plant-based materials in addition to an e-commerce packaging product called Versatex™ (Versatile Textile). "Our Versatex™ is intended to be packaging that you can use over and over again, however you wish – as an alternative to wrapping paper, a shopping bag, a bandana, or even a laptop cover." What makes the Versatile Textile even cooler is the print itself. For each release, OCIN collaborates with an artist on the print, making it a collectible art piece that you be framed or gifted.
Recycling + Community
OCIN has a great recycling program that takes back previously loved swimsuits (theirs or someone else's) to make sure they are disposed of correctly. For every ten suits you send back, you'll get 10% off your next order. For more information on this, click here.
OCIN proudly collaborates with an artist each season, an organization every year, and other like-minded brands. Constantly inspired by the stories, the work, the art, and the movement of the community surrounding them, The Collective highlights individuals that "embody living into their most open, free, and positively impactful selves, and through their energy, commitment, and actions, inspire others to do so as well."
Versatile and truly sustainable pieces of art, this swimwear line is yet again intended to be treated as an investment. One-pieces go for $185 and individual tops and bottoms range around $100 each.
“The ocean also more than ever needs our awareness, commitment, love and protection. With the ever-growing threat of microplastics, coral and underwater life extinction, and mountains of waste in and around our shorelines, we are on the way to killing this ecosystem that we need to survive.” -Human, Friend, ocean lover, & OCIN founder, Courtney Chew.
To learn more about Courtney Chew, click here.
“We’re obsessed with Mother Nature, and not just because she blessed us with beautiful beaches.”
Who Are They?
"OOKIOH, pronounced o͞okēō, is a play on the Japanese word Ukiyo — the pleasure-seeking lifestyle of the Edo Japan period, and the famous Ukiyo-e woodblock prints that emerged from it. Literally translating to “the floating world,” the Ukiyo-e genre is all about traveling, female beauty, and living in the moment."
Launched in 2018 with inclusivity in mind, founder Vivek Agarwal leads an all-female team whose mission is to create fun, sexy and elegant swimwear made from recycled ocean waste and regenerated materials.
Sustainability + Fabric
OOKIOH is committed to going plastic-free by 2022. Although already considered a leading sustainable swimwear line, they are working towards becoming a fully sustainable brand by focusing on biodegradable and compostable materials for packaging and trims, reducing their carbon footprint, and even going as far as finding biodegradable hygienic liners and reusable cups during their photoshoots.
Their fabric is made from 100% regenerated materials sourced from an Italian mill that takes ocean waste (such as sunken fishing nets) and pre-consumer waste products and turns them into luxurious textiles.
OOKIOH has done some very notable collaborations with designers such as Rachel Wang, an outspoken champion for inclusion and sustainability in the fashion industry. The line is meant to uplift people and the planet, is ethically made in Los Angeles from 100% post-consumer waste (recycled nylon and plastic bottles) and serves as an 80's inspired ode to all bodies and bodies of water.
OOKIOH is a more affordable swimwear line with one-pieces going for $100 and swim tops and bottoms $50, respectively. The Rachel Wang collaboration collection leans towards $160 for a one-piece and $80 for separates.
“The OOKIOH woman OK Darling, as we like to call her, is aware, smart, and well-traveled. She is creative, caring, giving, easy-going, and fun. She likes timeless styles that have been tuned to her current needs." -Vivek Agarwal
“Our goal is to make sustainable activewear for people who care - care about other people, care about how their clothes are made, and care about making an impact through their purchasing power. Through ethically manufactured activewear, recycled materials, and our ever-growing community, we hope to help people lead more sustainable lives and rethink the activewear industry’s role in saving the earth.” - Ellie Dinh, Girlfriend's co-founder and Creative Director.
Who Are They?
Created in 2016, Girlfriend Collective aims to be a community as much as a brand. By focusing on ethical manufacturing, using recycled materials, and body positivity, they make garments that perform well and make you feel good. First and foremost an activewear company, their swimwear line is relatively new, and it gives back 1% to Healthy Seas, a non-profit that collects discarded fishing nets from the ocean.
Sustainability + Fabric
Aiming to be as transparent about their practices as possible, they offer an abundance of information on their website. From sharing videos on their processes to details on their factories and including copies of their certificates on their websites, customers can know exactly how their products are manufactured.
The swimwear line is made from recycled fishing nets and post-industrial waste recovered from the ocean. The fabric is called ECONYL® regenerated nylon, a soft, recycled yarn that eliminates the need for petroleum and diverts water bottles from landfills. You can watch a video of the manufacturing process here. For additional information on sourcing, factory and fabric certifications, aka, all the nitty-gritty that goes into this slow fashion company, click here.
Girlfriend Collective uses 100% recycled and recyclable materials for packaging and ships their items in a 100% recycled and reusable pink pouch made from RPET.
The company provides a recycling program called ReGirlfriend, where you can send back your no longer desired Girlfriend leggings, compressive bras, unitards, and shorts to receive a $15 store credit. Working with their partner Unifi in North Carolina, the pieces are then shredded, the polyester is separated from the spandex, and the fibers are regenerated into fabric for new Girlfriend pieces. Girlfriend Collective is very proud to be "closing the loop" in this way.
With $78 one-pieces and tops and bottoms ranging from $38-$48, this is by far the most affordable sustainable swimwear line I’ve found.
“We’re always looking for ways to make things more sustainable, so long term we’re moving towards a totally closed loop system, developing a water filtration system for washing synthetic fibers, and expanding our size range.”- Ellie Dinh, Girlfriend's co-founder and Creative Director.
To learn more about Ellie Dinh, click here.
“As lovers of the ocean, mountains, lakes, rivers and all things nature, we understand the importance of protecting where we play. That is why Saturday Swimwear aims to be less a part of the problem and more a part of the solution. We vow to put sustainability at the forefront of everything we do.”
Who Are They?
Saturday Swimwear is a badass, sustainable, handmade swimwear company started in 2016 designed and owned by Emily Laplume, who sews each piece herself in her converted Ram Promaster van as she travels around the USA. The small but mighty company extends to a total of three women who work on production, promotion, and social media management.
Sustainability + Fabric
Saturday Swimwear vows to put sustainability at the forefront of everything they do. Emily and her team are committed to being as environmentally friendly as possible.
The fabric of the suits is made from a combination of regenerated nylon and XTRA Life Lycra®. The nylon starts as rescued waste such as fishing nets, used carpets, and fabric scraps from landfills and oceans worldwide. The material is put through a process that regenerates and purifies the fabric to restore it to its natural state, where it can then be processed into yarn and be woven with the XTRA Life Lycra®. This results in a unique fabric that has increased shape retention, higher durability, and a UV protection of 50.
Their hang tags are made from 100% recycled post-consumer waste material and are carbon offsetting and printed using soy-based inks. (Using high-quality recycled paper uses about 75% less water in production than its virgin-fiber counterpart.)
The hygiene liners inside the suits are FSC certified bio-based panty liners made in the USA and are compostable.
Production and Packaging
All swimsuits are made by hand and are shipped in envelopes made from 100% biodegradable and compostable materials. Each suit is packaged in a reusable cotton draw-string bag.
Saturday Swimwear is another affordable brand that includes tops and bottoms ranging from $55-$60!