fitness · swimming

Swimsuit options: the ethical edition

Last week, Catherine explored different swimsuit options beyond the one-piece/two-piece dilemma and our bloggers talked about their swimwear preferences. But what if, on top of wanting something you feel great in for getting in the water, you also want something that isn’t going to poison the environment even further?  As a swimmer, I’m painfully aware that my sport of choice isn’t exactly light on the planet. All my equipment is, essentially, made from plastic. It also doesn’t take a genius to figure out that keeping the pools I train in filled with water, clean, and warm is going to have some environmental impact. And last but not least, I have to drive to the pool (where I train is too far to bike and unreachable by public transport from where I am).

So I started looking around for some options that would reduce the environmental footprint of my aquatic exploits at least a little bit. It’s not easy, but it is getting easier.

Last year, I purchased a bikini made from Econyl, a recycled nylon fiber. It’s produced by a small German startup, INASKA Swimwear, that aims to produce bikinis for women who do water sports (rather than for lounging round the beach or pool), so that was huge in my book. They also sell tops and bottoms separately, which is fantastic (one of my main gripes with bikini shopping is that not more companies do this. I always struggle to find bikinis that will fit both my boobs and my bum). The bikinis are made in Europe.

Beach
Bettina in the far-off distance, sporting her ‘ethical’ bikini on a beach in Galicia, Spain. (There are no other pictures of me in swimwear and I was too busy this week to take any).

The bikini itself… fine but not a 100% hit just yet. Especially the bottoms were cut in a way that still makes them feel like they’re about to slip off when you’re swimming fast. But the nice thing about a small startup is that they’re responsive: at the end of last year, they did a customer survey and it seems like I wasn’t the only one who complained – there’s a new model out this year that promises better hold (I haven’t tried it yet, though I’m tempted – but in line with trying to reduce my environmental footprint, I decided not to buy a new bikini this year). I would also add that their bikinis don’t strike me as particularly plus-size friendly, even the new model. Their advertising is certainly geared towards the thin end of the spectrum. And the bikinis aren’t fully recycled fibre (78% I think). I actually don’t know if 100% recycled is technically an option at this point, or whether something is going on with the fibres that would prevent that from happening.

bikini.jpg
Bettina’s teal-coloured sports bikini.

For training suits, the picture doesn’t look an awful lot better, but again here, this is starting to change a bit. Adidas has launched a collaboration with Parley for the Oceans, a campaign seeking to clean the sea of plastic waste. Among other things, they make Parley swimsuits. I own one, though again if you read the small print, it becomes obvious that it’s only partially made from recycled material (and they don’t say how much, at least not that I could find). It gives the whole thing rather a “greenwashing” taste. But other big companies of swimming gear such as Speedo or Arena don’t seem to have caught onto this issue at all yet, so at least Adidas’s move is something? Also in the big-name range, PrAna and Patagonia have some interesting options made at least in part from recycled materials. PrAna in particular offers a wide range in terms of coverage.

Still, if you want ethical swimwear, in many cases you’re going to have to buy from small businesses. Which has the added benefit of being able to support young, often female-owned, companies. Frequently, they spring up from their owners’ passion for water sports and factor in the needs of women who like to be active.

But it is more complicated than being able to just walk into any old sports shop, try something on, and choose between different options. Some of these small companies produce on demand, so you have to measure yourself first to work out your size, order, wait (after all they still have to make it), and hope for the best. They’re also not cheap. And in many cases, their sizing options are more limited. But it’s an exciting scene, and if you’re willing to put in a bit of extra effort, you may well end up with something lovely.

In addition to the aforementioned INASKA Swimwear, I’ve done a bit of research for options on both sides of the Atlantic. Once you start looking, there are TONNES of ethical swimwear companies out there. I tried focussing on those geared towards more active behaviour in the water. One thing that struck me was that this seems to be a bit of a Euro-centric endeavour. I found more European than North American-based brands (and a lot of Australian ones) that matched my ethical-and-activity-friendly search criterion. There were loads of US and Canada-based ethical brands that make bikinis and one-piece suits in the “cute but not for sporty swimming or movement” range. Without further ado, here are some options, in no particular order:

  • Finisterre (UK-based) – swim and surf gear made partially from Econyl, and they donate 10% of the price to Surfers Against Sewage). Cool stuff, but comes at a price.
  • Davy J (UK-based) – also made from recycled fishing nets (also Econyl, I think). I’m not totally sure their stuff will really stay on (the tops seem a bit low cut), but they claim it will.
  • Josea Surfwear (Germany-based) – bikinis and one-piece suits designed for active women and produced in Hamburg, Germany. I’ve heard great things about their stuff, but their collection is a bit… changeable. I’d had my eyes on a pair of boyshort bottoms that have now suddenly disappeared from the shop. Also, no detailed information about the materials they use, only that they’re “sustainable”. I’d want to know more.
  • Greenswimmers (Germany-based) – I had really high hopes for these guys after reading in a swimming magazine that they were going to start producing swimsuits for women this March. The men’s trunks had received rave reviews, and the preview of the women’s suit was also great. But alas, no swimsuits in sight, and it’s now July. I wrote to them at some point and they said they were still planning on launching them but had some internal issues. The website hasn’t changed since early this year (they still promise the swimsuits for March), so I’m starting to wonder if the whole enterprise hasn’t gone South. Sad times 😦
  • Beefcake Swimwear (US-based) – already mentioned in Catherine’s post for the cool options they provide, this company doesn’t say anything about using environmentally friendly or recycled materials, but they are female-owned and make their suits in the US, so at least that’s fewer production miles and fair wages. It’s a great start.
  • Loka (Canada/Australia-based) – also using Econyl, Loka makes different options, at least some of which look like they might withstand sporty behaviour (like this one).
  • Rubymoon (UK-based) – multi-sports wear that transitions from the water to the yoga mat or the gym. They re-invest all their profits into women-owned micro businesses.
  • Mymarini (Germany-based) – many of their models are in the less practical range, but there are some options that would be quite good for water-based activities.

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.