Last month I bought myself this new bikini top. It took a while to find – while there are plenty of sustainable swimwear materials around, there aren’t as many affordable brands selling in the UK!
But with a summer holiday coming up, and a recent hotel and spa stay with much swimming just past, I thought it was about time to update my swimwear collection. And so began my endeavour into finding this simple, black bikini top, which I intend to pair with my previously gifted Davy J’s briefs (pictured).
A note on sustainable fashion: it’s only sustainable if you buy pieces you’ll wear over and over again. These briefs fit really well, and suit almost any top because of their simple black design, so they were the perfect piece to keep (rather than replace altogether)
So if you’re looking to update your swimwear, here’s what you need to know about materials and the best ethical options out there.
Which Swimwear Fabrics are Eco-Friendly?
I’m no fashion graduate, but I am aware that most swimwear is made from fabrics that aren’t environmentally-friendly, nor do they last a long time.
While my guide to sustainable fabrics goes into things a little bit, I thought it would be worth breaking out the main materials found in swimwear here, and noting the sustainable alternatives:
Standard Swimwear Materials: Nylon and Polyester
According to Wikipedia, most modern swimsuits are made from nylon. Nylon is a good material for swimsuits as it’s strong and lightweight, but it doesn’t hold dyes well, and is usually mixed with polyester to create patterned and colourful styles that are also chlorine resistant, and lycra or spandex for that body-hugging elasticity.
The problem with this is threefold: first, both of these materials are virgin plastic. They create more demand for plastic (and crude oil), which isn’t eco. Second, when these fabrics are washed, they release nasty microfibres that have now been found in our waterways, oceans, and fish. And finally, this mix is almost impossible to recycle.
Sustainable Swimwear Materials: Recycled Nylon and Natural Fabrics
During my searching, the fabric that I found popping up all over eco swimwear is econyl. In fact, I’ve featured econyl previously: in last year’s swimwear piece featuring Maari Porto Cervo, I explained that econyl is made from a combination of ocean plastic waste and nylon waste (from fabric recycling and elsewhere).
Econyl is essential recycled nylon (or as econyl’s manufacturers like to call it, regenerated). It saves on the demand for crude oil, and it creates a nice, clean feel that is indistinguishable from virgin nylon (as far as my fingers can tell!)
Econyl isn’t totally clean: it’s still plastic. It still produces microfibres when washed (so make sure you use a guppybag*). And it’s still often mixed with the previously-mentioned materials. But if you want eco swimwear that is essentially the same as high street options, look for econyl.
It’s worth mentioning that there are other options available, too. A few high-end swimwear brands are creating their collections using:
- Hemp: A naturally grown fibre, which can be mixed with cotton and stretch fibres, as seen in Natasha Tonić’s range*
- Linen: An age-old material, similar to cotton but grown even quicker, used in Arkitaip’s unique crochet swimwear that’s lined with econyl
- Repreve: Recycled plastic bottles that create a textured fabric, used in everything from t-shirts to Mara Hoffman’s waffle-textured swimsuits
If you do choose one of these options, I’d love to hear how you get on with the difference in feel, and whether they last longer than regular nylon.
25 of the Best Sustainable Swimwear Brands in UK
So, onto the list of UK-based eco swimwear brands! I’ve compiled this list from a good few hours of research, and highlighted where garments are made (when the information was available) as well as fabrics and styles. Happy swimming!
Arkitaip: Crochet-style swimwear and loungewear, handcrafted in Europe using linen.
ASOS Design*: Low cost swimwear made with a recycled nylon base.
Bower: High design swimwear using eco fabrics with 5% profits going to Healthy Seas Foundation.
Camp Cove Swim: Australian swimwear made from recycled fabrics with retro prints and patterns, printed in Sydney.
Casa Raki: High-end swimwear and resortwear, with swimsuits and bikinis made from Econyl.
Davy J: British-made leisure and performance swimwear created in bold colours and shapes using 100% recycled nylon.
Deakin Blue: Body sculpting ocean-waste swimwear for a range of body shapes and sizes.
Discover Boutique: Handmade beachwear and kaftans using sustainable materials.
Finisterre: Performance swimwear and wetsuits made from recycled materials.
Holiday Romance: Beautiful swimwear from regenerated nylon, made in Portugal and ships to UK.
Hunza G*: Iconic crinkle-fabric swimwear created with a sustainable seersucker fabric.
Kaio Swim*: Swiss brand making sleek swimsuits and bikinis in block colours, made from Econyl.
Mara Hoffman: High end swimwear designs with cute detailing and textures made from recycled fabrics.
Natasha Tonić*: Minimalist swimwear created from hemp fibre, made in California, USA.
Noma Swimwear: Sustainable children’s swimwear made from recycled fishing nets.
Patagonia: Pretty performance swimwear designed for surfing and watersports.
Riz Boardshorts: Boardshorts and mens swimwear made from recycled fabrics.
Ruby Moon: Recycled plastic gym-to-swim wear supporting women’s groups.
Salt Gypsy*: Active swimwear with playful prints and colours made in Australia.
Seasoon*: Contemporary swimwear designed in London and made in Europe.
Stay Wild Swim: Econyl swimwear, designed and made in London.
Stidston Studio*: Swimsuits and bikinis handmade in London from recycled ocean waste and stretch velvet.
Swim Society*: Small UK-based responsible swimwear brand creating colourful bikinis and swimsuits.
Woodlike Ocean*: Pattered and colourful bikinis, swimsuits, and activewear made from recovered fishing nets and other plastic waste.