Published: April 21, 2020Updated: June 26, 202217 min read
I have officially been in quarantine for 30 days now. It has gone surprisingly fast for me. And, I have been keeping busy. I am doing all the things I have been saying I would do but never had time for. Writing more, working on more creative projects, and learning how to cook something a little more impressive than boxed pasta and jar sauce. I am actually really excited about the direction and growth virtue + vice is taking. But, I am starting to feel a little cagy. So I wrote this blog post on sustainable swimwear as something to look forward to - being let out of our houses and the salt and sand in the coming months!
I am going to break this list down by price. Because you can buy eco-friendly sustainable swimsuits at an affordable price.
There is nothing I love/hate more than expensive eco friendly swimwear brands. One of the things about working in product development for a decade - it literally pains you to pay for luxury goods. Because, I know how much things cost to make. The truth is, ethical swimwear is super cheap to make (even the zero waste made using recycled water bottle kind) and the margins for brands are ah-may-zing.
I get it some of the expensive brands have some killer designs, cuts, and fits. So, maybe you might want to pay a little more for a unique design. Full disclosure, at least 1/2 the suits I wear regularly are pretty pricey, considered luxury and came with a high price tag. I bought them mostly because I like the fit and or print design. If a suit is really well designed I don't mind paying more.
But, for something basic, personally, I usually, don't pay more than $40 for a set. The thing is swimwear will never last forever, no matter how well it's made. The sun, salt, sand, and chlorine are all super harsh on materials. Even the best-made bathing suits will only last you a few seasons. There are things you can do to help make them last longer (more on that at the bottom of the post).
Let's start with the basics. Swimsuits are almost always made in one of two different fibers. Nylon or Polyester. To be clear both fibers are petroleum-derived. But, that does not mean they are created equal. Nylon is much stronger than polyester. It is also more expensive.
If brands are really designing a sustainable product, they should be opting to use the more expensive nylon textile option. There are no benefits, besides a brand's bottom line and increased margin to using polyester.
Brands aren't doing the work, fabric manufacturers are
There are a couple of branded textile suppliers, and then there is the generic stuff. As long as your brand is doing testing, using the generic stuff is just fine.
These are the main branded players in the recycled materials swimsuits game.
REPREVE was one of the first branded sustainable swimwear suppliers. They are actually owned by the fiber company Unifi. Unifi's corporate office is in Greensboro North Carolina. You might not know this, but North Carolina is one of the United States' last remaining textiles manufacturing hubs.
REPREVE offers three different kinds of products.
This is made from recycled plastic bottles. The fibers can not only be used for swim but also, apparel and even car and home upholstery. The website claims they have recycled over 15 billion water bottles making their recycled polyester textiles.
REPREVE Our Ocean
Direct from their website "REPREVE Our Ocean is a premium collection of fiber and resin sourced from bottles at high risk of entering the ocean. People around the globe are asking: How can we save our oceans from plastic pollution? We listened and came up with a meaningful way to address the problem head-on."
Ok, this is some seriously tricky wording. Notice they use the terminology "at risk of entering the ocean", not actual ocean pollution. What exactly does this mean? Where are these bottles coming from? Is this greenwashing?
REPREVE Nylon 6
The recycled nylon option of REPREVE is not made from water bottles at all. It is actually made from pre-consumer plastic. Pre-consumer plastic is industrial plastic that consumers never know about. It's the shipping and packaging that manufacturing industries use in their supply chain hidden from customers.
There are two types of Nylon. They are Nylon 6 and Nylon 66. Nylon 6 is actually a lot easier to recycle again and again. Theoretically, they say Nylon 6 can be recalled indefinitely. So, they are making a much more sustainable product.
But there is a catch.
The only problem is, once the Nylon 6 fibers are blended with spandex they become really difficult to separate and recycle. And those textiles usually just end up in the landfill.
Econylis owned by the brand Aquafil. Aquafil is an Italian company with offices all over the world. Unlike Repreve, Econyl only specializes in Nylon 6 (they don't deal with polyester), and claims "ECONYL® regenerated nylon is a product that can help you close the loop. Made from waste, it's infinitely recyclable and can unleash infinite possibilities for makers, creators, and consumers. It's all part of the ECONYL® brand vision to make the world a better place by pioneering closed-loop regeneration processes and delivering sustainable products."
Econyl is a fiber supplier, not a textile supplier.
Carvico buys Econyl fibers and then knits them into fabrics. So, that is how Econyl is able to say they are 100% recyclable and part of a closed loop system. They are simply a fiber supplier. After Carvico buys the fibers and then blends them with spandex, we run into the same problem that REPREVE faces. We can't break the materials down efficiently.
Parley For the Oceans
Parley For The Oceans is my favorite out of all the fabric suppliers. Maybe because I have first-hand experience with their plastic suppliers. My friends at Submladvies collect ocean plastic every day to donate to Parley. Like, actual bottles and fishing nets that are polluting our ocean and the shores of their island. If you want to stay on one of their luxury yachts (seriously these things are insane, they are basically like 5-star hotels on the water) you are going to be picking up plastic every day, and helping to preserve the Maldives and the ocean.
Then there is the generic stuff. Lot's of mills in China and other countries are making and using recycled plastic poly and nylon fabrics. They are just doing it without the brand name. Basically, these fabric suppliers are the same as the branded versions. It's the same product at the end of the day, maybe a little less transparent and traceable, but are still eco friendly and helping to re-use plastic.
In my opinion, the only brands that can claim to really be "cleaning up the oceans" are the ones partnering with Parley and suits made our of their materials.
Ok, I just threw a lot of information at you. I am going to quickly break down all the terms.
This is basically waste that is made during business to business commerce, most consumers have no idea that it exists and will actually never see it.
This can be water bottles or other types of plastic or waste that are collected after the end consumer (you) uses it.
This one is easy, it must actually come from the ocean.
The material can be broken down and used over and over again indefinitely.
One Last Thing, Before We Get Into My Picks
Let's talk about price.
Both REPREVE and Econyl lists on their websites all the brands that use their textiles. That is kind of cool, but it makes me question a lot.
Here is an industry secret, that I mentioned before, but, I'll say i again. Swim and yoga clothes have some of the best margins in the entire ethical fashion industry, t-shirts are pretty great for making money also. Those designer leggings you pay over $100 for, they cost less than $10 to make. Shocking, I know.
American Eagle's brand Aerie is selling a one-piece REPREVE swimsuit for $49.95 currently it is on sale for $14.98.
L*SPACE uses the same fabric and sells bikini sets separately for $99 each - that's $200 for a set.
Fully disclosure, I own both L*SPACE and AERIE swimsuits.
There is a big price difference there just from branding.
You see the same price differences in Econyl as well.
What does this teach us?
You can get the same recycled fabrics that are helping to make the conscious fashion industry a little better without breaking the bank.
But, design is important...
Now while cheap options of sustainable swimsuits using recycled materials are plentiful, sometimes it could be worth it to spend a little more cash if you really like the design or specific fit of a swimsuit.
Personally, I am a sucker for prints. If I like the print of something I will buy it, even if I know I am being ripped off. Once I get into my pics you will see how many times I have bought way overpriced swimsuits just because I like the design.
Here Are My Pics
The Best Sustainable Swimsuits Of 2020
Cheap Sustainable Swimwear Brands - $60 Or Under
aerie by American Eagle
Aerie is kind of like a brand within a brand. It started out as the bra and underwear section of American Eagle and has since expanded into its own chain of stores specializing in cozy loungewear, athleisure, bras, underwear, and swim.
Early in my career, I did a lot of work with American Eagle developing denim for them. And, they had a team of designers and product developers dedicated to pushing the envelope when it came to textiles. Of all the fast fashion brands I have worked with, and brands in general, they still stand out in my mind as a company that cares about quality. I have written before about their denim and now I want to tell you about their swim.
There are very few fast fashion brands out there that are dedicated to using recycled textiles for swimwear. Aerie is one of these brands. They prove that cleaning up fashion does not need to mean higher prices for consumers. Because, in reality, at the end of the day recycled fibers are minimally more expensive than virgin.
Real Good Swim
Aeries sustainable swim line is called Real Good Swim, with the copy "Recycling Never Looked So Good." I like it. It's simple, easy to understand, and best of all doesn't get too preachy.
Here is another thing that is cool. While many high end (think swimsuits for over $150) use cheap poly, Aerie is using nylon! So, you are actually getting a pretty high-quality product. In my opinion, Aerie is using their size and scale of purchasing power for good. While most big brands use economies of scale to save money on bulk orders, Aerie is reinvesting into their products with textiles upgrades.
So, here are some of my fav Aerie suits from this season's swim collection. And, here is another thing I love about Aerie, and American Eagle in general - there is almost always a sale going on. So, never pay full price.
I am super picky about prints. I generally opt for solids, or basic geometrics when shopping fast fashion. The reason is, most fast fashion companies don't have time to invest in good print design, and their artwork always ends up looking like exactly what it is, a knock off. I don't think the average consumer can tell, but to me most prints I see in fast fashion scream cheap. This print I love though, it's balance, sophisticated, and gives off a vintage tropical vibe.
I also love the cut of this one piece, that shows off a little extra skin. I have been getting a little tired of the high leg, side boob one pieces of the last 2 seasons made popular by Instagrammers. This is a sexy update to the once piece, that still dares to show some skin in a new way.
The matching kimono I could take or leave. I am not a matchy-matchy person. So, I don't think I would ever wear these two pieces together. But, I would definitely pair the kimono with a black suit.
Ribbed Knot Bandeau Bikini Top With A Ribbed Super High Cut Cheekiest Bikini Bottom
let's start with the fabric
I love the trend of ribbed fabric. It's perfect for people like me who tend to opt for solid colors but want a little something different. You get a bit of texture, but it's still a basic piece that can go with anything.
This is one of my favorite top styles. In my experience this cut is amazing. The suit comes with adjustable and removable straps. So, when you go into the ocean you can secure it on your body when the waves hit. But, you can also remove them to prevent tan lines.
I love the cinched center. It gives a little bit of shape and makes the classic bandeau feel more updated.
I was hesitant to try this style of bottom. I thought it would literally hit and cut at all the wrong places. But, I found the total opposite. It's actually really flattering, and photographs really well. It ends up making your legs look really long. If you think you could never pull off this type of cut, I say just give it a try.
Ribbed Wide Strap Plunge Bikini Top With Ribbed High Cut Cheeky Bikini Bottom
These high cut legs are like the gateway drug to the bottoms in look mentioned above. If you want to try a high leg, and I have a feeling you will love it, think instant length like models on a catwalk, but with a little more coverage try this suite. I also like how the top band is reinforced in the stomach.
I love this burnt orange color. It has been popular for a few years in the hippie crowd in places like Tulum and Ibiza and is now making its way mainstream. In my experience, it looks good on most skin tones. So, if you don't have burnt orange in your wardrobe yet, this might be the time to try it out.
Another leader in the fast fashion game. Credit where credit is due, they are trying with their sustainable capsule. But, it's not much of a capsule - there are over 500 suits in the line…
ASOS breaks down the styles by 4 body types. Fuller bust, maternity, plus size (which they call curve), and the main collection.
These are some of my favs this season.
Wolf & Whistle Curve Exclusive Eco Wrap Bikini Top With Wolf & Whistle Curve Exclusive Eco High Waist Bikini Bottom In Animal
I know, I know, we all remember that Zara polka dot dress that was literally everywhere last summer. But, for some reason, I am not over those abstract dots. I love this one piece. It's basic in black and white, but the contrasting dots really elevate the suite. To me, this looks like something way more expensive than a $45 fast fashion swimsuit.
The suit feels very Camilla Staerk circa 2008 to me, and I love it.
ASOS DESIGN Recycled Mix And Match Frill Crop Bikini Set
I feel the same about the bottoms. The ruffle is just small enough, and not enough that it adds a cute detail without being too much.
Mid-Range Sustainable Swimsuits
Summersalt is a direct to consumer darling. They figured out how to crack the Instagram code early, and have had explosive growth in the past few years.
Direct from the brand's website "We took over 1.5 million body measurements from 10,000 women to inform the Summersalt fit."
This sounds cool to me. But, with my experience in fitting, this isn't the best approach. Everyone's bodies are different. A garment designed for a size 2 runway model is not going to be the same as a plus-size pattern. And, if you try to average out the two it's going to be a disaster that pleases no one. I think fits should be focused on one body type.
But, regardless of this, people seem to love them. Here are my favorite picks.
This is a play it safe bikini cut. Nothing fancy of innovative here, but there is nothing wrong with the classics.
I love how the took a classic body and made it something totally new with color blocking. Color blocking is one of the main trends in the Summersalt collection. All of the bodies and cuts are a little plain, and kind of playing it safe in my opinion, but the use of mix and match color helps to add some dimension and pop.
Madewell is another brand from my beginning days in the fashion world. And, like American Eagle, they also dedicate a lot of their efforts to innovative textiles.
Madwell's sustainable swim collection is dubbed Second Wave.
Madewell is a millennial staple. It is basically our grown-up version of what Abercombie and Fitch used to be to use in high school. On-trend, safe, everyday clothing.
Easy, sporty cut, that I am sure most have us owned before with an on trend high waist update. There is something about being on the beach and going on vacation that makes me say yes to tie-dye. I would normally never wear it, but vacation I am like hells yeah.
I like how the tie dye in this set is a neutral peach, it's fun without being too loud or feeling like something that should be worn to go see a Phish concert.
Beachy stripes, in muted earth tones. This print is loud, but it still feels very wearable, and like a swim staple. I know that doesn't make sense but do you know what I mean? I think we all have a few pieces like that, they stand out and pop but at the same time they are so wearable and versatile, they almost feel like basics. This suit is that.
This is a fun Spanish brand based in Barcelona, that has a very sporty feel. Think of your old Roxy swimwear with a modern and sophisticated update.
I love the back of this set. Love, love, love it. I have always been drawn to asymmetrical designs. As I write this blog post I am seriously considering ordering this. It's so unique, yet simple. It's the kind of piece that looks like some of the same old, same old, but then you take a closer look and are like wow, that's really cool.
What I love about this suite is how high the crisscross is up on the back. The proportions here are really unique. Ok, I want to but this one too now. It's what I like to call a wow basic, so simple yet still so cool and different. Finding that balance of making elevated basics is really hard. And, this brand does it perfectly IMO.
Expensive And Luxury Sustainable Swimsuits
Ok, these suits might require a little saving up. But I chose them because I either love the designs, or the fit is amazing. Leggoo.
I love Mara Hoffman, it's just so pricy. The last suite I bought form them lasted me 6 years. I took really good care of it and loved it. I wore it until it literally fell apart. The thing that drew me into Mara Hofman's designs (long before they were the sustainable pioners that they are today) was her wild prints.
I think this season I am in the market for a new suit from them. Hopefully, I will get over half a decade of ware out of this one again.
I have been really into this idea recently of bikini tops that can double as regular tops. What do you think? I totally feel like you could get away with wearing this all day at the pool, and then roll right into dinner after throwing on a skirt or some pants.
The trend of more versatile swim tops that almost double as cropped tops is just getting started and is something I hope to see more of, because I am here for it.
Basic easy, nothing special. But, with a statement top I wouldn't want to go too wild on the bottom.
Love them. I have never bought a bad suit from L*SPACE. They always seem to fit me just right. And, now I don't feel as guilty spending money on them because they are starting to incorporate sustainable practices with their Eco Chic collection.
My favs this season.
Eco Chic Repreve Jess Bikini Top With Desi Bikini Bottom
This is an Italian brand that I recently learned about. And, I am loving their designs. They mix a lot of mesh into their swim, which I love. It provides some coverage but, it's also sheer and see-through.
My boyfriend always jokes that if something is black and sheer, I'll wear it, dubbing my personal style "a million layers of black mesh" or "clothes people wear to go cast a spell". Lol is all I have to say to that, clearly, he has never worked in fashion in NYC.
Remember earlier how I was talking about giving the high cut thigh a try? This might be an easy way to test out the trend. While the thigh is hight cut, there is also a mesh detail that adds a little more coverage. What do you think?
IL QUATTRO bikini top with LA SETTE bikini bottom
I love this style. The lines and proportions are perfect.
Another great way to dip your toe into the trend of the V cut waist line that I featured earlier. This is playing with that super sexy trend but still adds coverage.
Caring For Your Swim Suit
Now that you probably have a ton of inspo for your summer 2020 beach wardrobe here is a little refresher about how to care for your swim and make it last as long as possible.
As soon as you get out of the water, rinse it off. Hop in the shower with your suite on and get all that salt or chlorine off before you lay out to tan and try.
Never put your swim in the washer or dryer. Always wash by hand.
Don't Forget About It
I do this a lot. After a long day at the beach, I totally forget that my suit is at the bottom of my bag in a ziplock back. As soon as you get home, wash your suit and hang it to dry. Leaving it at the bottom of your bag can cause mold to grow.
What do you think? What are your favorite sustainable swimwear brands? Missing from my list is a fair trade brand? Does anyone have any recommendations?