Barefoot in the sand or paddling out for waves, surfers are reminded that eventually everything ends up in the ocean. Even on remote beaches in Mexico, storms wash bottle caps, straws, and candy wrappers out to sea and back onto the sandy shore to remind us of this cycle. And those are just the things we can see. Imagine what’s still out there.
Although I try to avoid single-use plastic and attempt to recycle everything else, I’m discovering that there are companies leading the way at the manufacturing end of the equation. They’re pioneering fair trade supplier relationships and demanding environmentally low-impact and recycled fibers in their products, all while producing gorgeous, functional apparel made to last.
Ocean Wear 101
It’s a sad truth that the apparel industry is one of the largest polluters in the world. Part of the problem is it’s just so massive. Like food and shelter, everybody needs clothes. And like many women, I like new clothes.
The most popular fabrics come from plants like cotton, bamboo, and hemp or animals like wool and leather, while others are made from petroleum. Think polyester and nylon.
Each material performs differently. For example, cotton is soft and breathable, but it’s not practical for swimsuits, leggings, or outerwear. Instead, petro-based synthetics like nylon and polyester are the first choice for those garments, but their production can have a high environmental impact.
There is good news. Modern tech is being used to produce synthetic fabrics made from a variety of plastic waste. Common recyclables include single-use plastic bottles, but sew shop waste and even recycled fishing nets can be included. Clothing designers work their magic with these repurposed fabrics to the point where you can’t tell the difference in performance or style when compared to garments made from strictly virgin yarns.
And the process of making our clothes has become just as vital as the materials used. Fair labor laws in the US and other progressive countries promise better working conditions and living wages for those who sew our swimsuits. Fair Trade Certified garments may cost more than traditional methods, but the extra money is shared throughout the supply chain, promoting worker health and safety as well as social and environmental compliance. (For a deeper look at the impact of fashion on people and the planet, check out the documentary, The True Cost, streaming on Netflix and Amazon.)
But everything we make, even recycled fabrics, organic fibers, and responsibly made garments, have a cost on the environment. We can reduce that impact by the choices in what we buy. Sending the message that we care how our clothes are made will effect positive change, making organic and eco-friendly options the clear standard.
If you’d like to support of the movement, below are some great selections. I included each of their webpage links at the end of this post.
See you in the waves,