2019's top ethical swimwear brands for women - from bikinis to rash vests

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Are you off on holiday? Planning your summer escape? If you're hunting around for a new swimsuit or bikini, here are the best ethical swimwear brands, most of whom are based in the UK. From beach babes to swim queens, we've got yo 

Hannah Reed 6 May 2019

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How many swimsuits have you purchased in your lifetime? Do you buy a new one each year? Each holiday? With trends and styles on constant rotation, the fashion industry is churning out more pieces than we can keep up with. 

What's wrong with mainstream swimwear?

There are two main problems when it comes to swimwear - the amount of it and what it's made of.

As a result, we are left with more clothing waste than ever before. The current state of fast fashion and trend-based clothing production has created a problem, and swimwear is no exception. Wrap UK estimates that 350,000 tonnes of used (but wearable) clothing heads straight to a landfill in the UK every year, not to mention the loads of unworn clothing that sits around in people's wardrobes. But that’s just the beginning.

Conventional swimwear obviously contains textiles, but the main material making up our cheeky little bikinis is actually plastic. Typical swimwear companies generally rely on materials like nylon, polyester and Lycra for their ability to wick moisture, easily stretch and allow for relatively cheap production. But we all know the problem with new plastics - they have nowhere to go when we’re done with them. 

It’s estimated that 65 tonnes of plastic materials are generated every year and only 10% of that ends up recycled. If it can’t decompose, where does the rest of it go? Sadly, it heads straight for landfills, oceans, and even into our food chain (eek).  

Bakoto's ethical swimwear is made in the UK

From bikinis to bathing suits, there's an ethical option for every style of swimwear

But the choice of material is just the start of the problem. In order for these fast fashion companies to ensure quick turnaround with their ever-changing trend pieces they have to make sure that they have the shortest lifespan possible. That’s why you probably threw away that that cheap onesie you bought a few summers ago because it's falling apart, uncomfortable, or (god forbid) you realise it’s see-through after just a use or two. And even the few that do last, styles change so rapidly that we feel compelled to toss last season’s suit for the brand new one we’ve seen all over social media.

Cheap materials and fast production sadly results in high CO2 emissions and cheap labour, which isn’t good for the planet or the economy, let alone the wellbeing of undercompensated and overworked labourers.

Thankfully, we’re not alone the fast fashion misery. Below are our favourite ethical swimwear companies that are doing what they can to challenge the swimwear production norms and help the planet in the process.  

What do all these ethical swimwear brands have in common? 

They embrace the idea that the key to creating ethical swimwear is making sure that it not only looks amazing, but is responsibly crafted and actually lasts. 

They do this by sourcing different, natural materials or repurposing plastics that already exist in the world (from the approximate 8 billion tonnes on the planet, there’s certainly no short supply). Plastic comprises much of the estimated 1.4 billion tonnes of waste that enters our oceans each year and one-tenth of that is said to be abandoned fishing nets.

Since the synthetic material can’t decompose, it instead breaks apart into microplastics that are ingested by small marine animals and work their way up the food chain back to us.

Many of these brands are sourcing ocean plastics as their main (if not only!) ingredient. The plastics are sorted, cleaned, and broken down into flakes that can then be melted down into thread called ECONYL and it’s actually more soft and stable than its predecessor, Lycra.

From there, normal production ensues. But that’s not all that makes these brands admirable. They make a point to craft pieces that last - the longer you hang on to your new suit, the less of them end up in landfill. They are not only reducing and (doing their best at) reversing plastic waste, but they’re using design to make timeless pieces that won’t go out of style after just one season.

When shopping for a suit for your next holiday, join the fight against throwaway fashion and consider a few things first: 

what it’s made of
how it’s made
and just how many suits the company you’re looking to purchase from is cranking out every year

11 ethical swimwear brands worth your money

Davy J 

This British beachwear brand is all about creating an ethical swimsuit that wears as good as it looks. The suits’ double lined, high elastane composition provides extra strength and shape, so you won’t be reaching for another anytime soon. But when you do, they encourage you to bring your suit back to them so they can repurpose its materials - Davy J hopes to have 60% closed-loop resourcing by 2020. They offer plenty of mix-and-match options from high-neck cropped tops to super high waisted briefs.

Read our interview on the circular economy and end of life design with Davy J here.

Ethical swimming costumes from Davy J

Davy J have a closed loop model and want to recycle your old swimming costumes

Deakin & Blue 

Deakin & Blue believes that doing good is just good business and it strives to make a positive environmental, social and ethical impact. All of its suits are created in a small London factory, using 100% recycled material from old fishing nets and industrial plastics and it aims to help women of all shapes and sizes feel great on the beach as well as helping the planet. Their sculpting Essential Swimsuit combines a flattering v-neckline with peeps of sexy mesh.

Deakin-and-Blue ethical swimwear

We are loving Deakin & Blue's hot yellow two pieces for summer

RubyMoon

RubyMoon is the world’s only not-for-profit sustainable swimwear company who give 100% of net profits as microloans to business women across 14 developing countries. But that’s just the half of it. The company produces 42% less carbon emissions than its conventional counterparts and has a versatile line featuring crop tops, sports bras, leggings, rash guards and swimsuits. The Solange GymToSwim Rash Guard is designed for durability and style, protecting you from chlorine, sunlight, and saltwater - whether it’s while you’re surfing the waves or hitting the volleyball court.

Ethical Activewear Ruby Moon

RubyMoon's active swimwear funds microloans that help fund female businesses in emerging countries

Arkitaip 

Fighting against plastic, Arkitaip creates its garments out of natural fibres like linen. Linen has a small carbon footprint, is able to grow without harsh chemicals and is 100% biodegradable. The line is full of 70s-inspired super chic linen loungewear that’s perfect for your next holiday. Plus for bikinis and crop tops that are more for lounging by the pool than doing laps, their handmade crochet two pieces channel your inner 70s goddess.

Ethical crocheted bikinis from Arkitaip

Crocheted bikinis are made to order by Arkitaip's experts in Spain

Batoko 

Batoko is on a mission to turn trash into treasure. Priding itself on being literal rubbish, the company produces sustainable swimwear that is made from 100% recycled plastic waste that would have otherwise ended up in a landfill or the ocean. Based on the Northwest coast of England, the independent swimwear company plans on staying small so the focus can stay on the quality of the product and being kinder to the planet. Their bright suits feature fun patterns that are digitally printed to save water and energy.

Ethical swimwear made from 100% recycled plastic

We're loving Batoko's orca designed suits

Stidston Swimwear

Made to order in London, Stidston is seriously sexy swimwear. Each style is available in recycled Lycra and is designed for more than just the sun and the sand, you’ll want to wear these cossies all day with options ranging from velvet to gingham.

Stidston swimwear ethical swimwear

Upcycled materials and a made to order strategy make Stidston seriously sustainable

UND Swimwear 

Dedicated to keeping carbon emissions low, UND Swimwear is made 100% in Italy and sources from sustainable suppliers that care just as much about waste management and renewable energy as they do. The Lycra used in UND’s products comes from ocean plastics that are recycled in (you guessed it) Italy. The suits are timeless, but they are anything but boring. Mix-and-match a magnitude of mesh-edged tops and bottoms or go with a classic one-piece.

Ethical bikinis from UND

Ethical but high end bikinis are the name of the game at UND Swimwear

We Are Nativ 

Channel your inner 80s aerobic goddess with We Are Nativ's ethical swimwear. The killer cuts are sporty and sexy and rival the commercial brands by showing that sustainability is sexy and conscious is cool. With the high-fashion style, you’d never guess that everything’s created from post-consumer waste, 100% ECONYL and made ethically in Indonesia.

WeAreNativ_ethical swimwear

Sexy and sustainable is 2019's big trend

Undersea Bikini 

Undersea Bikini is an eco-friendly swimwear label that focuses on creating a comfortable, lasting product you can feel good about wearing. With a deep rooted belief that fashion should be fair and luxury should automatically be about sustainability, the feminine-sporty collection is handmade from soft, Italian fabrics made from ECONYL. Have fun with a large array of different colours and styles or keep it simple with a timeless onesie.

Undersea bikini ethical swimwear

Go for bikinis that rock from recycled plastics at Undersea

Elle Evans

Aussie ethical swimwear label Elle Evans has been making swimwear from recycled marine plastics since 2013. Each piece is lovingly made to order and the fifth collection, Franklin is bang on trend with its sumptuous 70s mustard tones and retro caravanning holiday prints. Vintage chic, sustainably made and made for keeps.

Ethically made bikinis from Ellie Evans

Elle Evans captures the retro tones of the sunny 70s

Volcom

Volcom has been committed to different fibre sourcing and responsible manufacturing for years but this summer it brings everything together, presenting bold monochrome colour block swimsuits that not only look good but won't let you down should you decide to SUP rather than hit the sunloungers. The women's collection is made from 91% ECONYL, while the men's make use of hemp and recycled plastic bottles. 

Ethical swimsuits from Volcom

Volcom combines monochrome with manufacturing that's been ethically sourced

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