Skip to main content

Fashion & beauty

How to find sustainable swimwear

As more people are buying ‘less and better’ with clothes, what should you consider when it comes to buying summer holiday swimwear?

Investing in better swimwear that will last longer and washing carefully to prolong the life of the fabric is a good place to start. Cheap clothing also means cheap labour, so check out the ethical credentials of any brand to ensure your lovely new bikini or swim shorts wasn’t made by poorly paid workers in sweatshop conditions.

Most modern swimwear is made of polyester, nylon and lycra for stretch, fit and performance but these are plastic-based fibres and usually end up in landfill. Apart from the odd crochet or hemp two piece online, the best way forward seems to be choosing recycled fabrics - look for swimwear which is durable and guaranteed as resistant to chlorine, sunlight and saltwater.

New independent labels such as Rubymoon and Staywild Swim offer a great alternative – ethical swimwear made in the UK using Econyl, a regenerated nylon fibre created sustainably from unwanted ocean waste such as fishing nets. This helps to not only fight the marine plastic problem, but they are aiming for a fully circular production system where used swimsuits can again be recycled.

Swimsuit company Batoko was set up to take rubbish collected on beach cleans.

Batoko’s swimsuits were created following local beach litter clean ups, where they were shocked at the volume of plastic washed up on shore. They state that that by 2050, plastic will outweigh fish in the world's oceans, and set about turning "sea trash into sea treasure" through their ethically-manufactured swimwear.

Cornish company Finisterre uses recycled materials in their surf wear for men and women in a range that includes natural rubber wetsuits, and they are closing the loop by launching a wetsuit ‘buy back scheme’ where old suits can be traded in to be recycled.

Patagonia also creates swimwear from recycled materials that are Fairtrade-certified, and wetsuits made using rubber derived from sources certified by the Rainforest Alliance.

The risk of recycled plastic

But it's not as simple as choosing recycled. Fabric made from recycled plastics can shed more fibres, so could this damage the very marine environment you’re trying to protect?

It is estimated that eight million tonnes of plastics are leaking into the ocean every day, with over 60 per cent of the plastic debris found in the sea coming from clothing microfibresThis is highly destructive to oceans, with the amount and impact of them finding their way into the food chain only now being understood.

Until washing machine manufacturers step up and put micro-plastic filters on their machines, a great solution is to either hand or machine wash swimwear below 30C in a guppyfriend washing bag, designed to let water flow through but trap the microfibres. It also helps protect the swimwear from fibre breakage, helping your suit last longer. As most fibres are shed with the first wash, do this before wearing your new swimwear to reduce shedding. 

Finally, you could always do away with the hassle of figuring all this out and find a spot where you can enjoy a swim using the most eco-friendly swimwear around - your birthday suit!


anthony roper

2 Years

I would like to find someone making gym ware (shorts mainly ) from cotton or hemp, maybe bamboo?

1 Reply

view replies

Dan Haddock

1 Year 2 Months

I know I’m probably late to the party, but I get mine from a place called BAM bamboo clothing, and workout shoes from Vivo barefeet.

1 Reply

Comments Editor

1 Year 1 Month

Great sustainable clothing suggestions Dan, thanks!

0 Reply

Wicked Leeks is out now

With a focus on regenerative farming, a cover interview with ethical restaurateur Asma Khan and we answer your questions on price, plastic and organic farming. Plus the joy of seasonal summer eating.

Read more

Ecological farming can feed UK if diets change

New report outlines how diets can support an ecological farming system in the UK to cut carbon, restore nature and preserve farming livelihoods.

Read now
veg box

Ethical organic veg. Delivered.

Set up by Guy Singh-Watson, Riverford now delivers across the country with a full range of fresh produce, meat, dairy and more.

Shop now

Join the Wicked Leeks community

Sign up for the newsletter and receive the five latest stories, once a week. Wicked Leeks magazine is published by organic veg box company Riverford.

Spread the word

The twin crises of climate change and biodiversity losses will be the defining stories of our future, but it is not too late to change direction. 

Here at Wicked Leeks, our mission is to help inform and inspire positive change. Our journalism is free to all because of this, but we want to reach as many people as possible who share our desire for a better world. We know our readers are some of the biggest advocates of sustainable living, and you can help us grow this movement by sharing this article widely, with your friends and on social media. Now is the time to act.