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  • Juliet Dale

Sustainable NZ Swimwear brands

Updated: Nov 19, 2020

We’ve survived a stranger winter than most and, all of a sudden, days at the beach and by the pool don’t seem too far away!


If you are on the hunt for new togs (swimsuit for those non-NZ readers) and want to make a conscious, sustainable choice (YAY YOU!) then you’ll be happy to hear that NZ has a number of sustainable swimwear brands, some are even made right here in New Zealand.


Until recently, the swimwear industry was completely dependent on materials made from polyester. The exciting news is that there are now eco-friendly swimwear fabrics, which most of the brands in this article are using. The main fabric used for sustainable swimwear is ECONYL®. So, before I launch into the amazing swimwear brands, let’s start with a quick run down of this amazing fabric:

Manufactured in Italy, ECONYL® is made from 100% nylon waste material, including discarded carpets, plastic components and ghost fishing nets that litter our oceans. It is produced within a closed loop, which means it can be recycled infinitely without loss of quality. In other words, ECONYL® can be recycled, recreated and remoulded again and again. It’s recycling and up-cycling taken to epic levels. Amazing stuff.


And now, bring on the brands….



AURAI SWIMWEAR


Aurai fuses owner and designer Natalia’s life in Auckland, New Zealand, with her hometown in Brazil. The designs are simple but eye-catching, always with a point of difference. Not only are her pieces made from recycled materials and ethically created, the materials are also locally sourced to minimise the cost and impact of transportation. One of the NGOs they work with, Paddle for Hope, has also been their inspiration to make most of their pieces mastectomy friendly.


“AURAI is an eco & ethical swimwear brand propped up by an intimate flair with surf and beach culture and deep respect for nature, created by italo-brazilian designer Natalia Bertolo.”

Price-range: $49 (separates) - $129

Fabric: Their materials include ECONYL®. They have also introduced AMNI SOUL ECO®, made from a polyamide with an improved formulation that accelerates biodegradation in the anaerobic environment, common in most landfills. Also, AMNI SOUL ECO® is a yarn developed and produced in Brazil. Both fabrics are OEKO TEX certified, i.e., zero harmful substances are used in their manufacturing.

Made in: Brazil. The swimsuits are carefully handmade at a small family-owned atelier in Natalia’s hometown in southern Brazil, where she locally sources most of the materials.

Packaging: The packaging consists of a reusable compostable pouch or 100% recycled paper pillow box, wrapped in a compostable shipping bag.

Other: In collaboration with Paddle for Hope, they were inspired to convert most of their SS19 collection into mastectomy-friendly designs. There are not many stylish swimwear options in the market for women who have been through a mastectomy. They make annual donations to Paddle for Hope, and are also forging a new collaboration with Our Seas Our Future.

Almost all the AURAI pieces feature functional design, such as reversible options and customizable ties.


Find the Aurai range here.



NISA

Nisa is an underwear label and social enterprise based in Wellington. They employ women from refugee and migrant backgrounds and offer them so much more than a pay cheque - it's about making friends, practicing English and feeling like a valued member of a team.

They have a new range for 2020 which is focused on a fresh, natural colour palette of sky blue, buttercup yellow, jade and navy.

Nisa is proud to be part of the ethical clothing revolution, creating underwear and swimwear that is good for the planet AND the people.

“Nisa Swim brings beautiful to ethical by using fabric from recycled materials to make swimwear that celebrates and supports women.”

Price-range: Approx $119 (separates) -$209 (one piece)

Fabric: ECONYLⓇ,

Made in: Wellington, New Zealand. Their workshop is open to the public, and has a shop inside.

Packaging: Wrapped in tissue, then sent inside a mailer made from recycled paper.

Other: NISA currently employs seven refugee women, and has the dream to build an alumni of 100 former employees who go on to inspire their own communities.

NISA places huge focus on quality, creating garments that will be worn and loved for a long time.


Find the NISA range here.

THUNDERPANTS

When a business’s mantra is “People over profits” you know you’re onto a good thing. Thunderpants really are a good thing. Based in Martinborough, Thunderpants are truly NZ made. Traditionally in the business of undies, years ago they branched out into swimwear and activewear. When they could no longer source NZ made fabric, they made the switch to ECONYL® last year. The styles are simple, in black and blue, with mix and match separates and a swim dress. This year they are bringing out a new one piece, new colours and a new print.

‘We are not really about fashion. Our swimwear is all about being sustainable, comfy, modest, hardwearing and... swimming.’


Price-range: $88 (separates) - $158 (one pieces)

Fabric: ECONYL®

Made in: New Zealand. The fabric is either printed in Auckland or Martinborough and then they are sewn in Carterton. Thunderpants also uses NZ based manufacturers and suppliers where possible.

Packaging: Unable to find a viable non plastic, eco-friendly option for supply in NZ, Thunderpants imports Eco-enclose mailers (recycled and recyclable), from the USA by the pallet.

Other: They're working towards being Carbon Neutral and are Fairtrade certified. Thunderpants supports a huge amount of charities and local schools, community groups and events. Check out their website for more of the good stuff they do.


Find the Thunderpants swimwear range here.


SALTYSEA

Saltysea is a swim and activewear brand based in Waihi Beach, New Zealand. They place a huge focus on transparency and ethical working conditions, right down to ensuring that their manufacturers supply a daycare service and healthcare benefits for their staff. They use recycled fabrics, biodegradable packaging and even make their business cards out of teeshirt offcuts! As a relatively conservative mum edging towards 40, their swimwear range until now is a bit on the cheeky (catch my drift??) side for me, but they have some fuller coverage pieces on the way which I’m excited to see, and for those with a slightly more racey approach to their behind, this is definitely a brand to check out!

“We create socially conscious and ethically made collections designed for those on the move who respect sustainability and the positive impact we can have."


Price-range: $69 (separates) - $129 (one pieces)

Fabric: The swimwear is made from ECONYL® and Eco Olympus.

Made in: Bali, by a small family owned business.

Packaging: Only biodegradable packaging is used; eco-friendly tissue paper, compostable stickers and biodegradable courier bags.

Other: Stephanie is working on an initiative with her manufacturer where all material off cuts will be used to create dog beds donated to the animal shelters for stray dogs in Bali. Saltysea also creates a basics range for men consisting of boardshorts and 100% bamboo tees.


Find the Saltysea range here.


KOWTOW

Likely the most well-known brand in this list, Kowtow is NZ’s biggest ethical fashion label. Kowtow is a label committed to positive change and proud to be all about slow-fashion. Founded in 2006, they added swimwear to their range in 2018.


“The limitations of our ethos keeps us innovative. We don’t compromise on design, and embrace restrictions. This gives our garments a strong minimal identity, and we believe the simplicity of our clothing is the first step toward circularity.”


Price-range: $129 (separates) - $269 (one pieces)

Fabric: The swimwear is made from ECONYL®.

Made in: India. Kowtow has only used two manufacturers, both of whom are SA8000 certified. The SA8000 Standard encourages clothing manufacturers to develop, maintain, and apply socially acceptable practices in the workplace. SA8000 helps ensure the workers at our production facilities receive the following benefits: guaranteed minimum wage, social security fund, pension fund, paid holiday leave, sick pay, medical insurance, subsidised lunches, overtime pay and workplace unions.

Packaging: All the paper from swing tags to boxes is Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) approved. All packaging is printed with soy-based and petroleum-free inks & designed to be entirely recyclable.


Find the Kowtow swimwear range here.


SALT

Salt really take the environment into consideration every step of the way. From fabric to packaging, carbon offsetting to the hygiene strips… everything is done with the environment in mind. They also offer more styles and sizes (10-18) than most eco-conscious swimwear labels.


'Salt is an eco-conscious swimwear label which was born out of a lifelong infatuation with nature and a heart yearning to help restore the environment.'

Price-range: $90 (separates) - $120 (one pieces)

Fabric: ECONYL®

Made in: Australia. All swimsuits are hand-made under ethical fair trade practices.

Packaging: The swimwear is packaged with recycled plastic zip lock bags (which they encourage buyers to reuse) and then packaged in a 100% biodegradable mailer bag. Even their tissue paper and hygiene stickers are eco-friendly! The tissue paper is printed using soy-based inks, and the hygiene stickers are currently making the switch from plastic to paper. They’re even getting rid of the hang tags!

Other: Salt offer a take back programme for all Salt swimwear. They recycle and repurpose it; The fabric is returned to their manufacturer and repurposed as microfibers in other materials like car interiors, floor mats, carpet, office chairs etc. You also get a $10 gift voucher when you use the take back programme.

Salt is also working on carbon-offset initiaves. They are reducing their emissions, offsetting through Auckland company Carbonclick, and also offer an offsetting option for customers (which adds $2 to your purchase).

For every order placed, Salt donates $1 to help Sustainable Coastlines with their mission.


Find the Salt range here.



GEMMA LEE SUITS

A late arrival to this blog, Gemma Lee suits have recently brought their factory home from Australia to NZ. Vibrant, bold and playful, Gemma Lee creates swimsuits and wetsuits with flair, thinking of the environment every step of the way.


"...we are committed to creating beautiful wetsuits & swimwear that have the earth in mind. In every decision we make we are conscious of our environmental impact and we make each decision with respect and love for our playground. We craft all our wetsuits & swimwear from eco-conscious materials."

Price-range: $70 (separates) - $149(one pieces)

Fabric: ECONYL®

Made in: New Zealand

Packaging: Swimsuits are packaged in tissue paper and compostable bags, wetsuits in cardboard boxes. The hygiene stickers are even biodegradable.

Other: Gemma Lee Suits textile processes are Bluesign certified, which is a water saving technique that reduces water usage, as much as 80% over standard techniques used for dying.


Find the Gemma Lee range here.


EMROCE

Emroce have been making waves in Italy for years, but the craziness that is 2020 has brought founder Emma and her family back to her homeland of NZ - which is exciting news for us Kiwis! Now based in Papamoa, the Emroce collection is designed and made right here in New Zealand with high-quality, recycled Italian fabrics.


"The main aim for our swimwear is to be zero waste and functional with a perfect fit. We don't make anything for pure aesthetics. We don't follow trends. We cut every style back to it's basic necessities. We would never add an extra strap or frill to make the garment prettier. We would only do so, in order to make the garment function better or to use any fabric that would otherwise become waste."


Price-range: $50(separates) - $95(one pieces)

Fabric: ECONYL®

Made in: New Zealand.

Packaging: The swimwear is placed in a recycled plastic bag to protect it from the weather.

It is then placed in a brown paper bag and closed with metal staples.

Other: Each style is cut from a tessellating pattern which leaves no waste. Thread off-cuts are used to stuff cushions, swing tags are attached with fabric offcuts, they even use recycled paper for their patterns! After two years of manufacturing they could put their waste in a small box (smaller than a tissue box). They also have some girls' styles.


Find the Emroce swimwear range here.


AWWA


Now AWWA is different to the rest of these brands, their swimsuits are made from spandex/polyester, they are manufactured in China / Sri Lanka… so how come they’ve made this list? For a very good reason. These are period togs. Yup, they can hold a tampon worth of flow. So while the materials may not be recycled, they are preventing single use period products, which is another great way to be sustainable! Oh, and AWWA is also a carbon positive company doing great things for our planet in NZ and beyond. They have the one bikini design, which you can buy as separates or together ($39.50 each).


Find the AWWA period swimwear here.



NATURE BABY

And we can't forget the kids! Nature Baby have just released a range of SPF50 ECONYL® swimwear for your little ones. The classic pieces range from $45 - $55, and include shorts, tops and swimsuits.


Find the super cute range here.



So there you have it! An amazing selection of trail-blazing brands who are making swimwear sustainable and ethical, right here in little old New Zealand.


A final thought: when it comes to swimwear, like all fashion, let's take it slow. Let's use what we have, consider second hand, or invest in quality garments and classic styles, that will stand the test of time. Look after them, cherish them, love them. In the words of Vivienne Westwood: "Buy less, choose well, make it last."


I want to thank the lovely Kate Hall from Ethically Kate, who wrote an article on this topic a couple of years ago. That article was my starting point for this one, and you can find it here.

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