Fashion is often accused of being all about the surface, ignoring what lies beneath. The same thing can be said for our oceans and waterways. What we see when admiring a gorgeous sunset over the Pacific Ocean or enjoy a cup of morning coffee by a crystal clear lake is, literally, only the surface. About 70% of the earth’s surface is water, and the deepest point in the ocean (the Mariana Trench) is taller than the highest mountain. There’s a lot going on beneath that surface.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) “the ocean is the lifeblood of Earth, driving weather, regulating temperature, and ultimately supporting all living organisms.” Throughout history, the ocean has played an important role as a major source of sustenance for many peoples around the world, and has also been used for transport to further commerce and growth.
“Yet for all of our reliance on the ocean,” the NOAA states, “95 percent of this realm remains unexplored, unseen by human eyes.”
We actually know very little about what goes on in those deep waters, which should give us even more reason to protect them. Fashion has not been kind to our oceans, causing pollution directly through dyes and chemicals, and indirectly through factories and energy-intensive transportation. Then there’s also the story about that lost shipment of sneakers floating around in the Pacific Garbage gyre.
The good news is that there are fashion brands working toward making a difference in this area, through everything from material innovation to organized beach cleanups.
United By Blue
The brand’s founder, Brian Linton, always had a strong bond to the ocean and its dwellers. In 2006, he decided to turn this passion into a business and started a company that sold a line of sustainably made jewelry and donated a percentage of profits to ocean conservation initiatives. He quickly grew frustrated, however, at not being able to see the results of these efforts first-hand and be sure that these donations were actually making a difference. So, in 2010, he started United By Blue (UBB), and decided to make hands-on-action an important part of the company’s mission.
For every product sold, UBB will remove one pound of trash from our oceans and waterways. To do this, the company does not rely on third-party NGOs, opting to organize their own beach cleanups instead.
“Not only does the UBB business model enable us to be the catalyst for real conservation efforts,” the company states, “it also allows us to develop a fun, engaging, and community-focused brand. Our cleanups are the bedrock of our company, and allow us to engage with thousands of volunteers and inspire participation in the blue movement.”
UBB’s designs are inspired by Linton’s own explorations growing up abroad and by that moment of discovering something forgotten. The nautical color scheme calls to mind weathered buildings in harbor towns, and secret hideaway spots, in places near or far. Many of the brand’s (organic, of course) tees feature subtle messages to be worn proudly in support of the cause.
UBB is a Certified B-Corporation and recently introduced a product recycling program that allows customers to send their worn merchandise back and get money back. The actual dollar amount that you would get when sending something back is (cleverly) printed somewhere on the piece.
Not only does the UBB business model enable us to be the catalyst for real conservation efforts, it also allows us to develop a fun, engaging, and community-focused brand. Our cleanups are the bedrock of our company, and allow us to engage with thousands of volunteers and inspire participation in the blue movement.
The name — United By Blue — alludes to the fact that we are all somehow united by the world’s oceans, whether we realize it or not. This fact makes it all the more important to rediscover and restore this valuable resource, necessary to sustain life on earth.
Eco Swim by Aqua Green
Based in the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania, Eco Swim by Aqua Green is a 4th generation family company with a strong community-focus. Although the company has grown significantly, selling internationally, they still design, fit, source, cut and sew right in Philadelphia.
About five years ago, an internal green team was formed, initiating changes focused on innovation, well-being and sustainability. Some of these initiatives included simple changes such as a corporate ban on purchases of styrofoam, recycling of all paper, plastics, light bulbs and color cartridges. More complicated efforts include sustainable fabric initiatives with long term fabric suppliers.
“When our great grandfather started this company 72 years ago, the oceans and beaches were cleaner places,” say Samantha and Alex, the current owners. “Four generations later, in a world with polluted water and dirty beaches, Eco Swim by Aqua Green is answering a call to restore our oceans’ health. By making our swimsuits in the US and using fabrics made from recycled materials, we are reducing our carbon footprint in the sand so that our beaches can be enjoyed by the next four generations.”
By making our swimsuits in the US and using fabrics made from recycled materials, we are reducing our carbon footprint in the sand so that our beaches can be enjoyed by the next four generations.
Eco Swim uses a brand of fabrics called Repreve, made from 100% recycled materials such as PET and nylon. Using these recycled synthetic fibers helps keep plastics that would otherwise have been discarded out of landfills and oceans. It also helps conserve precious natural resources, as well as on manufacturing and shipping. By making their swimwear in the US and sourcing locally, the company says that they save over 96% fossil fuel.
Since the collection launched in 2012, Eco Swim and the brand’s nationwide retailers have removed four tons of trash from our oceans and waterways through the incredible volunteerism and responsible corporate partnerships with our retailers. The company is a member of The Oceanic Society, a non-profit conservation organization that works toward protecting endangered wildlife and preserving threatened marine habitats worldwide. Eco Swim has also partnered with United By Blue (see above) to host several cleanups and remove over 3,000 pounds of trash from oceans and waterways.
Eco Swim demonstrates a strong commitment toward material innovation, trying out the newest sustainable fibers and bringing them to market quickly. Just this year, the brand incorporated two new sustainable fibers — made from coffee and corn — into their collection.
“The absolute best thing about using these new fibers, including Repreve recycled plastic fibers,” the brand states, “is that as a manufacturer we would choose to use them anyway due to their excellent performance and benefits. Each time we choose a new, more sustainable fabric, we make sure the quality is equal to if not better than conventional swimwear fabrics. The next best thing about using corn and coffee fibers is that they come from renewable sources. We work with our supply chain to make sure that not only their end use but whole supply chain is done in a more earth friendly manner.”
Eco Swim’s collection ranges from sexy and cute to sporty and practical, ensuring there is something that suits everyone’s taste. What all the pieces have in common is that they will make you feel good about looking great on the beach — something we can all appreciate.
Photos courtesy of United by Blue & Eco Swim