Swimwear and Activewear: How to Own Them to Their Fullest Potential 

Changing Perspectives

When it comes to your favourite pair of swimmers, what do you look for? I enjoy a nice two-piece with high waisted bottoms and a well supporting top. I’ve had the same two bikinis for the last several years. These garments have seen the sandy shores of Western Australia as well as the ever-sunny Brighton seafront.

I’ve come to really appreciate the durability of my swimwear, partly because I’ve been able to maintain the garments integrity for all these years. I consciously bought both garments from a small Australian business which sources sustainable fabrics and prioritises longevity within their clothing. Unfortunately, with many fast fashion brands with whom produce swimwear and active wear, these priorities aren’t so apparent.

Typically, swimwear companies rely on materials such as nylon, polyester and lycra in the manufacturing of their swimsuits. Partly because of the stretchability which these materials provide, but also due to their relatively low production cost. You must remember however, what you may save in your bank account, you’re adding with the impacts to the environment. It is realms such as fashion which need to be making longer lasting, environmentally conscious swimwear and activewear for consumers in order to spur continual and progressive change.

Source: The Oprah Magazine

“Small-scale brands are spearheading innovation through a radically ethical and socially conscious approach across all areas of the supple chain.” (Widdup, 2020)

We’re already seeing that business ethos within small and local brands around the United Kingdom as well as internationally. In fact, the battle of the sustainable swimwear and activewear brands is quickly becoming a very competitive industry. Perhaps it’s the social movements seen across social media that has been the impetus. Perhaps it’s consumers making more conscious purchasing decisions. Nonetheless, consumers are responding favourably to the increase of sustainably made swimwear and activewear by small businesses.

Maintaining the ‘Romance’

It’s very important to respect and cherish your garments. Nobody wants poorly constructed swimwear which will begin to fade after only a few wears and reveal a little more than the consumer cares to show. Everyone wants and deserves good quality fabrics and durable garments which will last the test of time.

Respect for your garments is imperative in ensuring a long lifecycle for them. Taking the appropriate steps in ensuring longevity lies solely on the consumer. Brands can make durable swimwear and activewear, but unfortunately if you aren’t engaging in the correct laundering practices then this will severely compromise the quality and lifecycle of your garment.

Source: Pebble Magazine

It is no surprise to know that we are currently living in a ‘disposable’ climate when it comes to our clothes. In fact, Wrap UK estimates that 350,000 tonnes of used (but wearable) clothing heads straight to landfill every year. (Reed, 2019)

It has never been more important to make conscious decisions on how we choose to prolong the life of our favourite clothes. I liken it to a relationship in many respects, if you’re willing to put the time and effort into washing and wearing your clothes to their fullest potential then in turn, they will continue providing that support and durability you so desire. It is a mutually beneficial partnership, which is why it’s so important to always be maintaining that sense of romance. I know I do with my swimwear.

Wash for Longevity, not Convenience

One of the biggest obstacles for ensuring the longevity of swimwear is the direct contact is has with chlorine. Chlorine is a caustic element in bleach that kills germs but can also cause colours to fade in certain fabrics and damage threads. As well as this, chlorine can break down the elasticity in your swimwear and activewear. Hot tubs, heated pools and salt water can all very quickly contribute to this deterioration too.

A big part of prolonging the life cycle of your garments is knowing how to wash them appropriately. Laundering your swimsuit incorrectly can significantly reduce its life cycle and will ultimately affect the lining and can result in dis-colouration and fading. Do not fret however, a step-by-step guide to sustainably wash your swimwear and activewear is provided below.

Gentle and natural washing detergent

Baking soda (optional)

Cold water

Mesh laundry bag

If garments are super stinky and grimy, give them a presoak in a sink solution of cold water and one cup of baking soda for about 30 minutes. Baking soda is a great addition to your washing routine as it brightens, freshens and removes odours from your swimsuits. In some instances, it can prevent colour bleeding too.

This is particularly useful step if you get excess lotions and oils on your swimwear. Substances such as sunscreen, tanning oils and cosmetic products will benefit from a presoak like this.

2. It is always recommended to hand-wash your swimwear as this will prevent any obstructions or damage which can be caused through a typical washing machine cycle. Place your swimwear in the sink with cold water and soak with a natural detergent*1 for 5 minutes. Avoid detergents with chlorine bleach present. You can also use a mild soap for particularly delicate fabrics. Avoid soaking for more than 5 minutes as the detergent can begin to work itself into the fibres and can compromise the fit.

3. If you wish to wash your swimwear in a washing machine, I recommend using a mesh laundry bag. Typically, washing garments in a machine can result in microfibers and fragments detaching from your clothes and entering into our waterways and oceans. These micro fibres are so small that treatment plants can’t effectively filter them out. Once in the environment, these micro fibres are consumed by the marine life and can cause a whole host of infections and fatalities.

4. Place your wash bag in the washing machine and set it for a gentle cycle. Ideally, wash your swimwear in cold water or below 35 degrees. Washing your garments in hot water will contribute to the colour fading and can damage the structural integrity of your swimwear.

5. Avoid drying your washed garments in a tumble dryer as further exposure to heat can damage the elastane fibres. Air drying is the most appropriate method. Lay your garments flat and out of any direct sunlight until completely dry.

6. When storing your swimwear, avoid putting them in plastic bags or similarly restrictive spaces. If there is any moisture in the swimwear or in the area at which its kept, it can get in and damage the fabric, causing mildew in some cases.

*1 Important to use eco-friendly washing detergents as most non-natural laundry detergents leave a chemical residue on your clothing which can then be absorbed by the skin and inhaled into our lungs in extreme cases. It can also cause irritation for children with sensitive skin. I recommend Ecover. Ecover uses plant derived ingredients to create a non-damaging biodegradable washing solution. To read up on Ecover’s ethos click here: https://www.ecover.com/laundry/

Top tip: Rotate your swimwear. If you’re an avid swimmer or beach goer, it’s always good to have more than one pair of swimmers. Alternating with at least one other swimsuit will allow a greater break between the freshly washed one. This will ultimately allow the fabrics to settle back into place, preserving elasticity.

The Fundamentals of Swimwear and Activewear

When we think of the core materials used to make the perfect pair of leggings or bikini bottoms, Lycra usually gets thrown around. Indeed, Lycra is a prominent material to use as it is highly stretchable, highly breathable, has a high resistant to heat as well as being comfortable on the skin.

Originally developed in the 1950’s by chemist Joseph Shivers, the Lycra brand can also be referred to as spandex or elastane. Essentially, it is a highly elastic synthetic fabric which makes it ideal for form fitting garments usually seen within the sporting and aquatic sectors. While Lycra has many redeeming qualities which make it such a commonly used fabric, it isn’t exactly environmentally friendly. Manufacturing Lycra requires a lot of heat and energy as it is a fully synthetic fibre, meaning all of its component are created in laboratory settings. Additionally, a variety of toxic chemicals are used in the process also.

“While many of the constituent parts that are used to create the chemical in Lycra fabric have organic origins, by the time that they are formed into Lycra fibers, they have been formulated and reformulated to the extent that they have no relation to organic components.” (Hodakel, 2020)

Lycra is detrimental to the environment as soon as it is sold to the consumer as it doesn’t biodegrade. It is estimated that 60% of the trash present in waterways is composed of non-biodegradable fabric fibres. (Hodakel, 2020).

Thankfully, we’ve progressed a fair bit since the late 50’s when it comes to being environmentally conscious. Through this progression, appropriate steps have been made to make the Lycra brand as ethically and environmentally beneficial.

 Source: Sewport

The New Normal: Xtra Life LYCRA / Econyl

For a lot of people, Lycra is simply the only fabric they’ve heard of when in relation to swimwear and activewear. However, fabrics such as Econyl and even Xtra Life Lycra are now mimicking the same alluring properties of traditional Lycra, but from a much more environmentally conscious standpoint.

Xtra Life Lycra is made from Econyl – a 100% regenerated nylon and polyester fibre from post-consumer materials such as industrial plastic and fishing nets. It provides greater resistance to chlorine than Lycra typically does. As well as this, Xtra Life Lycra fibres resists fabric breakdown more than five times longer than your average spandex. Deterioration in swimsuits is mainly determined by elastane breakage, which weakens the fabric and causes a loss of shape and fit. According to Eclipse Textiles, swimwear garments using Xtra Life Lycra fiber have no significant fiber breakage even after 240 hours of exposure.

The Xtra Life Lycra provides a better alternative as it resists against degradation from chlorinated water, heat, and sunscreen. As a result, it can extent your garments life exponentially when compared to that of traditional elastane swimwear. While this provides progress for the Lycra brand as well as swimwear and activewear alike, we’re not out of the woods yet. There needs to be a greater shift from relying on the cheap production of Lycra to that of harnessing the many environmental benefits of using Econyl.

Econyl has proven to be top tier in terms of providing that essential elasticity, stretchability and breathability in your garments. This regenerative nylon has been a game changer for not only the apparel industry but also for the climate.

New Alternatives

While by all accounts, strides and leaps have been made in the swimwear and activewear realm, more can always be done. Consistency and longevity in our environmental efforts is what’ll count when it comes to reducing the amount of clothes in landfill and the eventual outcome of our oceans.

If you haven’t already heard of the company Invista, allow me to explain. They are one of the world’s largest integrated producers of chemical intermediates, polymers and fibres. Through advanced technologies for nylon, both spandex and polyester are used to produce clothing, carpet, car parts and other everyday products. Invista operates in more than 20 countries and is definitely becoming a game changer in the production and re-purposing of long-lasting performance fabrics. Invista has a strong ethos of reducing their output, including emissions, solid waste, as well as air and water pollutants.

“We’ve developed long-lasting materials that minimise our eco-footprint while enhancing the performance of our fabrics, much for the benefit of our customers – and the environment.” (INVISTA, 2019)

One of the main objectives of Invista is to make products and fabrics which exist in your everyday life. One of their key products made from INVISTA adiponitrile (AND) is nylon 6.6. This fabric provides high levels of strength and flexibility and can be used in durable sportswear.

In fact, Invista has even launched a new version of the popular LYCRA T400 fibre with enhanced sustainability. This fibre is a combination of recycled materials such as PET bottles which have been diverted from landfill as well as renewable plant-based materials.

Source: Vivify Textiles

“EcoMade fibres offer the same benefits of lasting comfort, fit and performance as the original, but with value-added offer of sustainability” (INVISTA, 2018)

This showcases the efforts companies are putting in to ensure the same quality activewear and swimwear apparel, but with a heightened understanding and urgency of preserving the environment. I urge anyone reading this to visit Invista’s website and read up on all the great work they are doing. Invista offers a new perspective on how a company can produce and craft longer lasting fabrics whilst also being mindful of the environmental impacts.

Reflection on your ‘Romance’

I would say to anyone who is new to adopting a more sustainable and environmentally conscious lifestyle, it starts with respecting the integrity of your clothing. I know I specified with the activewear and swimwear garments, but these actions can be applied to every item of clothing in your closet. Heck, even every bag or shoe or duvet cover too!

One of the best ways to preserving and extending the lifecycle of your garments is by appropriately washing them and knowing how to take care of them. Specifically, with swimwear you want to try and avoid chlorine, direct sunlight and any harmful substances such as tanning oils or sunscreen. Of course, this is fairly tricky to completely avoid, however knowing to rinse immediately after use and to air dry flat in a shaded room away from the sun are little snippets of knowledge that everyone should have as it’ll make a huge difference in your garments long term. The longer you’re able to preserve your favourite pair of leggings or one-piecing bathing suite, the less trips you will have to make to the shops to buy a new one and the even less of those garments will be seen in landfill.

Always remember: wash wisely, wear longer, and waste less.

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