Swimming in ocean plastic

Sustainable fashion – clothes that last, do good to the environment, are well-made by thoughtful people using well-designed processes – isn’t always easy to find. I’ve been looking for ‘ethical swimwear’ for a couple of years, without finding anything close enough to my taste and budget to actually buy anything (I even wrote about it last year).

My swimwear conundrum last week led me to a rather wry thought: with so much in the news (ok, maybe just my newsfeed) about ocean plastic, and all the harm it’s doing to wildlife and to our own health, wouldn’t it be ironic to make swimwear out of recycled plastic? I wonder if anyone has ever done that…

Cue google – and conundrum no more. Here are my findings, with my favourite first. It has sharks on it!

Batoko

  • Made from recycled plastic
  • Fair working conditions
  • Fairly flattering shape
  • Awesome patterns

Batoko have a pretty sturdy sustainability statement, from fair working conditions for their factory in China all the way through to vegan textiles, low-impact printing and small collections to minimise product wastage. I always find it’s much easier to believe small brands with a simple offering: when your product is basically 8 different prints on 10 different sizes of the same product, there’s a good chance you really do know where it’s made (and therefore how well it’s made).

At £40 each their swimsuits are above what I would pay in the high street (probably £25 in my budget), but the fabric seems sturdy and flattering, and amazingly once tried on, though there is no explicit bra inset/support, I could jump up and down to my heart’s content. So I can quality assure it up to a C cup! They even support the Marine Conservation Charity, and all products come packaged in recycled & recyclable minimal packaging sleeves.

But really, what gets me is their patterns. I get to go swimming in a swimsuit made from recycled ocean plastics with sharks on it. I am a happy bunny (or seawater creature of your choice).

BATOKO Great White Shark Print Swimsuit - Front
PS. They do a kids’ range. So you could match…!  Photo courtesy of Batoko.com

Adidas Parley

  • Made from recycled plastic
  • Designed for sports (rather than just leisure)

Adidas made a big splash (ahem) recently with their Parley line – also made from recycled ocean plastic. If you can manage more than 10 lengths in the pool at once and you’re looking for something a little more sporty, this range might be for you. Also, if you’re a man then they’re better than Batoko, in that they have a men’s range. The prices are similar to Batoko, at £25-£45 per swimsuit – with much more subtle designs. They also make shoes in the same range…

After a quick look I couldn’t find any assurances on how well they check the conditions of their workers: I would imagine that, like most major brands, they are trying to be better but rarely succeeding in getting down more than one link in their supply chain, so unable to control what work their suppliers outsource. In fashion this can represent a significant amount of the labour and materials (see this example of the conditions in some Bangladesh tanneries).

I wouldn’t let this discourage you necessarily though: it’s great to see such an influencing brand taking decisive action like this to promote the wellbeing of our oceans. (The Parley movement itself seems brilliant, and worthy of support.)

A few more suggestions:

  • Speedo’s H2O Active line is partly made with recycled materials. Not too much info out there beyond their partnership with the creators of EcoNYL, a fabric made from recycled nylon (fishing nets & carpets, mostly!). See Adidas review re. brand integrity. Prices are a bit higher (approx £55), but best selection of “normal” patterns and colours of the lot.
  • RubyMoonSwim – Etsy seller making swimsuits out of recycled materials. 100% of profits go to supporting women in developing countries. From £42 – some pretty whacky colours.
  • Auria swimwear is also made with Econyl – small brand, London-based. Prices are higher, starting at £50. A bit more ‘trendy’ than some of these alternatives, which could be a good thing, but may mean you’re starting to look out of date in a summer or two. (My sharks will never look outdated…)
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The swimsuit conundrum

Last week I left my swimsuit at the pool – when I enquired the next day, it was nowhere to be found. This is annoying. Partly because anyone doing their weekly swim in a bikini looks like an idiot, and partly because last time I bought a swimsuit, I wasn’t as bothered about sustainable sourcing so I could just walk into a shop and buy one – one that fit me and within my budget.

Not so anymore. I don’t know where Debenhams make their clothes (over 900 factories apparently, I’m amazed they can keep track), but the statement on their website seems to focus more on making sure we never run out of clothes than anything to do with making things so they last, from sustainable materials, or that can be recycled. And I don’t really want to encourage that behaviour in any of the retailers I spend my money with.

Bikinigate

So now the conundrum: do I buy a cheap, simple swimsuit, that I can order quickly (saving me from bikinigate), from somewhere with not-terrible-but-not-great-either ethical commitments (my first port of call here would probably be Decathlon, or maybe M&S or H&M), or do I spend time, money and effort and try to source it sustainably? At the risk – due to the still limited nature of ethical shopping – that it might not be a perfect fit, and of a high price and longer shipping time?

I haven’t decided yet. But if you know of any ethical swimwear companies, let me know.

 

Dye me pretty

I have one big problem with my clothes:

I spill stuff.

I’ve been known to get permanent ink on a pair of chinos the first time I wore them.

There’s this one particular white skirt I own which is now affectionately known as that skirt. The first time I wore it, it got stuck in my bike chain. The second time I wore it – on a long-haul flight at the start of our honeymoon – I poured tomato juice all the way down it (cue an awkward climbing-over-the-big-guy-next-to-me and sympathetic chats with the air-hostess). The third time I wore it, we were driving through the Colorado mountains, and when I opened my black pen it decided to squirt ink all over the place, including – you guessed it – onto my white skirt.

I like to look after my clothes, trying to wash them only as necessary, buying styles that won’t go out of fashion and from fabrics that won’t stretch or look terrible after a few wears. But I have no idea how to stop staining my clothes.

If you’re similarly clumsy, here are a few ways to minimise the pain of the stain:

1. Spot clean

People used to do this loads: rather than wash a whole dress, they would just wash the part that had got dirty. This is especially relevant where the dirt is a small patch on an otherwise cleanish item. I have some travel clothes soap which I often use for this – works for the likes of tomato juice which are water-soluble; less for the more tenacious stains like permanent ink.

One amazing tip I learned in Italy: if the stain is grease, as soon as you can, put talcum powder on it (I’ve tried: bicarbonate of soda also kind of works). The talc will absorb most of the grease, and you can then brush that off, and put the item through the wash as normal.

Different types of stain react to things differently – so it’s always worth a quick google depending on what you’ve just spilled.

2. Aprons

Growing up, we always called cooking aprons ‘pinnies’. Having moved to the UK, my husband laughs at me each time I use the word – apparently it’s a little old fashioned. But old-fashioned or not, aprons are fantastic for minimising how often you need to wash your clothes. I have one I use for cooking, washing up, and – as was the case yesterday – cleaning my bike chain. Bonus: they often have pockets.

If you don’t own an apron (or just can’t face wearing one), then having a set of old clothes (that you might wear for painting) which you can slip on over whatever you’re wearing for the more messy jobs is always good.

I’ve been known to take that white skirt off before starting to eat a spaghetti-and-sauce lunch. Extreme measures… (I was eating alone, I should add).

3. Dye it!

A few months ago I dyed a pair of grotty white shoes blue. The shoes have attracted many compliments since, and buff up really well with a coat of shoe polish, in a way they didn’t when they were white.

I have a pair of pale pink trousers which have just been stained once too many times. I tried some excellent stain remover on a stubborn grease stain… and ended up with a bigger stain caused by the stain remover. Oops.

I could throw the trousers out. But first, I’m going to try dyeing them. A lovely forest green (fingers crossed it works with the pale pink and doesn’t turn out a horrible brown), one £6 pack of dylon dye which you put in the washing machine in a couple of cycles. And because the pack of dye does 600g of clothes (and my trousers only weigh 300g, who knew), I’ll be doing a friend’s dress at the same time.

 

What goes around comes around

Outfits for family weddings are always a challenge: you want to look great, but you can’t outshine the bride, and if you wear that one-dress-that-works, there’s a good chance that you wore it the last time you saw exactly the same group of people.

I was quite chuffed with the outfit I wore to the wedding of my (oh so lovely) cousin this weekend: full-length and elegant, nowhere near white, and the trousers were particularly suited to our accommodation (…a tent). And with no fewer than four other guests sporting jumpsuits, I was clearly bang on trend.

jumpsuit

Only this was a trend started forty years ago: and my outfit was no younger.

You may have read about the time I helped a 91-year old clear out her wardrobe. Some of the clothes went to charity shops, other pieces were valuable enough to be sold as vintage designer pieces on Etsy. A few pieces I kept: and this jumpsuit is one of those.

I’m not sure exactly when it dates from, but my bets are on the 70s: just look at those flares. I find it amazing that an item – and such a bright one at that – was created in a fashion context that has now resurfaced, showing it not as the 40-year-old piece it is, but as a perfectly timed outfit. It’s almost as if playing with wooden cars and drinking pretend tea out of plastic cups suddenly became acceptable at work again: a real time loop.

I don’t usually buy into fashion’s ‘seasons’, and try to minimise how much I’m influenced by trends: neither are particularly sustainable ways of using our planet’s resources. But when those trends can display a treasure – a well-made, well-loved, and well-kept piece – then it’s hard not to indulge a little.

♥ brand: Retrospecced

I spend a lot of money on glasses. And I’m someone who strongly dislikes spending more than £10 on a top. But glasses just seem to get me – they stay on your face all day, and there’s really nowhere to hide if they’re horrid or if the glass is so thick it distorts your face. I also have no clue what I’m doing.

This leaves me at the mercy of Specsaver shop assistants in Dracula costumes – no joke – and I end up spending a lot more than planned. I’m so concerned about what my face will look like that sustainability doesn’t even get a look in.

LHS_9710b

But what if you could get a pair of glasses that were recycled and supported individuals out of poverty by providing affordable or free glasses?

What if, at the same time, you could save a pair of glasses from landfill, and find a snazzy vintage or designer pair for your own face?

Retrospecced sort through some of the 1000s of glasses frames donated to Vision Aid and extract some of the best designer and vintage pairs. You choose some frames you like – I picked a snazzy 1960s pair – and then choose how you would like them to be glazed (read: ‘put glass into’). I chose the brown sunglasses, to my sight.

The whole thing, postage included, came to about £78. Considering that vision sunglasses in Boots start at £90 (and they’re not the ones you would necessarily want on your face), I don’t think I did too badly. The bonus? 20% of Retrospecced profits go straight to Vision Aid Overseas, who do a myriad of things abroad to reduce poverty, including providing glasses and training to optometrists.

If you’ve been thinking about buying more sustainable but you haven’t taken the plunge yet, maybe these guys will be just the ticket. At least you’ll be able to read the ticket once you get it.

♥ brand: Salt-Water Sandals

One of the main problems with the fashion industry is how much it wastes. I really hate throwing a pair of shoes – or item of clothing – away, but it’s so hard to know whether something will last until you’ve owned it for a year or two. By which point, of course, it’s too late.

That’s something I’m hoping that my brands can help with. When I find a brand I love, that lasts, and doesn’t cost the earth (financially or ethically), it makes me want to tell you about it.

Salt-Water is one of those brands. They don’t say much about where they source their raw materials (although I love that they started as a solution to the leather shortage in wartime), or how well their workers are treated, but they do last.

How do I know? My sister has owned a pair for years.

They’re not cheap – starting at £60 + postage in the UK – but they are worth it. Designed to withstand the sea (hence the name) they were perfect for my recent camping holiday, when the skies decided to open just as we were pitching our tent. It was nice to not have ‘ruined new shoes’ on my list of things to worry about at that point! I even rinsed them off in the Channel on our way back from the coast – perfect for Hastings’ pebbly beaches.

They’re a lovely combination of comfortable (not a single blister in the first week, despite wearing them continuously) and work-friendly, if you pick a pair in a fairly neutral colour.

So they’re not perfect: I would challenge the company to tell us more about how they’re made, and by who. But at least this is one pair of shoes I won’t be throwing in the bin for a long time.

2 days in the miracle dress

This is an I’ve-actually-worn-it review of the Dorcas dress – for more info on its sustainability/awesomeness credentials, see my blog post here.

So I’ve just spent two days in a Dorcas dress. My thoughts:

  • It has pockets!
  • You can cycle in it (just make sure you tuck the ties in).
  • It’s lovely for hot days as you get a slight breeze around your midriff, without actually having any flesh on show. Would wear it with a vest top or slip in the winter for warmth.
  • It took me about four goes to get it on without struggling
  • You can let anyone try it on. It will fit them. How awesome is that?
  • Feels great (looks great) – I bumped into an old crush and felt fab.
  • Choose a colour/pattern that will still suit you in 20 years’ time – I suspect I will still be wearing mine when I’m 45.
  • I love the neckline after all.

If you’re in Oxford this week and you’re curious, head to the King’s Centre for Arts Week to meet Maria who designed the dresses, and try on a few yourself. If you can’t, then next time you see me just ask – you can try mine on!