Amy Powney is the creative director of Mother of Pearl. On a mission to make her own label sustainable, Powney has been grappling with many troublesome questions about fashion, making her an expert in the field. In the first of a new bi-monthly column for Vogue, she tackles a seasonal green wardrobe issue. First up: Is my swimsuit toxic?
Is there be a bigger summertime downer than the news that your freshly-purchased, super-fun swimsuit that was going to make you feel so good on holiday is bad news for the environment?
Forgive me. I am not here to pour cold water on your hot bikini. But I am here to do some truth-telling. Performance fabrics are stretchy, convenient and flattering, but they are a massive problem when it comes to clothing because they contain so many petroleum-based synthetic fibres.
This is nasty for several reasons: 1) Crude oil is a rapidly depleting natural resource, and becomes a source of pollution during extraction and production processes. 2) Synthetic fibres are generally not biodegradable. 3) When synthetic fabrics hit water, they release microfibres right back into their environment – whether that’s a swimming pool, the ocean or your washing machine – adding to the micro-plastic pollution that’s accumulating in the food chain and being ingested by marine wildlife as well as ourselves.
Even opting for recycled-polyester swimwear is problematic. Yes, you can feel good that a swimwear brand is re-using the plastic that has been dredged out of the ocean. But ultimately, the product is still made of synthetic fibres – so every time you wear or wash it, the microfibre particles are swimming right back into the system to pollute our
So, what to do? If forgoing swimwear altogether and making 2019 the Summer of Skinny-Dipping doesn’t sound achievable, then we need to have a think. At the moment, there isn’t a perfect answer. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t “choose better” while waiting for technology to catch up. I like Natasha Tonic, which has fun one-piece and bikini styles made in Los Angeles, using natural organic fabrics wherever possible, including hemp, which is anti-microbial and durable. You’ll find it in the UK at sustainable e-tailer Rêve En Vert.
Natural fibres are a good option if you’re lounging around by the pool rather than doing 100 lengths. But, for performance, a synthetic fabric is probably going to be more durable. Consider buying a natural fabric-based one-piece or bikini for sunbathing and light swimming. And, if you’re going hard, also another well-designed, recycled-polyester option. Reformation has some great styles.
Regardless, before you buy, ask yourself: is it a classic design that suits me and I’ll wear again and again? I always advise that it’s worth spending more money on something that is going to last. I recently saw a £1 bikini for sale, which was an immediate red flag: the horrendous economics and inevitable back-story of badly paid workers just made me want to cry.
There are other questions you might want to ask: Does the brand you want to buy from have full control of its supply chain – and can it tell you about it? Does it have a recycling scheme? If it’s a large and profitable brand, what is it putting back into the community or into conservation projects?
Once you’ve got your swimsuit, you need to look after it, so that it will keep going for summers to come and doesn’t get flung into landfill where it will not biodegrade. After use, wash it in cool water, by hand, with a mild detergent or regular soap. Don’t wring it, as you’ll damage the fibres. And never, ever put it in the dryer because that is like slowly murdering your swimsuit. And no one wants that to be the story of their summer, right?