The beach season is nearing an end here in Canada and only the dedicated swimmers are showing up to get as many more swims as they can in the cooling temperatures before they have to head inside for the winter. Similarly, if your go-to summer swimsuit is starting to show wear and tear from sunbathing, sand, salt water, or just cranking out sets at the pool, you might do your best to squeeze as many more swims out of it as you can, so it doesn’t hit the landfill before it has to. The technical fabrics in most swimsuits will offgas into the soil for centuries in landfills, meaning that their usable lifetime in your wardrobe is only a fraction of the time they spend on the planet. And that’s not even counting the scraps of fabric that were generated for your swimsuit, but were cut away to make the shape you swim in and ended up in a landfill before you even took your first dip in your new swimsuit. Depressing, huh?
Dedicated swimmers wisely extend the usable life of their suits by wearing two at a time when they start to wear thin, but there is just only so long a swimsuit can hold up to hard use before it becomes unusably saggy or transparent, even when doubled up.
Enter the most recognized name in swimwear, Speedo, in partnership with Italian textile creator Aquafil. Aquafil has developed a 100% regenerated nylon called Econyl that can create raw nylon fibers even from technical fabric. Through a new take-back program, the Econyl process will be used to separate usable nylon from Speedo’s blended post-production fabric scraps. The used nylon will then be upcycled into raw nylon fiber that can be made into new PowerFLEX Eco swimwear.
An August press release by Aquafil, announcing the partnership, says that Econyl offers the same quality and performance as traditionally manufactured nylon and can be recycled an infinite number of times without any loss in quality.
There are some major caveats here. First is that the fabric being reclaimed is factory scraps – not worn swimsuits. There still needs to be a better way to resolve the issue of technical fabric that wears out, but does not biodegrade, and keep those swimsuits out of landfills (though here are some ideas, for the creative). Second is that the only fiber being reclaimed is nylon. No swimsuit is all nylon. They usually contain a significant percentage of Lycra to help manage the stretch and shape. There’s no mention of what happens to the Lycra.
If you are not swimming intensely and your budget can handle the higher price, consider natural fiber options such as the offerings by Jitawear. But serious swimmers or triathletes, accustomed to the performance and durability of technical fabric, may balk at a natural fiber option that does not necessarily perform to the same standard. For these, Speedo’s new line is at least a start at reducing the environmental footprint of swimwear. Check it out at SpeedoUSA.com.