Swimwear Makers Dip Toe in Green Scene

For many, summertime evokes images of sunning on the beach and swimming in the ocean. Now, a number of companies are starting to offer eco-friendly and...

Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD Green issue 10/30/2007

For many, summertime evokes images of sunning on the beach and swimming in the ocean. Now, a number of companies are starting to offer eco-friendly and organic swimwear products to go along with these most natural of seasonal activities.

This story first appeared in the October 30, 2007 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Traditionally, bathing suits are not manufactured as organic because the functional use of the suits is not easily achieved with natural fibers, said Lori Wyman, education and information services administrator at the Organic Trade Association. “Nobody wants a cotton swimsuit that stays wet for an hour after you come out of the water,” she said. “That’s why synthetic materials are generally what people prefer to put on, although there are purists who won’t want to wear synthetic fibers.”


The growing eco-friendly clothing movement has caused many companies to rethink this standard.

British Columbia-based organic clothing line Rawganique now offers an organic hemp bikini top ($59 retail), a one-size-fits-all piece made from organic European hemp yarn, with no elastic, nylon, spandex or chemical processes. A bikini bottom is not available, however, the top can be paired with an organic hemp skirt available at its Web site, rawganique.com.

Happy Campers Clothing Co., based, appropriately, in Happy Camp, Calif., sells full lines of women’s, men’s and children’s swimwear made of 55 percent hemp, 41 percent organic cotton and 4 percent Lycra spandex. The bikinis, which retail for about $85, and the one-piece suits, which retail for about $100, are durable and mold resistant, said owner Peggy Scarborough. “There’s some Lycra in them but [the suit] doesn’t get threadworn at all,” she said. “The worst thing that happens is that, over time, the color fades.”

This year, Scarborough also has created a higher-end line of crocheted swimwear made of 100 percent bamboo yarn. “It’s strong and vibrant and feels like silk,” she said.

For après beach, purists and nonpurists also can find beach cover-ups and robes, and accessories such as tote bags, hats and sandals made with recycled or organic material.

“As consciousness rises, so does the market for pure, natural and organic products,” said Delia Montgomery, founder of Chic Eco, a Hawaii-based Internet company that unites manufacturers with retailers who sell environmentally friendly products. “Any conventional design can be transformed into an earth-friendly garment or product. Essential is environmentally sensitive processing with the right materials.”

Some of the most popular organic products this season are hemp-cotton hoodies, organic terry cloth robes and bamboo jersey sarongs that double as beach cover-ups, as well as organic cotton, hemp or recycled-fiber tote bags, backpacks and hats, recycled rubber sandals and flip-flops and organic cotton towels, said Montgomery.

California-based ShariBe Organic Fashions, available in boutiques throughout the U.S. and online at sharibe.com, features an 80-by-20-inch shawl made of 95 percent bamboo and 5 percent spandex ($65 retail), in three color schemes. The shawl can also be used as a skirt, as it is tie-dyed at both ends and embellished with Swarovski crystals. A hoodie ($68 retail) is made with 80 percent organic cotton and also has Swarovski crystals.

Natural High Lifestyle, based in California, manufactures a 68-by-62-inch sarong made of 100 percent bamboo ($58 retail) that can be used as a beach cover-up. Its polo dress ($56 retail) and Bell’s Beach drawstring pant ($64 retail), both made of 55 percent hemp and 45 percent cotton, also are marketed as beachwear.

The sarong is most popular, said Sara Falugo, manager of Natural High Lifestyle’s retail store in Santa Monica. “It breathes well and has a nice, natural stretch to it so it almost feels like there’s a little bit of spandex to it,” she said, adding that the sarong can be used as a dress, top or skirt over a bathing suit.

The polo dress is also a versatile piece, she said. “It’s one piece you can use the whole day. You can slide it over your bathing suit and wear it into a restaurant or throw on a pair of pants underneath it when it gets cool or you can dress it up with cute little heels.”

Bamboo in particular is a popular beach material, said Falugo. “We don’t have to throw a bunch of pesticides on it to grow it. Few fibers can compare to its softness, so that’s exciting for consumers,” she said. “They don’t feel guilty buying our clothes because they are helping rather than contributing to the problems we have with pesticides we use on typical cotton or synthetics that aren’t good for the environment.”

Bags and Hats
Most any organic cotton or recycled tote can double as a beach bag, said Montgomery. Natural High carries a logoed Farmer’s Market tote made of 55 percent hemp and 45 percent cotton ($12 retail), and Rawganique features several hemp bags and backpacks that work as beach accessories.

Another natural material popular in organic bags is jute, a vegetable fiber from Bangladesh, India, China and Thailand that grows easily without the use of fertilizer and pesticides, said Montgomery. And countless bags are made with recycled materials such as plastic bottles, candy wrappers, juice containers and cotton.

Hemp Sisters, based in New York, carries a full line of summer hats in various styles including baseball caps and wide-brimmed versions. All are made of hemp, cotton, wool and other materials.

For the Feet
The founders of Splaff Flops in California use a waste-free process to create their eco-friendly footwear. Its flip-flops and sandals, which retail for $38 to $42, are made from recycled car tires and bicycle tubes, as well as hemp. The company also features bags and a belt made of recycled materials.

Once the rubber from the tires is processed, some of the small, stringy pieces are used to make hangers, said owner Cliff Drill. The rest is sent to be ground into a dust to make the footbed of the flip-flop.

“People are becoming a lot more conscientious about what they’re buying,” said Happy Campers’ Scarborough, adding that it helps that natural, organic beachwear is just as sexy and stylish as its synthetic counterparts. “If you feel confident in it because it feels good, looks good and wears good, and on top of that is the bonus that it causes fewer problems for the environment, that’s an extra little piece of mind.”