Swimwear season is finally here. When you think of sustainable fabrics used in the fashion industry, images of cotton and other natural fibers most likely come to mind. However, when it comes to swimwear, natural fibers are a no-go. Performance is key.
The use of upcycled synthetic fabrics, slowing down manufacturing, creating timeless designs, and utilizing deadstock materials are just some of the directions in which the sustainable swimwear industry is headed. While the luxury sustainable swimwear market now offers a decent amount of options, I rounded up three brands that you may not know, but that should definitely be on your radar.
If you like old Hollywood glamour blended with sustainability then you need to check out TABACARU SWIM, a luxury swimwear brand designed by Founder/Creative Director, Stefana Tabacaru that’s produced in Los Angeles from entirely upcycled fabrics. Launched late last summer the brand is mostly direct-to-consumer with the exception of a few retailers.
“Intermix picked up our first collection and while we are really trying to focus on a direct-to-consumer strategy, of course there are a few retailers that are our dream to work with,” says Tabacaru. One of the retailers that align with TABACARU’s customer-base is Moda Operandi, where Tabacaru interned for a year. “Moda Operandi plans to have a trunkshow with our swimwear this summer, and although the date is TBD with so many things happening in the world, I couldn’t more excited!” The brand will also be launching on THE YES this month.
When Tabacaru set out to create her brand she had three goals in mind: to create an entirely sustainable brand, to produce the collection in the US from the highest quality regenerated and upcycled fabrics, and for the brand to have a philanthropic mission.
“TABACARU SWIM is committed to nurturing a company that is socially and environmentally responsible and that includes supporting a more conscious level of design and giving back to the global community,” shares Tabacaru. “We source and produce everything in the Unites States, which allows us to ensure everything is ethically made, of the highest quality, and part of a supply chain that is eco-friendly, eliminates waste, supports small American businesses, and helps to keep our carbon footprint as low as possible.”
On what makes her swimwear unique Tabacaru tells me, “I think for me one of the things I wanted to convey was this old school glamour—in the tradition of Helmut Newton or Slim Aarons—there’s so much sexiness, yet there is a dark side to that glamour. It was also important for me to design for real women—not just a model who looks good in anything she puts on,” Tabacaru says. “We really focused on the fit. Like Spanx, it holds in the trouble areas and cuts in the right places so women can feel free to indulge in a glass of Rosé and a bowl of pasta. I wanted to create a line of swimsuits all throughout the day and you throw on a skirt and you look like you are in a timeless outfit.”
The entire swimwear collection is made from an upcycled nylon fabric. “We use Carvico’s Vita collection made in Italy of ECONYL®, which is a 100% regenerated nylon yarn derived from pre and post industrial waste such as discarded fishing nets and carpet fluff (the top part of nylon carpets which are at the end of their useful life),” explains Tabacaru. Instead of these materials being pitched into a landfill at the end of their lifecycle they are collected and turned into a new usable material through a chemical-physical process. Tabacaru is also mindful about not using any plastics in the packaging and shipping of the products.
“We provide our factory paper envelopes to use for packing instead of the standard poly bags most factories provide for individually packaging garments, and our second collection also has paper hygienic liners as opposed to the common hygienic liner made from a plastic sticker that can take hundreds of years to decompose,” explains Tabacaru. The brand also makes their swimsuit pouches out of recycled satin and offers biodegradable boxes for VIP gifting as well as black paper envelopes for their e-commerce deliveries. With regard to TABACARU SWIM’s philanthropic efforts, the brand donates 20% of their sales to Feeding America.
Based in Bali, Indonesia, ISA BOULDER is a swimwear label dedicated to creating hand-made pieces from local artisans that illustrate the duality in nature that is both beautiful yet imperfect. Launched in 2019 by Cecilia and Yuli, who prefer to stay behind the scenes (and not share their full names) and let the brand speak for itself, the brand utilized sustainably sourced deadstock material from Italy for its SS20 collection and sustainably made knits with no wasted product for its FW20 collection.
“We started working together on this vision of a locally-designed and produced womenswear label with a strong emphasis on Indonesian craft and traditional skills. Both of us are Indonesians, and have lived here for the majority of our lives, so it is important for us that our company can highlight our local artisans’ talents while also being able to challenge our ways of designing clothing,” the founders tell me.
When it comes to sustainability, the founders not only want to focus on working with sustainable materials and production practices, but also designing timeless pieces.
The ladies explain, “By staying true to our own research process and presenting a collection which we genuinely feel strongly about, we hope that our designs can be enjoyed at a more personal level by our wearers. We also try to work with materials that are very delicate and need a higher level of maintenance, as we believe that one way of ensuring that we do not take clothing for granted, is this act of care we should have for our garments. Through offering a bespoke service, we also hope to create a stronger bond for our customers with their clothing, as it is personalized and customized to their needs.”
ISA BOULDER’s aesthetic is unique—it’s sort of a quirky sexy that incorporates fabrics like satin not often seen in other swimwear brands.
“Sometimes, inspiration can come through draping, or exploring the material itself to see what forms will work well with cartain techniques,” the women tell me when I ask where they get their inspiration. “Certain limitations or material challenges are what will interest us most, because we want to produce high-quality products, even if the design is experimental at heart. Finding the solution to what was initially a design problem will often lead us to work on ideas that we never could have come up with.”
On what folks can expect next from the brand the pair tell me knitwear is next on the agenda. “Like our swimwear, our knits are also all hand-made, so there is this tactility and human touch to it, which we believe is a technique worth treasuring over computerized knitwear,” they explain. “Through ensuring an all-local production, we hope that the techniques and talents of Indonesian local artisans are not lost with time, and consumers’ appreciation for traditional methods are reinvigorated with experimental designs.”
If you are seeking an understated sustainable swimwear brand that still remains sexy, you need to check out RENDL. Designed in Vienna, Austria and founded in 2018 by Rosa Rendl, the RENDL swimwear collection offers a modern twist on sports swimsuits designed with all body types in mind, impeccably made, and combined with environmental and social awareness.
“My swimsuits are designed anti-sexy and therefore possibly even sexier,” says Rendl. “I always see the power in women who wear my pieces and I love how they get an awareness of how empowering a well-cut, comfortable piece of clothing made of a high-quality fabric can be. I design conceiving the female body without the need for body-optimization. Once one lets loose of the restricting thought of having to look perfect, it’s extremely liberating and empowering. I think underwear as well as swimsuits for women are often still designed in an unpractical, uncomfortable, and sexist way.”
Most women can relate to Rendl’s perspective. I can think of several intimate brands that cut into my petite yet curvy figure and make me look misshapen when that isn’t the case in reality. Rendl continues, “It is important to create something that empowers women by understanding their needs and therefore I emphasize on comfort, quality and functionality in my line. I think as a result the woman who wears my swimsuits appears confident and empowered—and that’s sexy.”
Rendl gets a lot of her inspiration from the politically charged times we are living in currently. “We live in a time with a movement for a change in consumerism, pro-environmental thinking and back to a more human, social way of creating and consuming. My part of it is to create a slow fashion line that’s not dumping designs and remnant stock season after season. Quite in reverse, I want to create a permanent line of classic, timeless swimsuits that lasts many seasons and doesn’t go out of fashion,” Rendl tells me.
The Signature design characteristics of RENDL are the square neckline, the blocking of colors and shapes, and the linear, streamlined silhouette. “For color and shape inspirations I love to look at modern architecture and mostly female 20th century artists and designers such as Eileen Gray, Katarzyna Kobro, Emilie Flögl, Man Ray, Jean Arp, Sonia Delaunay, Friedrich Kiesler, Kiki Kogelnik, to name a few,” shares Rendl. “I also love the 1990s understatement in fashion. That’s where many of my signature characteristics come from: the square neckline, the spatial, streamlined silhouette, and the muted tones of beige, grey, and green.”
When it comes to sustainability, Rendl believes in growing her brand slowly, organically, and using awareness in her decision making from material selection, to how items are produced, and how the garments are both distributed and packaged.
“Being a sustainable brand means rethinking everything. It’s definitely a challenge,” states Rendl. “As a brand I put a strong focus on producing with social fairness and having a regular, direct exchange with my female led production company in Sofia, Bulgaria. I am also proud to work with an Italian fabric that is made of EconylⓇ yarn, a regenerated nylon made of ocean waste. By producing in Europe another focus lies in having a low carbon footprint and in regards to packaging, I am trying to keep it to a minimum and don’t use plastic packaging, instead I use recycled cardboard packaging.”
Rendl is planning to expand her eponymous brand soon with ready-to-wear pieces like tops and slip-on dresses. Rendl tells me, “All very basic cuts, comfortable, made from light materials, and easy to wear.”
Somehow, I suspect whatever she does next it will still be seductive even without her intending it to be so.