Sustainable fashion has taken over. Last year, major brands like Gap, Levi Strauss & Co, PVH Corp, Abercrombie & Fitch and Kohl’s —once heavily criticized for harmful production and labor practices—have launched sustainable clothing lines or committed to reducing their environmental footprint. This year, H&M and Amazon revealed once-hidden details about their supply chains for the first time. Events like Paris Fashion Week have given rise to “Green Fashion Week,” featuring more mainstream brands making sustainability the center of their message. The global conversation in the industry seems to finally be shifting to value these practices above profit. It’s about time.
But is it enough?
Fashion poses one of the greatest threats to our environment. Responsible for 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions, the fashion industry produces about 20% of global waste water and perpetuates some of the most shocking labor and human rights abuses on a global scale. Resource and labor intensive in the worst ways, 85% of these textiles ultimately end up in landfills, contributing to a perpetual cycle of pollution, abuse, and waste. While it has gained attention in recent years, there is still a long way to go towards changing consumer mindsets and truly making the connection between the clothes we wear and the natural world around us.
Ultimately, the global ocean has been one of the most severely impacted ecosystems in the world of fast fashion: waste water directly alters the state of fragile coastal ecosystems, while plastic-based synthetic fibers like nylon and polyester shed microplastic particles that never biodegrade. For marine animals and organisms, microplastic ingestion has been shown to cause a reduction in feeding capacity, energy reserves, and reproductive output (Nelms et al., 2018). These particles can also trigger localized immune responses in humans, releasing toxic chemicals and other pollutants including heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants like PCBs and DDT (Cox et al., 2019).
Given the directly harmful impacts of these fabrics to our seas, why is there not more of a conversation around the fashion we choose to wear in the ocean? Clothing does not just impact the seas from a distance via pollution or washing; fabrics can also have a detrimental effect by shedding microplastic fibers, dyes, and other harmful pollutants while you enjoy your next dive. While many companies are beginning to address their environmental practices higher up the supply chain, few are addressing what the actual product itself represents when you wear it in the waves.
Sustainable swimwear should do more than just avoid environmental damage; it should be rooted in a brand actively working to make the oceans a cleaner place. With 4.8 to 12.7 million tonnes of plastic entering the ocean each year, every solution that works to put even a small dent in this pollution is a solution we desperately need. The modern recycling we know of has been revealed as an intentional strategy from the oil and gas industry to encourage consumers to use more plastic, without fearing its consequences; a staggering 91% of the plastics we believe get sorted and recycled never do. Recycling should be more than just a label on a plastic coffee cup that tells us whether or not we have the moral license to purchase another beverage; recycling should be rooted in the concept of a circular economy, a system aimed at continuously eliminating waste through the constant reuse of resources.
If all of us chose to buy clothing that is made from recycled materials or organic fibers, doesn’t pollute our waterways, or has been upcycled or re-sold, thousands of precious ocean habitats could be spared an extra stress in a world already nearing a frightening number of environmental tipping points into true climate disaster.
SeaMorgens is committed to being a company of the future, where a circular economy is the norm and sustainability is every seasons’ trend at Paris Fashion Week. Each swimsuit in the SeaMorgens line is made from materials produced from recycled plastic bottles and abandoned fishing nets. Profits directly support marine conservation organizations on the frontline of the battle to save our seas, including Marine Megafauna Foundation, Healthy Seas Foundation and Shark Guardian. Waste fabrics are repurposed into hair scrunchies or face masks, and each unique ocean print is hand-drawn to not only reflect the ocean creatures we love, but to remind us all of what fashion can and should value: the magical marine world upon which all of our lives depend.
Fashion does not just exist in some far-away realm, separate from the natural world we immerse ourselves in; thus the products we choose to wear in nature should not only positively impact it, but convey a message that goes beyond the next fashion trend. By critically examining the clothes in our closet—and choosing to share a message grounded in sustainable practices by wearing brands like SeaMorgens in your next beach or underwater photo—we can all move towards a future that is better for nature and the planet, without ever sacrificing the joy, beauty, and creative expression of the clothes we love.
By Chloe King