Why we made a 100% recycled plastic swim shorts after years of opposing synthetic materials. And are you saving the ocean by buying them? The short answer: No.
Stockholm, June 29th, 2021 - by August Bard Bringéus, Co Founder, ASKET
For the first time in ASKET history, just after we got rid of all plastic from our packaging earlier this year - we're about to release a garment made entirely out of the same material: more specifically recycled PET. And we want to make it very clear, that while it's a fantastic product made with utmost consideration to people and planet, it's not the solution to fashion’s pollution and waste problem. But it’s a step in the right direction. Here's why.
The Polyester Problem
Polyester is fabric made of PET (short for polyethylene terephthalate), derived from fossil fuels. The use fossil fuel based, synthetic fibers is something we at ASKET have avoided to the furthest extent, focusing on natural, mono-materials (non blends) that offer more inherent qualities to the garment (comfort, breathability, moisture and odor handling), are less polluting, currently offer better more pragmatic end of life scenarios (recycling and degradation). PET, polyester and other man-made fibers boomed with the throw-away culture dating back to the 1950’s because it’s cheap, durable and reliably in a variety of applications. It’s infiltrated all consumer goods, and accounts for a staggering 64% of global textile fibres*. With our gradual awakening with regards to the environmental challenges we face, synthetic, fossil based materials have finally come under scrutiny, largely because they’re non-renewable, polluting in their extraction and use and take up over 200 years to degrade in landfill. Recently, recycled PET has become widely popular in the fashion industry, as an alternative to virgin PET, and while it has a lower footprint in production, it’s not the silver bullet the fashion industry is looking for to solve all our problems.
Polluting, non-renewable and non-circular
For one, recycled polyester takes PET out of systems, that are better suited to perpetuate its use and re-use, like the bottling industry. In some European countries like Sweden and Norway over 80% percent of PET bottles are recycled with the lions share becoming new bottles*, but in fashion, less than 1% of collected garments are recycled into new garments*. Both due to a lacking collection and incentive infrastructure to catch old clothing, and due to the lacking type and scale of technology to effectively recycle old synthetic textiles into new ones. In other words, recycling plastic into clothing is, in general, currently worse than recycling it into, for instance, bottles. The reason it's so popular in clothing, is that we - brands and consumers - tend to read "recycled", label it “sustainable”, but not ask what it actually means.
For the other, synthetic clothing sheds microplastics - small pieces of plastic that measure less than 5mm in length and seriously harm aquatic creatures - and end up in our water and food. Current estimates are that we’ll have 22m tonnes of microplastics in our oceans by 2050*. Because recycled plastic in fashion is still nascent, the research on whether or not it sheds more or less microplastics is still inconclusive - and it depends highly on the type of fabric, its finish and how you wash it. So before you think you're cleaning the ocean, by swimming with its old garbage around your waist - think twice.
What have we done to avoid adding to the problems of non-recyclability and microplastics?
We've partnered with a mill that developed our fabric from 70% Seaqual® and 30% recycled PET from land. Seaqual® is a fiber that is made of recovered marine plastics, from oceans and coastlines, specifically developed for textiles. Apart from actually removing waste from and preventing it from ending up in the ocean, the end garment is actually recyclable. And you can send it back to us via our Revival program when it reaches road's end so we can make new fibers out of it. When it comes to microplastics, our research found that most of the release of these micro fibers occurs during the first laundry, which is why the swim shorts are pre-washed at an industrial laundry facility which is equipped to filter out and properly dispose of micro plastics. Additionally, we opted not to brush the fabric (normally done for a softer handfeel) as this breaks and raises the fibers, increasing their propensity to shed. Lastly, we laser cut each piece of fabric that makes the swim shorts, both creating a finer product and reducing the risk for micro plastics release from fraying fabric edges.
So why are we about to launch a swim short made of recycled polyester?
When choosing materials and creating garments we weigh the impact of their creation against the amount of times we expect they will be worn. That means the garment needs to be purposefully designed to hold shape, color and comfort so we as users can use it as long as possible and delay the need for its replacement. Put differently: we need to maximize the usage of the resources we consume. For the purpose of our swim shorts, natural fibres fell short in this test and we believe that this product has the lowest possible relative total impact (impact / # of wears).
All good then?
As with anything we do, we're not going to call it a "sustainable" swim short. What we will say is that it's a kick-ass pair of swim shorts, and that we've done our very best to ask every question, to ourselves and our suppliers, to create a product with maximum durability and minimal impact, both in creating it and wearing it. With that said, we urge you to consider how you can help prolong the lifetime of your garment, be it ASKET or from anywhere else, by following our guide:
What more can we do?
Lots. While we've found this to be our best option right now, we're constantly researching and evaluating our choices. Currently we're researching and developing laboratory test standards - something we found didn’t exist - to test and compare microplastics between fabrics and garments, to scientifically validate our assumptions. Further, textile innovation is speeding up and we're keeping a close eye on bio-based alternatives to synthetics for applications like swim and sportswear, but also for that small amount of stretch we still have in products like our Chino, Boxers and Socks - some of this work will see their first introductions in our women's denim. But we're not done, and if you have valuable insights or resources you've come across, we're all ears - help us become better. Send an email to [email protected], chat us up or DM us on Instagram!"