There’s nothing more frustrating than a painfully ironic clothing brand, classic example; t-shirts that say “female empowerment” made by female garment workers that aren’t paid a fair living wage (I’m looking at you Beyonce). I’ve always felt that some surf brands are also a prime example of this irony, with mainstream surf brands promoting outdoor life whilst polluting the planet with toxic production and unethical standards.
In the last few years, clothing brands have become more transparent to meet consumer expectations, cleaning up supply chains to comply with better standards. Unfortunately, major surf brands such as Billabong, Rip Curl and Quicksilver still don’t provide sufficient information about their policies and environmental and ethical standards. The Australian ethical rating app Good on You rates Quicksilver as ‘accused of greenwashing and its labour rights policies are basic‘.
Consumers seem to be caring; brands such as Billabong and Quicksilver have taken a sales plummet, with new grassroots brands tied to stronger activism roots becoming increasingly popular. World famous surf champion Kelly Slater, once sponsored by Quicksilver, took matters into his own hands and launched sustainable surf brand Outerknown. At a time of increased environmental awareness, it’s no longer acceptable that the surf industry – an industry that wouldn’t exist without nature exists – just ‘comply’ with environmental and ethical standards. It’s time for surf brands to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.
Thankfully, brands like Outerknown and the ones listed below are doing more than just sell surf gear.
“We founded Outerknown to change the game and create clothing that not only reflects our style but also our values.” – Kelly Slater, 11 x World Surf Champion
1. Vege Threads
Watching Vege Threads grow over the last few years has been really exciting, mainly because the brand deserves success. The products are made ethically in Australia with high-quality materials and certified by Ethical Clothing Australia. Vege Threads sells both male and female basics but for surfers, the limited number eco swimwear would be the focus (and only available to women).
The swimwear/surfwear is beautifully cut and full-fitting pieces are made from ECONYL®recycled nylon made from recycled post-consumer waste such as fishing nets and LYCRA® XTRA LIFE™ UV-protected Lycra which stands up to the harshness of chlorine and sun exposure. Sadly, no environmentally friendly fabric has made it to the market yet to replace synthetic fabrics in swimwear so for now, the best fabric choice for eco shoppers is recycled fabrics.
Vege Threads maintains full transparency of supply chains and production online, with 80% of fabrics made locally in Melbourne. The brand is also committed to sustainability initiatives such as reducing, reducing, recycling and choosing eco-friendly packaging and carbon-neutral delivery service. They also literally give back profits to back environmental projects, to support environmental solutions.
“We believe in giving back. That’s why as of 2018 Vege Threads is a proud member of 1% for the Planet, a company started by founders of Patagonia, to create positive impact through business. A percentage of profits are donated to back environmental projects and NFP movements around the globe.”
It’s difficult not to mention any surf-related products without Patagonia‘s name dropped in – they are simply the best in offering a broad range of eco surf wear for men and women. Firstly, they invest in scientific research and innovation to make more environmentally-friendly products, for example, they started using a natural rubber alternative called Yulex for wetsuits. They also get involved in activism and fund documentaries such as ‘Takayna’, which shines a light on the destruction of the Tarkine region in Tasmania. The employees are also given activist training and Patagonia bails them out of prison if they’re arrested for peaceful protesting (talk about walking the walk!). To top it all off, Patagonia started an organisation called 1% for the Planet, which is an alliance of businesses that commit to protecting the natural environment through profit.
“Since 1985, Patagonia has pledged 1% of sales to the preservation and restoration of the natural environment. We’ve awarded over $89 million in cash and in-kind donations to domestic and international grassroots environmental groups making a difference in their local communities. In 2002, founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard, and Craig Mathews, owner of Blue Ribbon Flies, created a non-profit corporation to encourage other businesses to do the same.”
prAna is a California born brand for both male and females, selling well-made, fair-trade and eco-friendly adventure clothing. They aim to create versatile, stylish and sustainable clothing and accessories made of modern materials, to wear in the great outdoors. One of the brand’s highlights is the male boardshorts which are reasonably priced, made of recycled material and is UPF 50+.
“Our commitment to sustainability, community, and doing right still inspires and pushes us to find innovative ways to do good things in a good way…Throughout the year we partner with several local and international charities to help make a difference. Whether it’s cleaning up beaches here in Southern California or sending aid to areas affected by natural disasters, we continue to find ways to serve our community.”
4. Atmosea (for women)
Aside from being the coolest ‘mermaid punk’ surf brand, Atmosea is focused on community and female empowerment. They sell well-cut and fun wetsuits, swimwear and cotton t-shirts from Byron Bay. My personal favorite is a natural cotton t-shirt printed with ‘Live life with porpoise’, with packaging derived from cassava (an edible root) and is zero waste. This cool surf brand was the brainchild of Swedish surfer Maria Nilsson whose love for the ocean and nature is woven into each garment.
“Atmosea is more than sheathing you with comfort, practicality and flair, it is a culture that allows for people to harbour their differences, creating a nurturing and accepting environment for female surfers across the globe. We are empowered women empowering other women as these suits connect us towards a more progressive and all-encompassing surfing community.”
The brand has remained true to their messaging, with a focus on community events and Co-Lab, which involves partnering up with other local people and good products (such as eco surf wax). One great example is a recent night in Byron Bay put on by Atmosea to celebrate women in the surf world.
My one qualm: I’d like more transparency around where the products are actually made.
5. Vissla (for men)
This brand strives to minimise their environmental impact whilst ‘protecting the oceans and waves that raised us‘. With a wide selection of rad clothing from wetsuits, tees to boardshorts, they also have shorts made from coconut husks and recycled polyester yarn that would otherwise rot in landfill. To give back, Vissla nurtures its sustainable ambassadors and innovators and is fully committed ‘to protect and surf’ the oceans. Other environmental initiatives include its ‘Upcycle Contest‘, environmental surf tips, an Ecology Center among others.
“In 2015, Vissla signed on to become a Surfrider Foundation Surf lndustry Coastal Defender. This coalition of like-minded surf industry brands have joined forces to ensure our water is clean and beaches are healthy for generations to come.”
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This curated list is based on the writer’s research and does not fully take into account all ethical considerations that are unique to each individual. Before making a purchase, we encourage you to do your own research paying particular attention to fabrics, the supply chain and your own particular set of values. You can also check out some online tools and apps that help you shop consciously. here.