11 best sustainable swimwear brands for women: From one-pieces to bikinis

Testing everything from the feel of the material to the packaging it arrives in, we've found the businesses that are making waves with eco-friendly designs

Fani Mari
Sunday 05 July 2020 07:45 BST
Fishing gear makes up 27 per cent of marine litter, so brands are working to reduce this waste by giving it a second life
Fishing gear makes up 27 per cent of marine litter, so brands are working to reduce this waste by giving it a second life (The Inependent/iStock)

Swimwear is inherently unsustainable due to the materials commonly used. Plastic-based synthetic fibres like nylon and polyester are popular because they stretch well, wick moisture and dry quickly. Polyester and nylon come from petroleum and their production needs a large amount of water and energy, plus they don’t biodegrade.

Thankfully there’s been a wave of designers working with sustainable materials and changing the way we perceive swimwear, while also tackling marine litter, like fishing gear. Fishing gear makes up 27 per cent of marine litter, so brands are working to reduce this waste by giving it a second life.

According to UK charity Surfers Against Sewage, there are about five thousand items of marine plastic per every beach mile in the UK and 150 plastic bottles litter every mile of UK beaches, so finding a way to reduce that within the swimwear industry is a good idea.

You wouldn’t know they are better for the environment by looking at them or touching them as they feel exactly like the virgin nylon we are used to. The most common material used is ECONYL, which many brands use for their swimwear lines.

ECONYL is an Italian-made regenerated nylon fabric; saving textiles that would normally go to the landfill or end up in the oceans. It can be made using anything from fish nets to carpets. Though nylon is still involved in the process, it’s certainly better for the environment in a recycled form than thrown away, plus it is infinitely recyclable.

Read more: Best maternity swimwear

Dana Thomas, author of Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes, says: “It is absolutely important that swimwear brands swerve towards greener fabrics than virgin nylon, and most especially polyester. We have enough polyester already and can regenerate it in a green manner—meaning no need to pump oil out of the Earth to make new and dump existing into landfill to moulder forever."

Part of being more sustainable is how long you keep your items and a big part of that is how you wash them, particularly when it comes to swimwear. To ensure the swimwear remains in good condition, it should be hand-washed with mild soap and cold water after every use, to preserve the fabric as long as possible and remove chlorine, salt and sand.

Air drying them flat, away from the sun and avoiding getting sunscreen or oil on them is also advised. When washed properly, the ECONYL swimwear will have a longer life than nylon counterparts.

We’ve selected brands that are UK founded and based and offer a variety of designs. These companies often give back in more ways than one, either by supporting local communities or giving back to charities.

We have purposely avoided high street brands even though some of them offer sustainable lines including swimwear, as we wanted to focus on brands with sustainability as part of their ethos and DNA.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

We Are We Wear ECO Ashley high leg brazilian, ECO Ava Tie shoulder bikini top: £26 and £32, We Are We Wear

Founders Natalie Paul and Chelsea Williams champion body positivity and want to encourage women to feel comfortable in their swimwear, with a focus on styles that will compliment all body types.

The minimal designs have been created not just for poolside wear but to compliment other outfits too. The brand wants to take sustainability a step further by showing that their pieces can be layered, worn at festivals, at work and all year round – not just once a year.

It has the most inclusive sizing from all the brands we tested, from XS to 3XL, and its prices are very reasonable too. The brand uses regenerated ECONYL fabric in its eco range, which is anti-wick, so this set can be worn while working out too. They are also launching an eco-friendly lingerie collection from June, again in very inclusive sizing (30-38 A-G and 40-44 D-FF). The fit of the bikini is great, the material is soft and non-restrictive and the sizing is true to size. The packaging is also recyclable.

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Casa Raki Maggie Maillot one-piece: £180, Casa Raki

This sustainable swimsuit is stylish and eco-friendly (

London-based brand Casa Raki is focused on sustainable swim and resort wear that’s elegant and classic with a twist. The founder, Josefina A. Theo, says the brand is constantly looking for more sustainable options, while paying attention to the details, from packaging to tags and produces in small quantities to minimise waste.

Most of the swimwear is created using ECONYL and some of the styles are created using an even more sustainable yarn, created with castor beans. For its resort wear, the brand uses 100 per cent GOTS certified organic linen from Belgium.

We tried the one-piece styles and they are very flattering, comfortable and the material is very soft. Sizing (from XS to L) comes up a little small so we recommend sizing up if you’re in between sizes, though it also depends on the cut of the swimsuit. The chic one-pieces would also work well as a bodysuit worn with jeans, palazzo trousers, skirts and shorts, so you can wear them all year round.

The cuts and colours are very classic, this season there’s black to beige with pops of red, orange and blue. The swimwear comes in an organic cotton pouch, so you can protect it in your beach bag or even use it as a bag for your sunscreens.

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Tucca Swim Ola Azul multiway bikini: £98,

This brand’s key style is the multiway bikini, and is available in two new colours this summer. It doesn’t have collections per se, but it adds two or three new colours every year and focuses on small quantity runs. Once those sell out, they produce more.

The bikini is super unique as it’s not only reversible but the top can be worn in three different ways, meaning you get a few styling choices from just one item. The brand also sells scrunchies made from the offcuts of the swimwear. The top is really flattering – more so when knotted – and the bottoms fit well but if you prefer more coverage, it offers full brief bottoms that can be bought separately.

All of its styles are made in small quantities using ECONYL, but its size range is limited, from XS (UK6) to L (UK12). The brand actively engages with its followers and customers for feedback before it produces a collection, to avoid producing more than needed. The swimwear is packaged in a recyclable box and a recycled material mailer bag.

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Lilliput & Felix aphrodite swimsuit: £200, Liliput & Felix

Lilliput & Felix is a UK-based luxury swimwear and beachwear brand, created in small quantities in Portugal. It holds a Positive Luxury Butterfly Mark certification, for its social and environmental commitment. This includes small collections, re-purposing of leftover fabrics, working with sustainable carriers and a small factory. The aphrodite one-piece is its most popular style as it’s sculpting and supportive while being chic and fun. The wraps can be tied a few different ways, around the neck, straight or crossed on the back, and we found the ruching to be very flattering.

To wear, you remove the U-shaped clasp from one side, put it on and re-insert the clasp. It comes with removable padded cups. It’s very well made and looks even better in person. We’d recommend sizing up if you normally wear different sizes for top and bottoms of bikinis or if you have a longer torso.

For the solid colour pieces, the brand uses ECONYL, and for the prints it uses a recycled polyamide/elastane mix. The brand also has a range of bikinis in stripes and prints, with unique bikini tops that would work well as proper clothing. It has its own sizing guide as each size is designed with a different body in mind; from 0 to 5 that corresponds to UK6 to UK16+. In terms of packaging, it’s kept minimal; wrapped in recycled paper and sent in a biodegradable and compostable mailer bag made from corn.

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Ayla ruffle triangle top and smocked frill bottoms: £70 and £80, Ayla

This company was created by Kirsty Ames and Heidi Sommerau who have always lived near the sea and wanted to emulate that careless and relaxed feeling in a swim and resort wear line. The designs can be mixed together to take you from day to night.

All of Ayla’s swimwear is created with recycled fibres – ECONYL or Repreve – and its sustainability doesn’t end there; it also makes sarongs using Cupro, a by-product of cotton which would usually be thrown away. Its trousers and shorts are made using Tencel, a biodegradable and recyclable cellulose from wood pulp, which is far more sustainable than cotton. The brand makes everything in two boutique factories in Bali in small quantities.

The designs are feminine and playful; colours, frills and mix of prints, make them perfect for any colour lover. The collection is designed to be mixed and matched and sold as separates. This year the focus is on coral-inspired prints, transferring you in an exotic paradise, which also serves as a reminder to be respectful to the endangered coral reefs. Also with this collection, the brand is donating one per cent to the Coral Guardian charity.

The sizing ranges from a S/M (UK 8-19) to L/XL(UK 16) for bottoms, and tops are according to bra size, from S/M (32A) to XL (E cup). There is a detailed size guide on the website with measurements to help you find your perfect fit.

The frill is a very nice touch to the bikini we tested, which fits true to size. The triangle top has looped straps that can be worn straight back, halter or crossed; a clever detail that makes putting on the top quicker as you don’t have to tie up many straps. The ruching of the bottoms makes them super stretchy and comfortable. The swimsuit comes in a cardboard box, no papers or mailer bags, so simply reuse or recycle.

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Tide + Seek purple popsicle fixed triangle top and cheeky coverage bottom: £35 and £32, Tide + Seek

Cornwall-based Tide + Seek was created by Samantha Thomas to show that eco-conscious swimwear can be fun as well as functional. The swimwear is handmade in Bali, using Repreve, a material made from 100 per cent recycled plastic bottles that would normally end up in landfill. Each swimsuit equates to five plastic bottles and when it launched in 2018, the brand saved 7,500 plastic PET bottles from landfill.

There are so many styles to choose from and all sorts of colourful prints, from marble to floral, in various cuts depending on the desired coverage. We tested the bikini, it’s very comfortable and feels supportive. It’s easy to see why surfers also like them. If choosing the cheeky bottoms, we recommend sizing up.

Sizes range from XS to XL, corresponding to a UK6 to UK14. In terms of packaging, the swimwear comes in a turquoise cotton pouch and the mailer bag is compostable and biodegradable. It’s made from cassava starch, that looks like plastic but isn’t.

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You Swim aplomb one-piece: £105, You Swim

You Swim uniquely offers just one-size in its bikini and one-piece, which fits a UK6 to a UK18. This is pretty revolutionary and it’s all due to its tight-knit but super stretchy material, which caters to a range of body types and sizes. The way the material is made means the swimsuit can stretch and shrink back to the original size, over and over. This means that the company produces almost no waste, as each piece is made in one size, dramatically reducing left-over fabrics and unsold stock.

Its products are ethically made by hand in England in small batches. Currently the raw materials aren’t recycled, as the brand has found these to be inferior and not as easy to accommodate their one-size cuts. It is constantly looking for eco-nylon and making changes to be even more sustainable. Because this will always fit you, you won’t ever need to throw it out, even through body changes (like pregnancy) or season changes. The campaigns focus on size inclusivity and images aren’t retouched, which is refreshing.

We tested the aplomb one-piece and it’s incredibly soft, plus it feels like you have nothing on. Because it’s so stretchy, it doesn’t support the same way a tighter suit would. The lilac colour is very nice and vibrant. Packaging is kept minimal; the swimsuit comes in a recyclable box and a compostable mailer bag.

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Lula Ru the Lucy set: £180, Lula Ru

Focusing on a slow fashion mission, Lula-Ru was created in London as a modern take on the 1950’s timeless styles.

Its bikinis and one-pieces have a retro elegance and most come with removable belts too. The company is really focusing on classic styles and promotes the idea that you can update your look, with a new belt for example, instead of buying a new bikini. Its styles are created to be multi-wear, the one-piece suits can be worn with jeans for example and some of the bikini tops double up as a gym bra.

The bikinis can also be bought separately, which is useful if you want different sizes for top and bottom or want to mix and match with different cuts and sizes. The colours are the classics; navy, burgundy, white and turquoise, in sizes from XS (UK 8) to L (UK14). The fit of the bikini is very flattering and the fabric feels soft and comfortable, while the sizing is true to size.

The brand currently uses an eco sensitive fabric by EuroJersey, although not recycled, is produced using the least amount of water, energy and waste. In November it will be launching a collection with recycled fabrics. The off-cuts from its swimwear are reimagined as scrunchies and soon it will be adding off-cuts headbands, to focus on its zero waste mission, and each order arrives in a reusable canvas bag, avoiding any single-use packaging.

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Kymina Farrah swimsuit: £90, Kymina

Kymina is a London-based swimwear collection that launched earlier this year. The focus is classics, hence the black colours, and you can mix and match them more easily to create different combinations. The three tops, bottoms and one-piece were created to suit everyone, thanks to their classic cuts.

The names are reminiscent of popular faces, like the “Elle”, inspired by Elle McPherson and the Eighties, or the “Farrah”, named after Farrah Fawcett and the Seventies. The fabric used is ECONYL and the swimwear is hand-made in small quantities. It actually uses the highest percentage of recycled fibres (90 per cent) of all the brands we tested.

Sizing ranges from an XS to an XL (UK8 to UK16) and fits true to size. The material feels stretchy and luxurious and the one-piece we tested is very flattering. Up close it’s almost like a honeycomb material. If you no longer want your swimwear (though we don’t see why) you can send it back to them for recycling and in turn you can receive a discount off your next order. The swimwear comes in a compostable corn-based mailer bag.

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Evarae Itea swimsuit: £250, Evarae

London-based Evarae is inspired by founder Georgia Thompson’s childhood spent by the sea. “Conscious luxury” is what the brand represents, as seen in the elegant swimwear and resort wear. Belts, cut-out details and stripes in muted tones of yellow, ochre and khaki are the focus for this season. Evarae uses ECONYL for 80 per cent of its swimwear and all styles are made using sustainable practices — check the individual product details if your focus is on recycled fibres, as it depends on the piece. With this collection, it has introduced a free repair service, as well as a recycling initiative.

You can send your used swimwear from any brand and Evarae will regenerate them and offer you a discount off a future purchase. The brand definitely has an all-rounder approach to sustainability, as it plants a tree for every purchase, and every month it donates five per cent of the total sales to a chosen charity — for May it supported FareShare. The brand also encourages consumers to only buy what they intend to keep, as returns and packaging waste are a big issue that needs to be tackled, so they no longer offer free returns.

The one-piece we tested is very elegant and comfortable to wear and could easily be worn with jeans or other clothes as a body. The material is soft and supportive and the fit is true to size. Sizing ranges from XS to XL (UK 6-8 to UK14-16) for both swimwear and resort wear. The order comes in recyclable packaging made using at least 90 per cent recycled materials and the mailer bags are biodegradable.

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KAMBA Samantha swimsuit: £100, KAMBA

Ruffle details and classic styles are the signature of this brand, in flattering cuts and designs. Since 2019, all of its swimwear has been created using ECONYL, in small quantities, supporting local trade where possible. For this season, the focus is on subdued tones like khaki and burgundy, as well as warm yellow and royal blue.

Sizing ranges from XS to L, which corresponds to UK6 to UK12. We tested the Samantha one-piece and found it to be very flattering – the material is soft, fit is true to size and it was quite stretchy. For bikinis, you can buy the top and bottoms separately, which is convenient if you want to mix and match or if you need different sizes. Packaging is a recyclable envelope and the swimsuit comes in a reusable natural cotton canvas pouch.

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The verdict: Sustainable swimwear

We Are We Wear is our first choice, thanks to its classic designs, inclusive sizing and affordable prices. We also like Tide + Seek’s offering as it’s fun and colourful, plus it’s the only company we tested that includes recycled bottles as the material of choice across its whole line. Tucca is also a great choice as it can be worn so many different ways that you won’t need multiple bikinis.

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