If you're into water sports, sustainability and looking after our oceans is highly likely to be on your mind A LOT. You experienced first hand the changes in our oceans that have been happening over the last decades. It's our playground, we couldn't live without it and try to protect it as much as we can. But it's a huge task that often might seem too big for us as individuals to even make the smallest dent in. You hear it everywhere, "buy sustainable products", you see all these swimwear companies changing to recycled fabrics.
But is it really as simple as that? Does this actually mean the product you buy is more sustainable? We spoke to textile engineer & Zealous Clothing founder Marie, who has spent a lot of her time researching how to reduce her brands impact on the environment.
Marie, you have put a great effort into researching the sustainability of Zealous’ production process. Has sustainability always been a priority for Zealous?
Back in the days, when Zealous’ product range contained only knitted headwear and accessories, everything was handmade by me. That means I know how much work, commitment and precision goes into a single piece of garment and why we should treat it with care. Back then, I would not have labelled it sustainable. But this commitment and precision has been carried on even when I moved the production of our apparel and surfwear collection to Bali. Yes, even though that means we have longer transport ways and it’s not “locally made” in Germany anymore, it means that I can serve more women with amazing products while keeping an eye on manufacturing processes, conditions and wages.
"I don’t think sustainability is only part of the product development. I think sustainability needs to be anchored deep within the roots of a company."
What made you realise this was an important part of product development?
I don’t think sustainability is only part of the product development. I think sustainability needs to be anchored deep within the roots of a company. Otherwise it’s just green washing in my opinion. It hasn’t been long ago that I started wondering about certain companies and their philosophies which made me realise that sustainability needs to take place in different areas of a company’s range of action. One uses recycled fabrics but packs product in plastic? Another produces locally but doesn’t know how to secure quality and good fit which makes the products less durable?
Have you made any big or small changes since launching Zealous to reduce its environmental impact?
Absolutely! When I started producing in Bali, there were not many fabric options available. Since then I transitioned from using regular cotton for clothing to using sustainable fabrics for at least 75% of the collection. Those fabrics can be organic cotton, Lenzing® Modal or bamboo viscose (bamboo is a fast growing grass and sustainable to harvest, though it requires chemicals to be processed into viscose).
For the swimwear, I’ve created the OCEAN Collection which is made from 78% recycled pre- and post-consumer polyamide and 22% virgin spandex.
The Ocean Collection will be restocked on Seafoam this spring!
Since 2018, we are a 1% for the Planet® member and just donated our 1% from 2018 to Bye Bye Plastic Bags Bali who successfully fought for the ban of single use plastic bags in Bali! For 2019 we will donate the 1% to the Sumatran Orangutan Society who work on saving precious rain forest in Sumatra which gets deforested for palm oil companies and therefore protect the orangutan’s habitat. It’s so important to me to give back to the country where Zealous’ products are made!
Besides that, we use cassava based packaging for our products. Those bags are biodegradable, though it is still controversial whether that is possible in nature or only under certain recycling facility conditions. Yet, it is a step into the right direction and gets money to the companies who work on finding better solutions.
In our Bali office, we recycle all office waste and use biodegradable soap and detergent (because waste water pipes in Bali end in the drain in front of the house and the water ends up in the ocean). Fabric leftovers are made into scrunchies or limited small production runs like the “Zealous Kids” collection that we just launched.
And the best news is: we will offset all our CO2 emissions from 2019 (and all coming years)! This will have the greatest impact of all efforts and if all companies did this, the climate crisis would look a lot different!
What else would you love to change in the future?
I’d really like to create my own fabric – to know everything from the first till the last production step and to ensure it’s the best possible and most sustainable fabric!
"You do save on raw material and therefore CO2 emissions in the first place when using recycled polyamide / polyester fabrics. I’m asking myself, how does that compare to all the CO2 emissions of the processing?"
Simply using eco-friendly or recycled fabrics might not necessarily mean the product is more sustainably produced than using virgin fabrics, how is that?
I haven’t fully transitioned to recycled fabrics yet because I’m questioning the sustainability of collecting waste from all around the world, transporting it to Europe for purification, recycling, spinning and knitting, before transporting it back to Asia for manufacturing and back to Europe to our warehouse. Compare this to using Chinese fibres that are sent to Indonesia for knitting, manufacturing and once a bikini, make their way to our warehouse in Europe.
I think we would struggle from climate change before we run out of fossil fuels. But yes, you do save on raw material and therefore CO2 emissions in the first place when using recycled polyamide / polyester fabrics. I’m asking myself, how does that compare to all the CO2 emissions of the processing? I don’t know, and I’m having a hard time finding valid information. Econyl®, the company that recycles the polyamide that we use for our OCEAN collection, states that 10.000 tonnes of their raw material save 57.100 tonnes of CO2 emissions. I’ve asked them three times about their calculations and how they proof those calculations – I’ve never received an answer (though they’ve answered my other questions).
But I’ve done my calculations. I’ve compared the CO2 emissions of a possible route of recycled nylon and compared it to the emissions of the local nylon / spandex fabric blend that we use for our normal collections. The result: you save about 0.7kg of CO2 emissions when buying a bikini from partly (it will never be 100% recycled because you need virgin spandex to keep it stretchy which can’t be recycled yet on large scale) recycled fabrics. Based on Econyl®’s data which they don’t provide evidence for. But are those numbers the reality?
Ok, now we come to the bigger picture. Remember the 0.7kg saved on CO2 emissions. Now think about your last or upcoming surf trip to the tropics. Do you know the CO2 emissions of a return flight from Europe to Indonesia? More than 7.000kg of CO2!!! That makes the impact of a bikini made from recycled fabrics look very small, it’s 0,01%. Yet, it is a small step. But can you do me a favour and offset your emissions next time you fly if you really do care for the environment?
Another fact to consider is that the quality of recycled materials is currently not as good as the quality of virgin ones. If my bikini from virgin materials lasts longer than the one from recycled fibres, isn’t that more sustainable too?
Let me conclude: question statements, question marketing campaigns, look behind the use recycled fabrics, and offset your flights.
I think there’s no right nor wrong at the moment regarding the use of recycled fabrics but we should always see the whole picture instead of being blinded by green marketing campaigns.
Do you have any tips/advice for fellow surf women looking for their next surf outfit?
Look further than the use of recycled materials, what else does the company do? Do they produce under fair conditions? Do they give back to the environment? As I mentioned earlier, don’t get blinded.
And most importantly: shop consciously. Do you really need this new piece of clothing?
How do you personally try to minimise your environmental impact in daily life?
I will be offsetting my private travels this year, I try to minimise the use of single use plastic in all areas of life and try to buy local as much as possible. Clothing wise, I never own more than 5 pairs of bikinis, 2-3 for surfing and 2 for tanning. I often inherit clothes from my sister and friends and I don’t shop much. Or I wear my own t-shirt samples which otherwise would get dusty in the office or get some made with my tailor around the corner. I give my used clothes away to local friends or sell them further.
What do you believe is the one big thing every surfer can do to help?
A great possibility to do that is through climate protection organisations. One of them is atmosfair.de (website is available in English too) which compensates those emissions through projects in solar energy, wind power, hydro power and others.
Other organisations are:
You can calculate further emissions through websites like carbonfootprint.com.
Check out Zealous Clothing's current collection on Seafoam, the new 2020 collection and Ocean Collection re-stock is in full production and expected to arrive this spring.