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Make 2019 count - Sustainable sailing clothing

by Gael Pawson 24 Oct 12:00 BST
Flexlite Alumin Top made from eco-friendly limestone-based neoprene © Musto

A staggeringly huge amount of waste is produced by the fashion industry. As the cost of most products doesn't include the cost of their disposal, or their drain on resources and the environment, we have got to a stage where clothing is generally too cheap.

So cheap that most of us no longer patch things up; the post-war 'make do and mend culture' no longer exists. A child rips their school trousers and a new pair can be bought for £5. Most of us will pay out the £5 as we can afford to. Imagine those trousers were £25+ (a more realistic price for organic, plastic-free, carbon-neutral products), we'd much be more likely to mend them.

Use one of our early features as your starting point - Buy less; buy smarter:

  • Can you make do with your existing items?
  • Can you mend or alter something you already have?
  • Can you borrow something (especially if it's for a special one-off occasion).
  • Can you buy secondhand?
  • Do you need it?
  • Do you REALLY need it?
  • Do you LOVE it?

Assuming you do need to buy some new clothing, especially many of the technical items we use for sailing that use hi-tec, plastic-based fabrics and materials, use the following bullet points to guide your buying choices:

  • Can you buy a greener alternative?
  • Think about the manufacturing processes and resources used to make the item in the first place.
  • Consider the longevity of the garment - is it built to last.
  • Consider the life of the garment after you have finished with it, can you pass it on, is it ultimately compostable?
  • Buy local where possible.
  • Remember a cheap price tag isn't really cheap if it is destroying the planet.

Buying to last

Far better to buy one item to last you a decade, than a cheaper alternative that will need replacing in a couple of years time. Make this part of your buying process, is the item well-finished, is it made of quality fabrics, will it last?

Buy things you love

If you love an item, you are far more likely to hang onto it rather than replace it. My greatest example is probably my fabulous Aigle dinghy boots that felt like a huge investment and were falling apart for years before I eventually replaced them. I still have a Musto wetsuit that is full of holes but I can't buy another, and is still comfortable enough that I am yet to make the plunge to replace it. I have 15-year old summer skirts, perfect for changing under in a dinghy park, that I still love because I chose colours I'll never go off.

Try to ask yourself a few questions every time you buy. "Will I still love this when the colour goes out of fashion? Do I love the cut, do I love the feel of the fabric?" The answer for me is that if it's a shade of sea blue or green and fits well I will always love it. If I don't really like the feel of the fabric or the colour isn't my favourite, it's less likely to continue to appeal.

Manufacture and composition

Think about how your item was made. Was it made with minimal or no chemicals by a responsible company that minimises its impact on the planet? Look for organic or ethical standards or initiatives - like the Better Cotton Initiative. You'll be surprised that some brands that take these issues seriously aren't necessarily high end - H&M being one mainstream fashion example of a company taking this seriously.

What is it made of? Remember that lots of clothing is plastic of one type or another. Think about what will happen to your garment after it's reached the end of its life. Will it decompose? Choose natural fabrics or fibres wherever you possibly can.

Hemp is of the best fibres for clothing manufacture - it doesn't require any pesticides, helps stabilise soil and doesn't use much water and grows quickly.

Bamboo is also a good option as long as it's been manufactured responsibly (some processes can use a lot of very harmful chemicals). Again it is fast growing, uses less water than cotton and has natural antibacterial properties.

Cotton is a natural fibre but conventional manufacture uses a lot of chemicals and water, which is why organic cotton is such an important switch.

Tencel is another natural fabric - made from cellulose in wood pulp, it uses chemicals but 99% of them are reused. It is economical in its use of energy and natural resources and fully biodegradable.

Also look for recycled fabrics - even if it is a plastic product, at least you're not adding to the amount of plastic in the world. Recycled cotton is also available.

Pass your clothes on

Try to avoid your clothes ending up in landfill by taking the time to sell on high quality items you no longer want through sites like Ebay or Depop. Pass them to charity shops or a clothing bank. Offer them for free to friends and family. Pass kit on through your local sailing club.

Washing and drying

To improve the longevity of your clothes, wash them less often - think before putting them straight into the dirty clothes basket, could they stand another wear? You can save a huge amount of water and energy, quite aside from ensuring your clothes last longer. Of course if you have small children, this is more difficult, but it's still something to be aware of. Natural fabrics like wool actually benefit from infrequent washing and have natural anti-bacterial properties.

Think about this with your sailing clothing as well - showering with your wetsuit can help to save water by washing your kit at the same time as your body.

Wash at a lower temperature, again this will reduce your energy use as well as increasing the lifespan of your clothing.

Use an environmentally-friendly washing powder (see Kinder Cleaning) as these also tend to be less aggressive.

Dry your items naturally - ideally outdoors, but alternatively on a clothes airer or line indoors. Ideally rig up a line on a pulley system in a warm room, or take a moment before you go to bed to move your clothes airer to the warmest room in the house. If you do tumble dry, try to avoid completely drying in the drier - most shrinkage occurs as the last 5-10% of water is driven out. Try to tumble dry only when you really HAVE to and dry naturally as much as you can.

Sailing products to look out for

Many sailing clothing companies are starting to consider the environment in their clothing manufacture, while others have had it on their agenda for a long time. Henri Lloyd won a DAME award for its Blue Eco jacket 10 years ago, and has a new hoodie out in 2020 made from 100% recycled polyester from what was 1.5 litre PET bottles.

Things to look for are natural fibres, recycled products and initiatives to reuse and repair your kit as well as initiatives to reduce the company's waste and carbon footprint. You can read about what Musto has been doing to try to reduce plastic use. Their Flexlite Alumin wetsuits are made from limestone neoprene instead of any made from petrochemicals.

More and more technical fabrics are being made out of recycled plastic bottles; the beauty of these is you aren't adding to the huge amount of plastic that's already in existence.

Waterproofs and wetsuits

A few examples include:

If you are looking for children's products, Frugi has a really good outdoor clothing range made from recycled materials and is very mindful of the environment.

Rashies and thermals

There is a growing choice of baselayers and swimwear, but most of it from outside the marine-specific brands, as well as some of the brands already mentioned, you could try Ruby Moon for swimsuits and Fourth Element or Rashr for rash vests.

For insulation, instead of polyester products you could consider wool from brands like icebreaker.

Freedom of Sleep use ocean and recycled plastics as insulation in their jackets, and donate a sleeping bag to the homeless for each product sold.

Making 2019 count

For more ideas to help reduce your impact on the environment and Make 2019 count, see our articles for sailors on Travel, Food, Greener washbags and Reusable cloth products.

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