Speedo in the Swim of Circular Economy with ECONYL® Nylon

Nowadays, businesses are increasingly aware of their role in battling climate change, and fashion brands — big and small — are no exception. More and more brands are opting for sustainable material in their garment production. Amongst them is Speedo, one of the world’s leading swimwear brands. In 2015, Speedo started making the revolutionary ‘Speedo PowerFLEX Eco’ swimwear with our 100 % regenerated ECONYL® nylon. With fabric used in that collection, Speedo took sustainability even further. Together, we set up the first ever fabric pilot takeback program for the swimwear industry. Through this closed-loop initiative, we divert waste from landfills and put the circular economy model to work. The H2O Active collection, launched in January, is a new result of our collaboration.

Collaboration is essential for closing the loop

Environmental sustainability is no longer a choice; it is becoming a requirement, and more and more companies are integrating sustainable practices in their operations. Besides minimizing their environmental footprints, sustainability might prove to be a competitive advantage for companies in the long run.

The harder question is how to achieve it, and collaborations like the one of Aquafil and Speedo is an example of how this is possible. When we started our sustainability journey, we found out we could achieve the most by making nylon from waste instead of oil. We developed an innovative ECONYL® Regeneration System, in which nylon from waste gets 100% regenerated into ECONYL® nylon. This regeneration process can be repeated an infinite number of times. In collaboration with suppliers, manufacturers, consumer brands, and consumers, closed-loop systems were formed, effectively reducing waste in landfills and oceans as well as reducing the overconsumption of natural resources.

ECONYL® closed-loop system

Through a reverse logistic process, we have already created several partnerships for waste recovery, mostly from discarded fishing nets and carpets, but are searching for more. Unfortunately, not just any material with nylon is suitable for recycling. Material must be carefully tested to see if it can qualify for the process of the ECONYL® Regeneration System.

Swimwear is known to be tricky to recycle due to the complexity of the fabric, but we do not stop at difficulties on our sustainability journey. In 2015, we formed a partnership with Speedo — ECONYL® nylon became part of their Powerflex Eco® fabric and together we developed a pilot project for the first fabric takeback program for the swimwear industry. Through this takeback program, leftover fabric scraps from Speedo are collected and sent to a regeneration plant, where nylon is regenerated from waste.

Although this takeback program is a pilot project, it is a good example of what can be done in the ever-challenging textile industry, and hopefully it will inspire others to be more sustainable, rethink product design and restructure their supply chain to divert waste from landfills.

H2O Active collection — recycled AND recyclable!

H2O Active, Speedo’s new eco-friendly activewear collection for women, is another achievement of our partnership. It is made with Powerflex Eco® fabric, which consists of 78 % ECONYL® nylon yarn.

What is even greater is that the environmental benefit does not go at the expense of quality or performance of the material. This was another challenge for the swimwear industry — ensuring that the sustainable and recyclable material is as high-performing and functional as new material, since the products are used by athletes. Speedo’s product developers found the perfect solution in ECONYL® yarn, which retains all the qualities of the virgin nylon. ECONYL® yarn is combined with Life LYCRA® in their new Powerflex Eco® fabric, which has become Speedo’s most durable fabric so far! It is resistant to chlorine, sun cream, and sagging.

For the launch of H2O Active collection in January, Speedo teamed up with four international fitness influencers to demonstrate the versatility and potential of the collection. They proved that functionality, durability, style, and sustainability are not mutually exclusive characteristics.

Speedo’s approach to sustainability

The H2O Active collection is just one of the ways Speedo incorporates sustainability into their business. Besides being dedicated to recycling, they are committed to constantly researching and minimizing the environmental impact of their products, avoiding potentially harmful substances, and using natural resources responsibly. We wanted to learn more about Speedo’s approach to sustainability, and they were kind enough to answer our questions.

Many companies are actively integrating sustainability principles into their business. What is Speedo doing in the field of sustainable development?

Speedo: “Wow, such a big question! Hopefully the answers to the following questions will give insight into what we have done, including contributing to charity, upcycling redundant stock, what we are doing such as our recyclable cardboard packaging, and what we see as the challenges and our plans for the future such as the take-back program with ECONYL®.”

If we focus on environmental sustainability, what are the biggest challenges for fashion industry and how does Speedo tackle those challenges?

Speedo: “The number one challenge for the industry is always providing the consumer with what they want when they want it. The challenge for environmental sustainability is how do we respond, anticipate and deliver within these constraints. Traditionally swimwear has been hard to recycle, but integrating sustainability principles effectively and efficiently within the limitations is the key to unlocking better environmental sustainability.”

Through ECONYL® takeback programme, leftover fabric scraps from Speedo are collected and sent to ECONYL® regeneration plant, where nylon from waste fabric is 100% regenerated into ECONYL® sustainable nylon.

How does Speedo choose materials? Are sustainability factors included in decision making process?

Speedo: “Speedo is fortunate in that we have a strong, stable relationships with our manufacturing base for finished goods and our materials. With this stability comes understanding, which ensures we work closer together, knowing what each other can bring to the table. Sustainability factors are a key consideration, especially where there are clear opportunities for all.”

Where can a fashion brand look for sustainable materials? Do you find the supply of sustainable materials well developed, of a good quality and variety?

Speedo: “Inspiration can come from anywhere; however, turning the ideas into reality is the key. This is applicable to any innovation, not just sustainable materials. In all cases, sustainable materials need to be sustainable financially and have consistent quality that matches consumer’s expectations — or the concepts will only ever be short lived. Developing supply chains efficiently and effectively is a challenge for the whole industry, as well as Speedo.”

What kind of sustainable materials does Speedo use?

Speedo: “Speedo has been involved in numerous projects, including using sustainable materials such as bamboo. We have also created numerous upcycled collections from excess fabric and product. More recently, we have introduced our H2O Active multi-fitness collection using ECONYL® yarn — the recovered and recycled nylon from Aquafil which we are very excited about. We also use recycled PET and a number of yarn dye fabrics which significantly reduces the amount of waste generated from the fabric production process.”

ECONYL® nylon yarn, 100% regenerated from waste nylon, has the quality of virgin nylon, assuring high-performance activewear and swimwear that is also sustainable.

There are a lot of innovations in sustainable fashion materials; fabric from food waste, from plastic bottles, from nylon waste, such as carpet or fishing nets. Which innovations do you find the most promising?

Speedo: “For Speedo, it is those innovations that have the potential to become mainstream that are the most interesting. Speedo wants to be part of innovation via an industry step change which improves the sustainability of fabrics, materials and consumption.”

This closed-looped system was developed in partnership with Aquafil. Why is collaboration so important in sustainability?

Speedo: “There is so much to do, and we are only scratching the surface. Together, as an industry we can find solutions to the issues which will affect our generation and future generations in ways we don’t really understand fully yet. Collaboration is essential to balance the equation.”

What are the benefits of using sustainable materials for Speedo (benefits beyond reputation)?

Speedo: “Speedo strongly believes sustainable materials have the potential to always be more beneficial to all, providing the end-to-end lifecycle is fully calculated and understood. The challenge lies in the fact that this is not a simple calculation with so many variables, especially when you add in the time constraints of the consumer. However, with multiple initiatives, including working with Aquafil’s sustainable products and adding our waste back into the cycle, we hope we are helping to clarify this calculation.”

How did consumers accept your sustainable collections? Can you say Speedo’s buyers care about the environmental impact of the garments they buy and use? Do you notice any changes in their behavior?

Speedo: “We believe consumers are becoming more and more environmentally conscious and therefore are prepared to invest in sustainably sourced goods. This factor has meant a huge amount to our retailers and consumers, and we hope it will continue to be even more so.”

What are the characteristics of H2O Active range collection you are launching? How would you describe it?

Speedo: “The H2O Active range is a fashionable, sustainable and functional range that can be worn for exercise in and out of water. The consumer can expect a range that is flexible and breathable for their land workouts, chlorine resistant with no sagging or bagging for their water workouts and made from eco-friendly fabric that’s soft on the skin and good for the environment.”

Can you tell us something about Speedo’s plans for sustainability?

Speedo: “We have already made great strides in reducing environmental impact through efficiencies of production, design for manufacture principles and effectiveness of our supply chain operations. For the future, we have targeted a number of key focus areas which will reduce the overall environmental impact of our products.”