sustainability + eco-friendly swimwear
I’ve been on a journey cutting out plastic and reducing waste throughout my life.
always learning more. consuming less. and learning more again. it begins to feel fun and empowering to know you’re making a difference to save our planet. I want the next generation to experience the beauty that is earth, straight up! so I was pretty excited to sit down with kelley chapman of manakai swimwear to talk about her journey starting Hawaii’s first eco-friendly swimwear brand, what the process is like to source materials, and the future of the textile industry.
were you always interested in sustainability and the environment?
Yes. As a child I spent my summers attending outdoor camps in the Appalachian Mountains. This experience was my introduction to the natural environment and shaped my deep connection to Mama Gaia.
“Leave No Trace” was embedded into my being as a child. I learned how to harvest food and water from the forest, navigate new terrain finding true north with only the sun and a stick, tune in and observe wildlife (their cues tell a story about what’s happening around you), and I learned how joyful and satisfied I am when immersed in nature.
My first vision quest was when I was 13 years old and I was sent out into the mountains on a solo trek with only 3 matches, a tarp, 3 ft of rope, pen, paper and a water bottle. For some people this experience may seem daunting but for me it was my initiation to becoming a voice for this sacred planet.
Fast forward several years I found myself graduating with a bachelor’s degree in science, focused on Sustainable Tourism and Outdoor Experiential Education.
After graduation I lived off the grid for 2 years in Cost Rica and Santa Fe, New Mexico. My experience in Costa Rica opened my eyes to the majestic sea. I was 23 years old the first time I put on a mask and witnessed the coral reefs and all its inhabitants. As I emerged from the water I sat on the rocky shore and had tears in my eyes. I wasn’t sad but I still to this day can’t put a finger on where exactly the tears came from. I clearly received a download or message if you will, giving me instructions to live in a coastal community. Never in a million years did I imagine finding my place on Earth, my home, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Serendipitously a year later MAUI presented itself to me. While driving around in my hometown of Atlanta, Georgia I was stuck in traffic, go figure, behind a car that was plastered with MAUI stickers. Upon arriving to my destination, a friend’s home for a clothing swap, I went to turn off the T.V., because Television blows, and there I found myself captivated by the imagery of this gorgeous island called MAUI. After a few moments I turned off the T.V. and joined the clothing swap. Can you guess what the first piece of clothing I randomly pick up from the pile? A Hula MAUI tee shirt! I laughed out loud and the very next day purchased a one-way ticket to MAUI. That was in 2007.
The moment I landed on MAUI I knew I was finally home. My only interest was diving into the vastness of the ocean environment and learning as much as possible about the rich, beautiful culture of Hawaii. Anytime someone ask me about Sustainability I have learned to not only look at Earth’s natural resources but its inhabitants as well. This is “Sustainable Tourism” at its best in case you were wondering.
When I tap into the mana of both the natural environment and culture of different locations around the globe I gain true reverence, therefor I naturally want to protect it and love it. My intentions are to inspire others to do the same.
in hawaii, we’re practically living in our bikinis. what is conventional swimwear made out of?
Discovering more sustainable and ethically produced swimwear this day and age can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be.
Different types of Spandex, Nylon, Lycra (to name a few) are all created by petrochemical companies. I will speak specifically about one of the top producers of synthetic fabrics in the U.S.A in a moment but let’s start from the beginning.
I often ask people if they know the first step to producing the swimwear they are wearing? No? “Petro” as in petroleum. First step to creating any virgin synthetic stretch fabric is extracting oil. The petroleum is then polymerized into long, linear chemical bonds or building blocks. The easiest way for me to explain this in layman terms is imagine the final result ending in a plastic synthetic “cotton-like” structure but it isn’t a plant base product, it is a petrochemical base product, that gets made into a yarn and then woven into a fabric.
About 6 years ago I started researching stretch fabric and how it is made and why? Chemist from around the world spent years attempting to birth the perfect synthetic textiles and around the mid 1930’s several break throughs happened. I discovered petroleum base clothing has not been around that long historically speaking and conventionally speaking plant base materials were used for swimwear back in the day, one specifically called Lastex which is cotton or rayon covered in rubber.
During the 1930’s many chemist and petrochemical companies were attempting to replicate artificial silk due to the constant inflation of silk. Japan and USA relations were struggling, and the cost of silk was fairly expensive. The beginning of synthetic fabric was soon to be discovered and yet there was no clear vison on the environmental impact it would create.
A chemist and leader in organic chemistry, Dr. Wallace Hume Carothers, was hired by a well-known and extremely powerful petrochemical company name DuPont back in the early 30’s and in 1934 he created the first Nylon fabric which DuPont later put a patent on. Turns out this fabric was utilized for many things in the apparel industry and beyond. DuPont also had a patent on the name Lycra and but sold this brand/patent for 4 billion dollars. Yes, there is A LOT OF MONEY in the petrochemical Industry, so we should all be paying close attention to their practices and intentions.
Now if you are reading this and you live in the Hawaiian Islands and your ears don’t perk up after hearing the name DuPont you are not paying attention.
Yes, we are talking about the same DuPont company that participates in seed crop research all throughout Hawai’i. That’s another topic and I’m already over sharing but hey we should ALL know where virgin Lycra and Nylon began because it is a huge part of “the story”!
what are manakai swimsuits made out of? where do you source your materials?
ALL of Manakai’s suits are made from 78% recycled Nylon 6 (regenerated by ECONYL®) & and 22% elastane. ECONYL®, is derived from derelict commercial fishing nets and industrial waste, which is collected through a buyback program from 5 countries. Check it out here.
I source my materials from Vita by Carvico who states: “Our sustainable techno-fabric, made of ECONYL® regenerated Nylon turns waste problems into fashion and interior solutions”.
I choose to source from this company because of their transparency. They create yearly environmental assessments for us ALL to read.
Their knowledge and innovative technology which lessens the impact of production is notable. One of the cleanest technologies producing stretch fabric to be exact. Because of their superior and advanced technology this company is able to create a highly sought-after product in a more conscious manner. When we compare a virgin stretch fabric next to a regenerated Nylon 6 stretch fabric made by ECONYL® yarn, from an environmental impact point of view, the results are mind blowing. Also tested to be 2X stronger than any leading fabric on the market! Quality over Quantity is my moto. Feel free to read about their commitment to the environment and natural resources here.
being Eco-concious is absolutely required in todays crazy world! what do you see in the future for manakai?
I see Manakai being recognized for holding a high level of integrity for this industry world-wide.
I see Manakai being recognized as Hawaii’s first sustainable and ethical swimwear company.
I see Manakai continuing to create one of kind seamless and fully reversible swimwear that women world-wide go to for their very own Eco-Swimwear.
I see Manakai’s Eco-Boutique becoming a place every eco babe wants to visit not only because of the swimwear but also because there are many lifestyle products I want to introduce to everyone so we can get away from plastic consumption. I recently introduced shampoo bars and conditioner bars. For the first time my personal bathroom is plastic free and I want to show my fellow sisters how to do the same thing. I also source the best of the best when it comes to reef safe sunscreen, yummy locally crafted oils for hair and body and much more.
Right now, I am slowly building my team with people who align with my mission: Sustainable and Ethical swimwear, women empowerment and ocean conservation. I envision a beautiful group of people working for Manakai and believe in the BRAND and the lifestyle.
In April I plan of going to Italy to take a tour of Carvico’s facility and see first-hand how the fabrics are made and learn more about the process and technology involved. My husband Vini from Shoots Productions will be there with me documenting this exciting experience too.
The end of this year I plan on launching my first active line with surf/yoga leggings and a surf top. So to all my surfing sisters out there who want to shift from wearing virgin stretch fabric to sustainable and ethically produced fabrics I look forward to meeting you.
I will be planting the seeds and begin drawing up several ideas for dresses, kimonos and a few other categories too…of course using proper eco-materials.
you can find manakai swimwear…
online at http://manakaiswimwear.com
at Lahaina’s first eco-boutique (located in Kelley’s hometown, right on the water!) 888 Front Street, Lahaina HI 96761
also available in Costa Rica, at Danyasa Eco Retreat.
stay in touch on manakai swimwear’s instagram.
and shoutout to our models, Shann and Dani