It’s a chilly afternoon in November and I’m taking the train to South London to visit Zanna Van Dijk and Natalie Glaze. The two best friends come business partners are making waves in the fashion industry with their eco-swimwear brand Stay Wild Swim.
I know what you’re thinking, swimwear – in winter? But according to recent stats, more and more people are jetting off for some sun in the colder months. In 2019, 4.5 million Brits will make a getaway to warmer climes during winter, says ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents).
Stay Wild Swim is no regular bikini brand for the beach, Zanna and Natalie make swimwear built to last. With price points between £70 and £170, you are choosing to make a long-term investment in a truly sustainable brand.
What makes the swimwear eco-friendly?
Zanna and Natalie make their swimsuits out of regenerated ocean plastic, using the sustainable fabric Econyl. Their Econyl partners are based in Italy, where a team of divers collect plastic and fishing nets from the sea. "They combine the plastic with other textile waste like offcuts," Zanna carefully explains, before it is "broken down into a fibre and then spun into a yarn."
Choosing to make sustainable swimwear was no accident, the two founders tell me. "We both love the ocean", says Natalie, "I grew up by the sea in East Sussex." For Zanna, growing up in the Yorkshire Dales meant she spent her childhood surrounded by nature, "raised on a diet of nature documentaries by David Attenborough’s second biggest fan (after me), my mum," she laughs. She adds that her dad took her scuba diving every year from the age of just twelve, saying proudly, "it feels nice to create a business that supports the ocean. It isn’t just another cute swimwear brand, it has a positive impact and a purpose."
Zanna and Natalie have over 315k Instagram followers combined and are now well known on social media for their sustainable credentials. Between them, they boast titles like Vogue’s ‘top eco influencers to follow’ (Natalie), Cosmopolitan’s ‘influencer of the year finalist’ (Zanna) and Selfridges’ ‘Bright Young Thing of 2019’ (Natalie). Stay Wild Swim might be their newest venture, but it’s already garnered the support of nearly 30k followers on Instagram, despite being only a year old.
Championing slow fashion
In a world dominated by fast fashion and next-day deliveries, how do they cope with the demand, I venture.
"We’re no fast fashion brand," says Natalie. "Stay Wild Swim is slow fashion, we don’t do collections, we don’t do seasons. If someone wants a product that is out of stock, they have to understand it will take time for it to be made."
When it comes to international shipping, the pair tell me it’s not something they emphasise on their website, as they are keen to minimise their carbon footprint. They prefer to ship within the UK but plan to expand in the next year to have a physical base abroad too. In the meantime, "we do offer carbon neutral shipping, but its expensive for the customer because they have to pay to offset," explains Zanna.
"We work with tree planting initiatives and charitable projects that help facilitate clean water, clean air and solar energy," Natalie chips in.
Delivering sustainability with a fine-tooth comb
When I first met Zanna and Natalie at London Fashion Week, I was instantly impressed by their ambitious plans. Stay Wild Swim is a business they managed to grow exponentially from a living room in Wandsworth, which is down to their authenticity and transparency as a brand.
Everything about the swimwear production is legitimately sustainable. From their local factory in London, so close they can walk to it, to the sustainable fulfilment centre in Devon – no stone has been left unturned. Both women know the seamstresses who make their swimwear personally, with a full understanding of working conditions, to ensure sustainability and ethics are top priorities in the manufacturing process.
What’s more, they have even come up with a solution for customer concerns that the swimwear could be releasing micro plastics in the wash, due to being made from regenerated plastic.
"Just the other day, I got a question about this on my Instagram," Zanna tells me. "So we sell guppy friends that catch the plastics in the washing machine, on our website. We were one of the first UK stockists in fact!".
Guppy friends are bags you can wash your swimwear in, which catch the micro plastics released in the washing process.
We don’t make a fuss about diversity
For Zanna and Natalie, the choice to use a diverse range of female models was not something they even gave much thought to. "It’s just logical. Consumers want to see swimwear on bodies they can relate to. These are real women!" says Natalie. "It’s not a defining element of our brand," says Zanna, "it’s just normal."
They also feature models with bowel problems and stomas, a move they decided to make following a health scare Zanna experienced earlier this year. She says, "diversity is not just about black and white, its scars, stoma bags. We want women to be proud of their bodies."
Similarly, when the pair make a sample size in the early stages of production, they "push to test on a more curvaceous body" instead of sticking to a UK women’s size 8. "When we started putting this into practice, factories told us it was really unusual, they had never had this happen before!" Natalie says incredulously.
No brand can ever be fully environmentally friendly, they both decide. "Simply bringing a product into the world is not the most sustainable choice - but our perspective is that people are going to want new swimwear, so they might as well buy from a brand like us."
"I’m a charity shop girl," says Natalie. "We both love buying second-hand and Zanna loves sustainable brands like Elementy and Sézane. But let’s be honest, no one is going to buy swimwear second-hand!".
"It’s like buying second-hand knickers!" laughs Zanna.
That’s where Stay Wild Swim comes in. With a whole range of reversible, multi-function swimwear in their range, the designs are beautifully unique and feel great on the skin. Choosing to invest might be the greenest decision you make this year, and you won’t be compromising on style or substance.