Flotsam and Fashion: Recycler of ‘Ghost’ Fishing Nets makes Marine Litter Trendy

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The oceans are choked with discarded fishing nets, or ghost nets, that are estimated to kill 300,000 whales, dolphins and seals each year. It’s a grotesque and avoidable toll on nature, and one that Giulio Bonazzi, CEO of Aquafil, hopes to reduce using an unlikely ally – fashion.

The Italian firm is pioneering the use of “ghost” or discarded fishing nets to make a synthetic fabric marketed under the name Econyl that’s currently being used by several apparel brands, including Speedo and California surfer Kelly Slater’s Outerknown.

Last year, Aquafil regenerated more than 5,000 tons of discarded nets at its factory in Slovenia. With the exception of some fish farming nets, which are coated with copper oxide to prevent algae and cannot be used, the company receives the majority of its nets directly from fishermen, or through partnerships with two firms, Healthy Seas and Net-Works.

By breaking down the nets to a molecular level, the plastics are then recreated as yarn in a process the sustainability industry calls recommercialization. “If they know us, they contact us and we pay for the waste. They have to have a motivation to contact us. So they call us from all over. From California, from Australia. We take them from all over the world,” says Bonazzi, a former scuba diver.

The environmental problem of discarded fishing nets, or ghost nets, is well-documented. Some are accidentally lost during storms, or dumped deliberately. By some estimates, ghost netting and other discarded fishing gear makes up 10% of all marine litter. The cost to marine life is devastating.

The National Marine Fisheries Service reports an average of 11 entangled large whales per year from 2000 to 2012 along the US west coast. Between 2002 and 2010, 870 nets recovered from Washington state alone contained more than 32,000 marine animals.

Other initiatives include Fishing for Energy, a partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) Marine Debris Program, Covanta and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Schnitzer Steel to collect old fishing gear and reuse it either in recycling or to produce energy.

Aquafil’s proposition is to turn ocean waste into higher-value products. “If you can reach people with higher income then they’re always ready to pay something more for a product that responds to their needs and to their desires. And everybody wants some kind of exclusive product, and they feel that wasting is no longer connected to luxury.”

But fashion is fickle. Currently the fashion for nostalgia, and for an era before the advent of mass luxury is more apparent than ever. Warnings of a slump have been issued recently by luxury goods companies including Hermès and Richemont and there are fears that the industry could be forced into a fundamental shift in values.

The big question for the luxury market, say analysts, is whether the values of fashion and luxury can begin to acquire values that align with sustainability in a meaningful way.

Of course, the cost of the material is also a factor. And it depends which cost is most important to you. Recommercialized nylon is up to 6% more expensive to produce than new nylon. But creating fibre from recycled nets and carpet waste produces 50% less CO2 than typical, petroleum-based fibre production.

As the luxury industry reports a gloomy outlook, many companies are looking to reconfigure their notions of luxury to meet new consumer ideals around the ideas of recycling, repurposing and reclaiming.

“The more the fashion industry hears about us, the more they call when they need nylon as raw material,” says Bonazzi. Slowly, he says, “we are becoming more conscious and more aware. Of course, we all want to be rich but we also want to live.”

Some of the spirit of “ethical fashion” was on view at the periphery of New York’s fashion week last month where men’s clothing designer Heron Preston staged an event in a department of sanitation salt shed to draw attention to ways New Yorkers can reduce landfill waste, in this instance, by “upcycling” department uniforms into designer clothes.

Orsola de Castro, founder of Fashion Revolution and a leading campaigner for sustainable fashion, says any effort to reduce the environmental cost of clothes production and steer toward closed-loop technology in which 100% of fibres are recycled must be embraced.

“We have created an environmental crisis in the oceans of spectacular degree so any solution that helps us begin to redress the imbalance is a good solution,” she says.

But, she continues: “We’re coming off 25 years of product, product, product. And this is what people understand. It all needs to be seen as a part of a concerted effort to clean up to embrace technology to allow us to enjoy clothes again without necessarily feeling that it’s at the cost of the Earth.”

*This story first appeared on The Guardian

Learn more about the impact of fashion on our oceans here

Meet John and Miriam, Levi Strauss & Co Collaboratory Fellows

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Now through October we are highlighting the first class of LS&Co. Collaboratory fellows.  These ten next-generation apparel leaders are making an outsized impact on their communities and we’re excited to take them behind our doors to expand their commitment to sustainable practices and reducing their water impact.

John Moore, co-founder and creative director of Outerknown, a sustainable menswear brand that blends function and style starting at the supply chain.



Tell us about your business and the work you do.

Outerknown creates responsibly-made clothing. We began working on the brand in 2013, but only shipped our first products a year ago.  Along with my partner, Kelly Slater, we have a long history within the clothing business.  I’ve spent almost two decades designing clothes, so being on the front lines of manufacturing all over the world, I have seen how dirty the process really is.

For Kelly, clothing endorsements have been something that supported his storied career as a professional athlete, and one day he realized he had no idea how they were being made, which didn’t sit well with him. He’s still competing at the highest level, and clean living is part of his daily routine. He thinks about everything he puts in his body, so why shouldn’t he take the same approach to considering everything that goes into the clothing we put on our bodies every day?

What does it mean to you to create a more socially and environmentally responsible apparel industry?

It means making mindful decisions in everything we do. We look deeply into the suppliers we partner with, vetting them to make sure they meet our code of conduct and have the same high expectations and commitment to responsibility that we do.  This also means sharing the information we discover not only with our customers, but also within the industry in the hopes of inspiring a new normal around responsible manufacturing practices.

How important is water to what you do?

As surfers, we spend most of our lives in, and around, the water.  As clothing manufacturers, water is essential to the entire process… the growing of fibers, the processing of materials and the finishing of goods. It’s in our best interest to conserve wherever we can and do our best to limit pollution, keeping the water clean for future generations. We want to surf clean oceans and drink clean water – the latter is something that many of us take for granted.

What do you hope to get out of participating in the LS&Co. Collaboratory?

In the three and a half years since we began the Outerknown journey, so much has changed.  There were very few resources available to those of us that had a desire to build clothing in a more responsible way in the beginning of 2013. In our earliest days, you could say we were literally winging it with good intentions.  We discovered that most of our existing relationships in the fashion business could not deliver on our responsible standards, so we had to construct an entirely new supply chain.

Further, as a start-up, we don’t have the buying power to persuade suppliers to think more responsibly. So it’s pretty special that LS&Co. has opened up its doors and created the Collaboratory to bring different minds and talents together around the common desire to do good. By allowing us access to their innovation, leadership and resources, we are increasing the dialogue amongst peers, and advancing our understanding of what is possible.

Water is at the core of this first fellowship, but this is so much bigger than water. It’s about sharing information and inspiring others. The big guys sharing with the little guys.  I hope to come out smarter and better equipped for the road ahead, and if there are some tangible developments around product and process that we can fold into our business, even better.

What’s your Levi’s® story?

On a trip to the Rose Bowl flea market with my girlfriend when we first met 14 years ago, I bought a Levi’s trucker jacket for 10 bucks, ‘cause I loved the fit. It was vintage, but I don’t think it was worn much before I got it. It was basically rigid, deep blue, and had no discernable holes. Over the years it’s been the one item I’ve taken with me literally everywhere I go without fail. It’s been stained, torn, lost and then found (twice), and repaired so many times I can’t keep up.  It just keeps getting better and better.

Miriam Dym, Founder of Dym | california textiles, a workshop focused on producing local, “slow” textiles.

Miriam Dym 2 h-stretchprint-2015

Tell us about your business and the work you do.

My business produces hand block printed fabrics in California. I created it because, as a fabric designer, it was important for me to directly oversee how the fabric got produced. I also wanted to see if it was possible to use an ancient craft-manufacturing method (still used in parts of India and West Africa) here in North America. Our fabrics are typically used in interiors.

What does it mean to you to create a more socially and environmentally responsible apparel industry?
To be more socially and environmentally responsible, the whole supply chain needs to be brought into a sustainable model, with a focus on how and where fiber gets produced and processed, as well as an equal focus on educating consumers on how they take care of their clothes (and other soft goods) once they own them. Frequent washing and treating clothes as disposable are huge obstacles when it comes to reducing water and energy in apparel.

The next step, a difficult one, is to figure out an economic system that demands far, far less use of (new) apparel, textiles, and, really, all materials.  If we use radically less, what does that look like for the viability of apparel manufacturers and for peoples’ livelihoods? How does localism play into this?

How important is water to what you do?

Water is hugely important. The process I use, printing with transparent dyes —which makes the fabric so beautiful —relies on water to work. When I started this project, I knew that I wanted to not only re-use water (for my water bill) but also not put any waste into the water system. Because my scale of operations are small, this part of my project has eluded me for a combination of logistical (time and energy!) and financial reasons. Yet I’m interested in using as little water as possible, here in Northern California, given the drought conditions.

What do you hope to get out of participating in the LS&Co. Collaboratory?

I’d like to find out what solutions others use, and to connect with people who share my combined passion for being in a product business and wanting real environmental solutions. Water use and materials’ extraction and manufacturing tend to be invisible, as they happen in fields and factories geographically distant from shopping malls. Which means I’m also interested in how the people who buy textiles and apparel can become more knowledgeable and become invested in their clothes to help the planet.

What’s your Levi’s® story?

Oh, wow, Levi’s®. In middle school and high school, we’d buy utilitarian clothes at a workwear store in my small hometown (pop. 25,000), always choosing Levi’s®, though I never did get the shrink-to-fits to fit the way I wanted. I now have a pair of gorgeous Levi’s® jeans that fit like a glove. I’m looking forward to mending and keeping them around as long as they fit.

*This story first appeared on Levi-Strauss

Fishing nets are the new plastic bottles for fashion

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by Maíra Goldschmidt

Ocean pollution, especially plastic waste, has become one of the largest concerns for environmentalists in the last few years. The issue is on top of the discussions, from the surfer and videomaker Alison Teal, who has a humerous approach to it, to the frightening video on microbeads by Annie Leonard, executive director of Greenpeace USA and creator of the famous documentary “The Story of Stuff”.

Why? Because plastic in the oceans means “ghost fishing”, which captures whales, turtles, birds and other marine animals – they think it is food, but it is not, and they eat and they die. Very simple, but not nice at all, right? And I am not even talking about when we eat the fish with plastic inside…

It is estimated that 80% of pollution to marine life comes from the land. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), there are more than 640.000 tons of abandoned fishing nets in the oceans.

Wait, don’t panic yet! The good news is some initiatives are creating very interesting, fashionable and desirable products out of this marine litter. And, nowadays, it is also quite cool to show an awareness about it. It is no coincidence that Parley for the Oceans and its Bionic Yarn is supported by Pharrel Williams. Aquafil, with its Healthy Seas Initiative, found an amazing spreader in Kelly Slater. And Net+Positiva, from Bureo, has the zero waste and free plastic muse Lauren Singer as one of its faces on Instagram. All these movements have made fishing nets even more popular in the upcycled fashion scene than PET bottles in 2015! And it’s still only summer!

It is not the solution yet, but a very exciting step in the right direction by reusing one material that is already all around us. Below, you can see the best results to date of the initiatives mentioned above. Check it out!

The surfer Kelly Slater incorporates a sustainable nylon made from reclaimed fishing nets and other nylon waste materials into jackets and boardshorts in the Evolution Series of the debut collection of Outerknown. The fiber Econyl was developed by the Italian textile company Aquafil and offers the same quality and performance as regular nylon, but it can be recycled an infinite times without any loss in quality.


Speedo USA is not only using Econyl, but has also started a take-back program in partnership with Aquafil. The idea is to be able to give new life to leftover fabric scraps and old swimwear to create a new raw nylon fiber. This process brings to reality the aim of producing swimsuits and bikinis in a closed-loop manufacturing system: in this field, post-production fabric waste has not been suitable for traditional recycling due to its complex technical composition. The Powerflex Eco fabric has 78% Econyl and 22% Extra Life Lycra.


The first fruit to come from the partnership between the German sportswear company and Parley for the Oceans is a sneaker made of yarns and filaments reclaimed and recycled from ocean waste and illegal deep-sea gillnets. To get the material, Parley’s partner organisation Sea Shepherd retrieved the nets in an expedition tracking an illegal poaching vessel which lasted more than 100 days. The first pair of shoes should be on sale at the end of this year.

With a program designed to prevent fishing net pollution called Net+Positiva, Bureo creates skateboards and sunglasses made of 100% recycled and recyclable plastic from the oceans. The project offers net collection points and provides funds to local communities for every kilogram of fishing net collected across the coast of Chile. There are three models of sunglasses, all of them with Zeiss lenses and produced in Italy. The partnership with eyewear company Karün was launched on Kickstarter in mid August and, after only six hours, it achieved the necessary funds to take off.

© images(from top to bottom):




Speedo USA


Bureo/Kevin Ahearn











**This story first appeared on Heads Up blog here.