A Guide to Ethical Swimwear 2018

Summer is in full swing, and it's high time I share my top picks for ethical swimwear! Keep reading to hear about what I'm wearing this season, or scroll right to the bottom to see a directory of my favourite brands that sell responsibly made bathing suits. 

Photography by  Suzanne Nolan

Photography by Suzanne Nolan

My parents like to tell me about the first time they brought me to the ocean. The moment they lowered me on to the shore, my tiny legs propelled me forward over gritty sand and shell, straight into the waves. When they scooped me up, I was all smiles, diaper spilling streams of chilly sea. Water baby. 

My childhood self adored swimming -- water rippling with freedom, body rippling with complete confidence in its movements. An entire liquid world to explore with burning lungs and kicking feet. I remember being no more than eight when I first snorkeled in Kauai, feet-flippered and eyes-goggled, preferring to hold my breath and dive down to dance between rocks and fish instead of placidly looking down from above. I pressed my legs together and played mermaid.

Climbing the levels of swimming lessons with ease, I eventually earned my certificate to become an instructor at sixteen. Teaching the finer points of front crawl, first aid, and all manner of water-related skills was an incredibly fulfilling first job.

And then, at the stroke of an unseen clock, my body stopped being able to tolerate the cold. Even decked out in a wetsuit, I would begin shivering within the first couple minutes, turning purple by the end. One of the kind lifeguards would walk over with a watering can full of warm water, ready to help me last a little longer on deck. Jill, if you're reading this, thank you!


As I grew, the cold intolerance did too. And with a newfound sense of my own mortality, so did a wariness of the ocean and all its dangers. I began preferring beach to sea, hot tub to pool. 

But as I've been preparing for this blog post, I've had time to reflect on this dramatic shift. Time to reach back into my memory and taste that childlike wonder, that sense of being completely invincible. There were moments of letting myself sink far beneath the surface and simply hang suspended, motionless. Marveling at water's power and beauty, how peaceful it was to be held there. Mesmerized by the dancing lattice of light above me until my lungs screamed for air. I miss that. 

And now here, wrapped in such beautiful swimwear, beautiful not only in design but in story as well, I find myself longing for the ocean. For hazy air shimmering with heat, a turquoise sea to slip into. As I stood on Kits beach in Vancouver not long ago, I realized how much I craved leisurely days spent in and around that liquid world. But these are dreams that will have to wait for a future vacation. Calgary’s swimmable bodies of water are scarce, so splashing around in the river flowing through St. Patrick’s Island will have to do for now. Still, it’s a pleasant enough way to cool off under the glorious July sun. 


They say that we carry the stories of the makers of our clothes around on our skin. And what clings closer to our skin than swimwear?

You see, these are swimsuits crafted not in exploitation or oppression, as so many others are. Not one out of a million quickly-processed units, meant to look good on the rack but never meant to last. I regret to admit that I went through far too many cheap swim suits over the years; didn't we all? It was Walmart one-piece suits for lessons and Superstore two-pieces for the beach. I've lost count of how many I wore and discarded as they pilled and stretched out of shape within even a few wears.

But these pieces, provided by Hackwith Design House and Azura Bay, are the beautiful antidote. With incredibly thoughtful details and a careful consideration of both humans and environment, they carry a story and purpose even more lovely than their design. 

At Hackwith, each piece is meticulously sewn together in their airy Minnesota studio by a small team of local seamstresses. It’s easy to see the thought and attention that goes into designing and creating each piece; the red Knot One-piece I'm wearing is without a doubt one of the most perfectly crafted bathing suits I've ever had the pleasure of wearing. Luxurious is the word. A sturdy, soft fabric that fits just perfectly without bagging or slipping, but not cutting in either.

While some people find one-pieces too modest, I happen to think they're incredibly elegant and sexy (done right, like this one). With its knot and gap detail in the front, and deep U-shape in the back, this piece is beautifully, subtly alluring. It comes in a variety of colours, but I think the muted rust red is perfect -- especially for particularly pale ladies like me. 


I've always had an affinity for one pieces, because they make me think of those vintage vixens, enveloped in black and white, full-bodied and smiling brightly with a hand on hip. A little saccharine, I admit. But the bikini is universally adored. I bought my first true bikini two years ago, and love the way a good bikini can make one feel. To all the capsule wardrobe curators out there, you know there is nothing finer than a timeless black bikini.

The finely-detailed piece below is from Azura Bay, an online curation of ethical and sustainable lounge and swimwear. The maker is eco-conscious brand Vitamin A, who manufactures their suits with recycled fibres in order to reduce textile waste and lessen their environmental footprint. I was stunned by its gorgeous, intricate webbing; a subtle, elevated element that doesn't detract from the minimalist elegance of the piece. 

I tend to be more of a high-waisted bottoms girl, but now I think that's because I never found hipster bottoms that fit and flatter as nicely as these. I may just be a convert. 


I love the juxtaposition of the modest halter-style top with the bare, string-tied back. The strings are actually threaded through the bottom edge of the bikini top, so when you pull on them to tie it, it tightens and secures the actual top under your bust for extra hold. 

Can you see the gorgeous webbing details down the centre of the top and the sides of the bottoms? If anyone said that you can't make beautiful swimwear out of recycled fibres, this bikini proves them wrong. 


We're off to Ireland next week, and all I can say is -- I hope we find a body of water warm enough to wear these delightful pieces.

Which one is your favourite? Are you more of a bikini person or a one-piece fan? Let me know which one you'd choose in the comments! 



hackwith knot one-piece

BRAND: Hackwith Design House.  Hackwith is a well-loved American slow fashion brand that is known for their minimalist closet essentials and celebration of diversity in their models and inclusive sizes. Each piece is carefully crafted in a studio in Minnesota -- no mass-producing factories here! You can trust the quality and design of these pieces because they're made to meet high standards in small batches. 

FABRIC: A blend of nylon and spandex. 

FIT: I'm wearing a size Small, and it fits just right. I'm 5"7, 128 lb, with a 32" bust and 37.5" hips. I'm usually either a S or M, but in this case I think my small bust lets me get away with a small. If you tend to be on the bustier side, I would consider sizing up or just double-checking their size guide first before ordering with this particular piece. However, they have tons of other gorgeous styles that would work well on any size bust. Sizes go up to XL (12-14).

STYLE: A red one-piece has been on my wish list for, quite literally, years. I blame it on my penchant for all things retro. As I perused their online shop, I immediately fell in love with the knot-style piece. I thought the gap was a delightfully flirty detail without being overtly attention-grabbing. The plunging u-shape in the back is also very elegant. However, Hackwith has an amazing variety of both one and two pieces that I highly recommend you browse. 

CARE: Hackwith suggests hand-washing in cold water and air drying. 

PRICE: $155 USD. For the quality and thoughtful design of the swimsuit, I think this is extremely reasonable -- especially since it's studio-made. This is the kind of well-made, timeless piece that could last years with proper love and care. 


vitamin a symmetry black mesh crop halter top

BRAND: Vitamin A, via Azura Bay. Azura Bay is run by the incredible boss-lady Ashley, who curates an online store of undergarments, lingerie, loungewear, and swimwear. Every brand is thoughtfully chosen to meet criteria for ethical or local production, artisan & handmade production, Fair Trade and eco-friendly fabrics and production processes. Most brands are woman-owned as well. In addition, Azura Bay donates a portion of each sale to one of three organizations of your choice. Vitamin A is an ethically and sustainably-minded swimwear brand that was one of the first to create swimwear out of recycled fibres. 

FABRIC: According to the site: "Created by Amahlia Stevens,  EcoLux™  fabric is a superfine jersey with a subtle sheen made with a blend of Repreve® RECYCLED nylon fiber (using discarded fishing nets pulled from our oceans) and LYCRA® XTRA LIFE™ fiber for a gorgeous, long-lasting fit. 83% Recycled Nylon + 17% Lycra"

FIT: I originally ordered the Small, which turned out to be too small for my frame. (The site does mention that the suit fits a bit small, something I overlooked when ordering!) I sent it back and ordered a Medium, which fit perfectly. Once again, I'm 5"7, 128 lb, with a 32" bust and 37.5" hips. Sizes go up to 12/XL. 

STYLE: I chose to go with a black bikini for its timelessness and simplicity. And call me old-fashioned, but I've never been one for teeny-tiny bikinis with gaping fronts -- which is why I adore the flattering, classy look of the halter crop, and the wider bands of the hipster bottoms. That being said, both Vitamin A and Azura Bay have an amazing variety of shapes and styles in their bikinis. 

CARE: Azura Bay recommends hand-washing. 

PRICE: The top is $99 USD, and the bottoms are $80 USD. I've definitely bought tops that were more expensive than this, and certainly had nowhere near the quality of manufacturing or ethical practices. 


more RESPONSIBLe swimwear

1. NETTLE'S TALE: Ethical, inclusive swimwear designed and made locally in Vancouver, Canada. Sizes go up to 2XL, a refreshing thing to see in the world of ethical swimwear. They have a beautiful range of one pieces and mixable tops and bottoms in a variety of colours and prints. I've personally felt the amazing material, and it's like nothing I've ever felt in a swim suit. 

2. REFORMATION: This well-loved sustainable and eco-conscious fashion brand from the US has started making swimwear in all the pretty patterns, colours, and styles. I'm totally sold. 

3. MINNOW BATHERS: A swimwear label based out of Toronto, Canada. Their pieces are all handmade to order by a small team of women in a Toronto studio. A very cool feature is that their swimsuits are all 50 SPF, reducing your risk of sun exposure under the material. 

4. THIEF + BANDIT: A Canadian swimwear label that uses eco-friendly materials (ChitoSante, a fabric made from crustacean shells) and hand-makes each piece to order in Halifax.

5. NU SWIM: This brand knows the meaning of cool. Beyond their fun marketing, their ultra-minimalist pieces are all ethically made in the US and made out of sustainable fabrics. 

6. APOLIS : Finally, a brand offering men's swimming trunks! Apolis is a US-based brand built upon a commitment to social change and ethical practices, working to empower makers globally as well as locally. 

7. LACA USA: A sustainable, ethical clothing line based out of the US. Their minimalist bathing suits come in the loveliest colours and styles. 

8. MARA HOFFMAN: An American-based brand committed to the highest ethical and sustainable manufacturing practices. Their suits range from chic and minimal to brightly coloured and patterned -- there's something for everyone. 

9. THE ONES WHO : A contemporary swimwear line offering the most beautiful, minimalist designs, all made in California. 

10. BETH RICHARDS: A Canadian brand manufacturing their pieces to high ethical and sustainable standards in Vancouver. I can't get enough of the elegance and subtle sexiness of their pieces! 

hope this guide helped you discover a new swimwear line you love! feel free to leave any questions below. happy summer! 


Disclosure: This blog post was not sponsored, but I was gifted the two bathing suits I'm modeling. As always, all opinions are my own. 

Alena Tran2 Comments