This is the most ecologically friendly wetsuit out on the market today: everything is made out of recycled materials, a regenerative material, and is biodegradable after use, something that has never been seen in wetsuits before. I am thoroughly impressed by the thought and effort that this wetsuit design has: not sacrificing durability so that proper use can be obtained while also finding a responsible way to dispose of the wetsuit is a hard line to walk.
Even though the wetsuit itself leaves little to criticize, Billabong should not let the product speak for itself. This is one of a few select, sustainable wetsuits they offer, and there is a large disparity between the technology used in their women’s wetsuits and the men’s wetsuits. Moreover, besides the production of the yulex itself, we are given no insight into the company’s morals, goals, and social practices.
Instead of the traditional neoprene, billabong opted for Yulex, a rubber foam that is 85% natural materials and 15% synthetic for stabilization (the overall composition of the wetsuit is 80% yulex and 20% nylon). Yulex is a company that provides rubber from farms that are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), and do not participate in clear cutting, monocultures, or unethical labor practices. This is an incredible step above some of their other wetsuits, which use limestone or petroleum based neoprene, both of which are carbon intensive and use nonrenewable resources as their primary ingredient. By using a material that is grown under very high standards for the earth is amazing on Billabong’s part, but I wish they expanded this material to more of their line.
The lining is completely comprised of recycled fibers, and the outer shell is made out of CICLO fibers, which are also 100% recycled. CICLO is a technology that allows synthetic fibers to act more like natural fibers at the end of the products life cycle. This prevents the nylon that is used in the wetsuit from ending up in the ocean as microplastics by adding biodegradable points in the plastic that allows the material to break down in a similar way that wool would in sea water and landfill conditions. The difference is outstanding, showing that the polyester material will biodegrade 75% in a year and a half in water and 90% in a landfill, compared to not biodegrading at all.
Yulex is made by extracting rubber from Guayule, a shrub native to Mexico. It is grown in either China or Taiwan, under strict regulations of the FSC to ensure that there is no outstanding impact on the environment and that their workers are being compensated fairly. For example, the rubber is irrigated via landfall, then is processed to remove impurities to strengthen the material. During this process, Yulex uses recycled water and 80% less carbon than neoprene. This is because neoprene needs to be heated up to extreme temperatures to make a sheet, while Yulex is filtered, pH corrected, then washed.
Most of Billabong’s wetsuits are manufactured by the company Sheico, in Taiwan. This means that during the creation of the wetsuit there is relatively not much travel from the material sources to the manufacturer. Unfortunately, Billabong does not manufacture an equivalent wetsuit for women in terms of sustainable materials (which is necessary because of fat distribution and body types). Since surfing is meant for everyone and many brands such as Patagonia are beginning to solely use Yulex, Billabong needs to become more inclusive in their sustainable productions.
Overall, the company does not give much information about their values and how they are implemented into their business. There is no section on the website informing consumers about steps that Billabong is taking to ensure that they are improving their impacts on the environment. Furthermore, none of their general supply chain is certified by any organization ensuring that their labor practices are safe and equitable. Their parent company, Quiksilver, while providing more information on initiatives that have been set up to protect the environment, does not seem to include their subsidiaries. Knowing all that has been put into the production of this wetsuit, I had higher expectations of the transparency and initiatives that had been started by billabong. Without doing a deep dive into products and where they are sourced, there is no way for a consumer to trust that billabong is making the environmentally sound choice.