Outerknown is created by eleven-time world surf champion Kelly Slater and is a sustainable alternative to a majority of surf brands. The label clearly states its environmental goals and is completely transparent about its use of material and fair labor practices, and each product includes a description of what fabrics are used and why they are sustainable. The S.E.A. suit is a great choice for the environmentally conscious and ethically-minded.
The suit is made of fifty-one percent organic cotton and forty-nine percent linen. With organic cotton, there are no synthetic chemicals used in the production of the fabric. Conventionally grown cotton incorporates the use of toxic and synthetic chemicals that end up contaminating the local water supply and posing a threat to human health. Certain ingredients in these chemicals, such as Glysophate, have even been researched and linked to conditions such as cancer and depression.
Conventional cotton is often also combined with synthetic fabrics for clothing, and the resulting material releases harmful microfibers into the ocean (around 1.7 million tons per year according to The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources), largely threatening marine animal species and coral reef ecosystems. Organic cotton also uses seventy-one percent less water than conventional cotton; for reference, it takes around eighteen hundred gallons of water to produce just one pair of jeans, so the use of organic cotton makes a difference!
Linen also uses much less water than conventional cotton (6.4 liters rather than 2,700 liters)! Since linen is made from flax plant fibers, it is also fully biodegradable if processed with non-harmful dyes. Unfortunately, Outerknown does not state what dyes are used and how they impact the environment, and there is no information on the sustainability of the thread used to sew.
The corozo buttons on the suit are also made from tagua palm nuts, which are stated to have been gathered from the forest floor. Standard buttons are typically plastic and harmful to the environment from their creation to their slow finish (they take around one thousand years to degrade).
Outerknown earns a high rating in this category for their transparency on what the suit is made of, with the exception of the lack of information provided on the dyeing process and thread use in their fabrics (they plan to disclose garment and fabric suppliers by 2025).
Outerknown does not state whether or not there are clothing scraps generated (and potentially recycled) from the process of making the suit, however, Outerknown does have a goal to make all products one-hundred percent circular by 2030 and to become available to repair and recycle old products. Fabric cuttings and textile leftovers pose a huge issue to the fashion industry as they increasingly end up in landfills, and other brands make use of zero-waste clothing patterns that reduce the number of fabric scraps thrown away. While it is rare for fashion brands to prioritize the reduction of fabric waste in clothing production and Outerknown does not appear a less sustainable alternative for not doing so, they could work on this area of building a sustainable production system. Otherwise, fair labor practices and the brand’s focus on renewable energy in the supply chain earn it a decent rating in this category.
The S.E.A. suit is made by workers who sew under safe working conditions in a factory disclosed on the Outerknown website. Outerknown is accredited by the Fair Labor Association, and Fair Trade certified. The website also includes a supplier list with an aim to be as transparent as possible, and all suppliers also follow Bluesign guidelines. Outerknown was also the first brand to be approved of a Fair Trade certification before selling any products.
By using organic cotton for this piece (and most Outerknown pieces, where ninety percent of fibers used are recycled, regenerated, or organic), it can be assumed that there are fair working conditions. Other brands that capitalize on fast fashion use conventionally grown cotton, which has a history of human rights violations. For example, one-third of the population in Uzbekistan is employed in conventional cotton farming, where the Environmental Justice Foundation found that there is no worker safety gear for protection against harmful chemicals and no access to clean drinking water. To make matters dimmer, Uzbekistan even has state-sponsored forced child labor. In linking the material manufactured to the working conditions, Outerknown also appears more ethical than most clothing brands and earns a high rating for supplier list transparency and promotion of fair working conditions.