Wetsuits are a necessary accessory for almost every surfer looking to surf in colder waters, so it only makes sense that surfers and outfitters are looking for new ways to produce wetsuits in a way that protects the environment surfers interact with everyday. While Vissla makes an effort to be more sustainable via supporting activism groups and avoiding using petroleum-based neoprene in favor of mining limestone. However, I don’t buy the sustainability of limestone due to how it’s extracted and the fact that it is nonrenewable, especially since many of the initiatives on Vissla’s website are inaccessible. There are examples of smaller brands and outdoor outfitters transitioning to regenerative materials for their swimsuits, and Vissla needs to catch up.
This wetsuit is made out of I-Foam Neoprene, which is sourced from Japanese limestone rather than an oil based neoprene. Limestone wetsuits are now the industry standard for high end wetsuits, and even most mid range wetsuits as well. The shift away from oil is one to be applauded, but many more questions come up when the solution is a different, non-renewable source: is energy consumption significantly lowered, even when the limestone isn’t sourced close to the production site? What will happen when we start to run out of limestone?
What’s worse is that mining almost always disrupts the environment that is being invaded. Limestone mining causes habitat loss, dust emissions, and changes in aquifer regimes. Surrounding groundwater often becomes contaminated sediment, and even oil and gas from equipment used to mine. To me, even though limestone neoprene uses less oil, there are still serious environmental impacts that this choice seems like two steps forward and one step back. Customers think that by buying this wetsuit they will be making a more sustainable choice, but there is no true way to tell which material would have a better impact. I would like to see Vissla shift to using responsibly sourced rubber, a renewable resource, instead of mining limestone or drilling oil.
All of the wetsuits sold by Vissla are produced by a manufacturer called Sheico, which produces wetsuits for most other big wetsuit brands like Patagonia, Billabong, O’Neill, and Quicksilver. Sheico uses the Calcium Carbonate from the limestone to form rubber chips with Chloroprene, the compound originally used in neoprene. These rubber chips are then melted down into a sheet of any specific thickness. This sheet is then cut into the wetsuits, and the leftovers can be melted down and recycled. This process leaves a significant carbon footprint behind due to the furnaces that heat up the chips. This process is energy intensive and leaves behind large amounts of carbon emissions due to the furnaces used to melt the rubber.
This fabric is connected with water-based adhesives along the stitching to make sure that the wetsuits last a long time. The fact that the adhesive is water-based prevents the wetsuit from polluting the ocean with toxins. These wetsuits are produced in Taiwan, and the material for the neoprene is sourced from Japan, so relatively the carbon footprint is not awful to transport the materials. Sheico is bluesign certified, meaning that they complete audits successfully showing the company provides a safe workplace and is progressively striving to be more sustainable. When the wetsuit is shipped from Vissla, it is shipped in a 40% recycled polybag, which is recyclable. This wetsuit is 265 dollars, which seems on par for most advanced surfer’s wetsuit.
Vissla is closely partnered with the surfrider foundation, which works to make surfing sustainable and accessible to everyone. They have programs such as beach cleanups and other initiatives. Half of the main links on Vissla’s website connecting customers to sustainability efforts or organizations were broken (more than the last time this brand has been reviewed!), which to me signals that Vissla either does not care to update their sustainability efforts, or could be more worried about the appearance of a sustainable company instead of informing consumers on the company’s environmental impact. I could not find any specific information on Vissla’s own labor practices, however, and instead focus on their brand of “creators and innovators.” This is disappointing because without proper information, there is no way for us to hold Vissla accountable for either their maltreatment or respect of their employees.
The manufacturing company, Sheico, has achieved the WRAP certification which ensures that Sheico’s employees have access to unionizing, and there is appropriate compensation and benefits available, including other elements. This means that the workers who are mining the limestone are most likely doing so under the safest conditions available. On top of this, Sheico donates often, including donating rescue wetsuits/life vests to local municipalities, and a charitable foundation that was started with 30 million dollars of the chairman’s own money. This money goes towards issues such as disability and orphan welfare, clinical services, and scholarships.