If Outerknown’s new board shorts ever tear after riding too many waves, you could theoretically recycle them into a new pair. They’re from a new line of men’s clothing that is made entirely from plastic trash. When the clothes wear out, they can be fully upcycled into a brand-new shirt or jacket.
The clothes, known as the “Evolution Series“, were the brainchild of 11-time world surf champion Kelly Slater. After spending thousands of hours in the ocean, Slater liked the idea of recycling plastic fishing nets–a common source of ocean waste–into clothing. He partnered with Aquafil, an Italian manufacturer that spins old nets, along with carpet and other nylon waste, into a new yarn called Econyl.
“We collect the nets from all over the world,” says Maria Giovanna Sandrini, brand manager for Econyl. There are around 640,000 tons of “ghost nets” abandoned in the ocean, trapping whales, turtles, and other wildlife. Through a partnership with a Dutch nonprofit, the company’s Healthy Seas Initiative works with volunteer divers who spend free weekends finding and unentangling the nets.
It took some time for the company to figure out how to best work with the trashed nets. “It was very difficult in the beginning,” Sandrini says. “When we started, we didn’t know anything about fishing nets–this is not our business. We make yarn for carpet and garments. We started slow with fishing communities in order to understand with them what was possible to do…The first shipments were full of sand and other waste.”
The company also had to find a way to identify the nets they needed, because only a certain type of nylon is compatible with their manufacturing process. “Fishing nets are made from various polymides,” she says. “But with an infrared gun it was possible to recognize the right material.”
Econyl is also made with a mix of nylon waste from the factory and from other sources, like nylon carpets and straps. Fishing nets supply about a third of the plastic.
Perhaps most interesting is the fact that the resulting fabric is itself infinitely recyclable. “If we take a garment–or fishing net, or whatever else made from Nylon 6–thanks to this special process, we’re able to come back to the first raw material,” Sandrini says. “We generally buy this material, which is a derivative of oil. Thanks to Econyl, we’re able to reproduce it. It’s a never-ending process. It can be returned to the first building block.”