When I first discovered sustainable swimwear brand Galamaar a few months ago (and got them listed in our directory as soon as I could!), I fell in love with owner Blakely’s mission instantly: Whether you’re a California native, going on a tropical vacay, or enjoying summer at the lake, most of the time you wear a swimsuit, you’re doing it with an intention: to get out and enjoy nature. Blakely’s California roots have influenced her appreciation for the ocean and nature, so as a fashion designer, she wasn’t about to create a brand that did even more harm to the very thing she was celebrating, the ocean. But creating sustainable swimwear poses a unique set of challenges–there aren’t a lot of low-impact materials out there that give a woman what she wants in a swimsuit.
That’s until she came across discarded fishing nets. They’re made of nylon, so they’re actually ideal for a swimsuit, and they breathe new life into something that accounts for up to 10% of ocean pollution. Read more on Galamaar’s sustainability page, and dive into our interview with Blakely to learn even more about running a sustainable swimwear business here in the US!
Tell us a little about how you got started in swimwear, and what led you to land on discarded fishnets as your primary material.
I grew up on the beach in CA. It’s where I first gained my appreciation for nature and I have always loved the idea of designing wear for such an enjoyable part of people’s lives. I had a pretty good job working as a designer at a fast fashion company but as the ethical and environmental reality of my industry began to register I found myself at a crossroad. Feeling that my ethics did not align with my career path I was left with the choice between going back to school and starting over or launching a brand I could be proud of while trying to help move my industry along in the right direction.
Finding my fabric was a game changer, as I had believed that I would need to source deadstock materials for my swim fabrications. This was not ideal for the “timeless” aesthetic I was going for and also the consistency of the fit, as not all swim fabrics have the same amount of stretch or resiliency. So I dug a little deeper for a solution and landed on my fabric, which utilizes nylon upcycled from discarded ocean fishing nets. Not only did it offer waste-to-wear properties, it also offered modern technology that deadstock fabric could not, such as, superior fit retention, chlorine resistance and UV protection.
What challenges have you come across in running a business committed to sustainability? Areas you’ve had to compromise or settle?
Starting any sort of business is a challenge and a sustainable business model certainly presents its own set but with my priorities what they are I see it as just one in the same. Making a product in the US is more difficult than overseas where most manufacturing is full package, meaning everything from your fabric sourcing to patterns and hangtags are taken care of. Domestic production requires a lot of piecing things together and timing things out. In the end you are way more familiar with your product and what goes into it, which I see as a positive in addition to all the other sustainable/ethical implications. Unlike a traditional business where cost is normally the deciding factor on the elements or design features, in sustainable design additionally, there are only so many options available to work with.
For example, I would love to use textured fabrications but short of developing them myself using eco-friendly materials at huge and wasteful quantities, this is something that does not currently exist in the market place. When running a sustainable business there are a lot of weighing options and sometimes choices you are left with are between the lesser of two evils. Trims and hardware seem to be slowest on the “eco-friendly” uptake. But it’s always the first question I ask when meeting suppliers. The more they hear it from the customers the sooner more options will be available. The marketing can also be a unique challenge in the sense that you have to find your customer and tell your story, but how much do you lead with sustainability to not detract from the actual brand and aesthetic.
Any tips for businesses looking to increase their environmental awareness through their products, packaging, or processes?
I started my sustainable journey with just an intention and willingness to learn. There are so many amazing resources out there, it’s all about educating yourself and finding your community. I took night classes at my Alma Mater F.I.T for sustainable business and fabrications and then I applied to Factory 45, an online sustainable fashion accelerator program that was and still is an invaluable asset to me. Just last week I took a tour of BF+DA, an ethical business accelerator and resource center in Brooklyn that offers all different levels of membership as well as mentorship programs. Go to as many industry tradeshows as possible and build relationships and most importantly ask questions. I can’t stress how important it is to talk about sustainability to people and suppliers in the industry, not only will you learn but also help with the forward momentum of the movement.
Do you have any eco or ethical fashion designers you admire that have inspired your work?
I have huge respect for those who take risks and step outside the norm and it’s the way I try and conduct myself and run my business. Even before I was interested in a fashion career I was a huge fan of Stella McCartney. As a teenager I remember watching VH!/Vogue awards when she was honored as Designer of the Year while still at Chloe. I recall what she wore, an iconic strapless dress with a large horse printed on it, and that David Bowie was the presenter. For some reason that moment has stuck with me and I have always admired how she managed to play among the big dogs of fashion while living her ethics as a vegan by not using any animal products in her collections. And than there’s the Founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard. a renegade entrepreneur, whose managed to create a massively successful business while remaining an environmental and labor advocate. Yael Aflola, the founder of The Reformation, an L.A cult label that that has made Eco-Fashion “cool”. Their ingeniously straight-forward brand voice have certainly help educate a consumer or two. Lastly, there’s Everlane for their transparent and direct-to-consumer business model, making ethical fashion accessible.
Thanks to Blakely of Galamaar for her insight on running a sustainable fashion business. Find her brand in our ethical shopping directory.