Surfing through an icy European winter has its merits; the water's usually quieter and the waves are significantly better -- which means you're going to want to maximise time in the drink as these months roll on. But there's more to think about now than just, 'is the wetsuit durable or flexible?' It's our duty to look at the materials used in the construction of our prized rubber and make choices that are conducive to an eco-friendly future.
Laster longing wetsuits also means, less sent to landfill. Although a lot of brands are coming up with exciting and imaginative ways to sustainably manufacture wetsuits (kudos, all you brands)…no one’s really figured out better ways to both make them last, or even dispose of them when it’s time to bid your suit adieu.
Until Billabong put their mind to it, of course. Enter Billabong’s brilliant new range of wetsuits, all lined with the breakthrough (and Nobel-prize winning) material graphene, AND made with “Recycler” tech — meaning the graphene is infused with 100% P.E.T. recycled fibres. On every suit in the range, from the Furnace to the Revolution to the Absolute.
“We’re using 100% recycled materials,” says Scott Boot, longtime Global Director at Billabong Wetsuits. “We’re infusing the liner of the suit with graphene, with some really nice improved foams on the inside. All of this comes together, and it’s a much cleaner product than we’ve ever had — without any sort of performance decrease.”
Billabong’s new Furnace Natural, for instance, is the most sustainable wetsuit they make, and, perhaps, the most environmentally friendly suit on the planet. Made with CICLO® fibers (which reduces plastic microfibre pollution and accumulation in landfills), new and improved YULEX natural rubbers (sourced from FSC certified farms), and infused with 100% recycled fibers, The Natural has surely set a new benchmark in wetsuit ethics.
They also actually degrade in landfills, too, once you’re finally done with them (we’ll get to that, below.) This is also a first in the wetsuit game.
For more on this groundbreaking new wetsuit range from Bong, we spoke to Scott in depth, a man who’s been obsessed with wetsuit progression for 30 years. Mr. Boot gives us the details on how “Made to last” doesn’t have to mean “Here forever.”
Billabong’s new range really stepped it up this winter, eh?
Scott Boot: Yeah. This year we’re really happy with the collection we’ve put together. It’s progression — which is just the backbone of Billabong. And, we’ve done many things in the past, like patenting and owning the first zipper-less wetsuit. We also had the B9, which was the first eco-suit. It was pretty avant-garde, way before its time. It utilised recycled materials, a cleaner foam, but we’ve progressed since then. So, we’re really happy to release this range, which is a combination of 100% recycled jerseys, exterior and interior.
How does this lineup differ from some of the other alternative materials based suits on the market?
The material we’ve put into this collection is 100% recycled. Typically, we’ve been able to recycle the polyester or P.E.T. material that’s in the jersey. So, the wetsuit liner or jersey on the suit is a combination of three different materials: Polyester, nylon, and spandex. The “100% recycled” comes from a combination of all three materials being recycled (recycled polyester, recycled nylon, and the recycled spandex). We’re taking offcuts of our rashguard production and recycling that spandex backing to the material. So, a really cool step forward there. Rather than seeing it go to landfill, it’s getting turned back in and lining your wetsuit.
And, what sacrifices, if any, will the consumer experience in the name of sustainability?
Well…none, actually. At Billabong, our mantra has always been: It has to be as good, if not better than what we currently have. We’ve gone through thousands of iterations of recycled materials to find what performed better than what we had last season in terms of hand feel, stretch, durability, and for all of those elements to come together — we have had no degradation. Thus, we’ve had no compromise in the performance of the wetsuits with this new material.
Billabong introduced graphene into the wetsuit game. Is that still being used in the newest line of wetsuits?
Yeah. Last year we introduced graphene into the liners of the suit. Graphene’s a Nobel Prize-winning material, and a very good conductor of heat. It’s light and it’s strong, and, yes, it’s lining the inside of the suit. For 2020, what we’ve done is just infused that graphene into a recycled yarn.
And the rubber in the Furnace Natural, for example…It’s more environmentally sound, too?
Definitely. We’ve been playing around with natural rubbers, for a while, and for the first time ever, we’re going to be releasing the Furnace Natural. It’s a suit made out of natural rubber from Yulex. From a rubber plantation in Guatemala. It’s FSC certified, so, it’s harvested really ethically, and it’s very clean. It’s natural rubber from a rubber tree. We’re at a stage now that after developing it for about seven years, it’s actually nice and soft and very flexible. It’s a new, improved formula from Yulex pure stretch, and it’s very difficult to tell the difference between a chloroprene and a natural rubber suit these days. Sure, there’s still some hurdles to get over with the natural material — it’s quite expensive compared to chloroprene — but we’re at a performance stage now where it’s very difficult to tell the difference between the two.
And the Furnace Natural suits somehow degrade when thrown away?
In a way, yes. The Furnace Natural suits have CICLO-technology built into them. And what CICLO-technology is, is an enzyme that’s added to the jerseys of the suit inside and outside. Because of the enzyme, when you bury one in a landfill, it will degrade. It’s a world’s first. There’s never been a wetsuit that’s had this in it before. So, essentially, the suit won’t degrade on your body as you’re wearing it. It’s only when you bury it in landfill, that those enzymes act like natural fibres and start to break down. We’ve had some tests, down in some little pods for about 18 months, and we’ve seen about 83 per cent degradation. In these test pods, they’re like a landfill environment and they have this column where you can look and see what’s happening in there and measure the progress of degradation.
Basically what happens is: when heat and pressure are applied to it in a landfill, the enzyme in the linings activate and attract the microorganisms to start breaking the suit down and eating it till there’s nothing left. Of course, we encourage you to wear the suit for as long as possible or until you can’t wear it anymore. But it’s good to know that when you eventually do throw it in a landfill that it’s actually going to break down.
You never really think about throwing suits away or into a landfill and them not breaking down.
Yeah, neoprene was an incredibly durable material developed by Dupont in the 30’s. Some of the first uses of the material was insulation and flooring. That’s how durable it was. But, now it’s not like that anymore. They’ve taken a lot of those really shitty chemicals out, and it’s much cleaner now.
From the new season’s line, which do you use, personally?
I actually use the Furnace Comp, as well as the Natural, at the moment. The Furnace Comp in Orange County is just perfect. It’s got the graphene in the body area, but stretch in the sleeves and when that one’s wet, I switch to the Natural.