Swimwear from the SLO Active line
New Zealand-born Janaya Wilkins grew up by the water, which sparked her love for the ocean, and her desire to protect it. But it was only when the extent of the damage microplastics were having on the environment became clear that Wilkins decided she had to turn her passion into a career.
“Two years ago I found myself looking for a job with a purpose, and so I thought, ‘why not take what I love, and what I’m good at, and fuse the two together?’ That’s how SLO was born.”
The 34-year-old’s company, which sells active swimwear, was founded with the idea of “driving change in a way that is different”.
“Our oceans are in crisis because of humans’ mindless over consumption and a ‘disposable’ mentality,” Wilkins continues. “Plastic pollution is one of the biggest environmental emergencies that we are facing as a planet. Microfibers from synthetic clothing and textiles are a key source of microplastics in our oceans.”
When clothes are washed, fibers shed into the washing water, and due to their minute size, pass through wastewater treatment plants, ending up in the ocean. A recent study revealed there are around one million times more microplastics in our oceans than scientists previously thought.
Fashion is the world’s second biggest polluter, only after the oil industry, a fact which defined Wilkins’s company vision. “There is not enough being done in the fashion industry to stop climate change as a result of the pollution of our air, land, and sea,” Wilkins says.
The swimwear and active market is a good place to start when it comes to facilitating change. Global sports and swimwear revenue amounted to $122,506m in 2019, and is expected to grow 2.4% each year until 2023. In both the UK and US, active swimwear saw a 25% increase in Q1 in 2019, compared to 2018 . In the UK alone, the sales of swimwear with a sustainable element has increased by 88% since 2017.
Wilkins is targeting three markets: surfing – the global market for surfing is projected to reach US$9.5 billion by 2020; retreats and wellness – the global wellness industry is now worth $4.2 trillion with wellness tourism experiencing a 6.5% annual growth; and diving – the scuba diving market is now estimated to be worth $1.38 billion.
Wilkins has focused on growing slowly.
“The first year was solely focused on our cause: to protect the ocean. We launched the website with this plastic pollution guide and joined the building groundswell of awareness around pollution in our ocean. The second year was focused on securing our charity partners for our giving model, as well as source suppliers and partners who are aligned with our slow fashion values.”
The company’s first collection is named “clean lines”, launched with the help of a Kickstarter campaign, which raised $26,000 from 102 backers. The products are made using plastic-free zips, with the body of the swimwear made from a sustainable material called “Yulex Pure”.
“Yulex is a better alternative to conventional, non-renewable neoprene which is derived from petroleum or limestone,” Wilkins explains.
“Instead, Yulex relies on zero waste processing and is made from raw natural rubber of hevea trees which are FSC Certified by the Rainforest Alliance.
“By replacing conventional neoprene, we are reducing CO2 emissions by up to 70% in the manufacturing process. The garments are then lined with 100% recycled jersey, while water-based glue is used for laminating.”
SLO active is based in London, and aims to expand its team in 2020, in order to hit its goals to release a new collection in March, and focus on exporting to the US, Australia and New Zealand.
The company, whose name stands for “Sustainable Luxury Oceanwear”, also contributes to charities. For every piece sold, a donation is made to an ocean charity partner of the customer’s choice. For each of the 110 pieces from the clean lines collection that have been sold so far, SLO has planted a tree.
“We call it ‘Earth to Ocean’ – dedicated to being active and hands on for the cause, as well as empowering the right people, always with a grassroots approach,” says Wilkins.
“We plan to increase our giving percentage from 3% (revenue, not just profits) to 5% within three years, and our goal is to be 100% carbon neutral by 2021.”
For Wilkins, it all comes back to following her passion to protect the ocean. “The ocean is the life blood of this world. Ecosystems both underwater and on the land rely on the ocean. Without it, we simply would not exist.”