While Geoprene is not the most sustainable type of neoprene because of the way limestone is mined, Gemma Lee’s wetsuits are still a much more sustainable option than the traditional petroleum-based wetsuit. Gemma Lee’s suits incorporate recycled plastic bottles, are durable, flexible, and extremely warm. While Gemma Lee’s wetsuits may be a bit more expensive than the traditional suit (fullsuit= $599NZD and springsuit=$299NZD), you are really paying just a little bit more for a suit that will last longer than a traditional wetsuit. If you are looking for a creative, colorful, and more sustainable option for your next suit, then check out Gemma Lee!
Gemma Lee’s wetsuits may look like traditional wetsuits, but they are made from drastically different materials than the traditional wetsuit. All of Gemma Lee’s wetsuits are made with Geoprene! Never heard of it? Geoprene is a type of neoprene made from limestone rock, AKA calcium carbonite. Unlike petroleum-based neoprene, Geoprene is not made from fossil fuels and has a uniform cell structure that provides more warmth. Petroleum-based neoprene suits have about 65-69% impermeability, which means they soak up water like a sponge and stay wet for longer. On the other hand, Geoprene has about 98% water impermeability, which means you can stay warmer in colder water for much longer. Geoprene is also lighter and more durable than petroleum-based suits so they will last you longer than a traditional wetsuit. Gemma Lee’s suits are also made with nylon lining made from recycled PET bottles and water based glues, instead of solvent based glues.
While Gemma Lee’s Wetsuits are a more environmentally friendly option in comparison to tradition petroleum-based neoprene wetsuits, limestone mining is an unsustainable practice. Limestone is mined from a quarry or underground. Limestone mining can contaminate groundwater, create sinkholes, destroy deep cave habitats, and emit dust which can harm human health. Despite these negative environmental impacts, it is estimated that limestone reserves on Earth will exist for about 3,000 more years, while petroleum reserves will not make it anywhere close to 3,000 years. So by making suits from Geoprene Gemma Lee is helping the surfing and diving community break away from a reliance on petroleum-based products.
Gemma Lee’s wetsuits are made in a small factory in Australia. While Gemma Lee does not describe where their limestone-based neoprene comes from, Matuse, Inc. is the trademarked creator of Geoprene, so it is likely that Gemma Lee gets their geoprene from Matuse, Inc. Matuse Inc. sources their limestone from Osaka, Japan. Limestone is mined inn Osaka, Japan. Then it is shipped to the US where Matuse, Inc. creates the Geoprene from limestone. Then the Geoprene is shipped to the Gemma Lee factory in Australia where the Geoprene is hand cut. Next, the wetsuits are dyed, without using hazardous chemicals, and then sewn by factory workers. Gemma Lee also claims to be BLUESIGN Certified. BLUESIGN is a company follows each textile’s path along the manufacturing process and makes improvements regarding sustainability and worker’s health at each stage.
Gemma Lee is a surf label that was founded in New Zealand by Gemma Cornish. Gemma Cornish started Gemma Lee with the goal to make ethical and eco-conscious wetsuits for women. Gemma Lee designs the label’s wetsuits and suits. Gemma Lee’s wetsuits are hand cut and sewn by a team of workers at Gemma Lee’s small factory in Australia. Gemma Lee’s website does not describe how much the company’s factory workers make, but in a few interviews Gemma Cornish explains how important it is to her to have ethical factories and make sure materials are sourced ethically.