Vital Wetsuits

overall rating:

2.5

planets

Sarah Cassin
8/2/2022
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Vital Wetsuits is a surfing brand that focuses on empowering women looking for inclusive and sustainable surfing kits, from wetsuits to boards. They state on their website that it is “VITAL that all women feel they are heard”, and ensure all their products have a wide range of size options and adjustability. A brand that is created with the intentions for sustainability and inclusivity is a huge green flag for me(unlike pre-existing brands making a change to fit with the trends)! Now I may not know a lot about surfing, the steps that Vital Wetsuits is taking to promote inclusivity within the sport has definitely inspired me to give it a go. From their eco-friendly alternative materials, local manufacturing locations to the fact that it is a female run business (#girlboss), Vital Wetsuits is a great example of a small scale company who is working to inspire change in the sports fashion industry. 

What it's made of:

2.5

All I knew before looking into this was an assumption that wetsuits are made of rubber… that is about as far as my knowledge could take me. But it seems Vital Wetsuits doesn’t just use any old rubber. The company partners with Yulex. Similar to neoprene, Yulex is a stretchy, durable, FSC certified, renewable rubber material which keeps people warm in the cold waters but also protects the skin from sun. Normal limestone neoprene used in other wetsuit brands uses up to 23x times more kilowatts to manufacture than Yulex. This means that already they are avoiding excess pollution using this alternative. The rubber is natural and harvested from rubber trees which are certified by the Rainforest Alliance and are chlorine-free. This means that they are responsibly sourced, reduce manufacturing waste in comparison to traditional neoprene and no harmful chemicals could be produced as by products. Thumbs up from me!

They also use another great neoprene alternative made from seashells called Bioprene. To my (slight) disappointment, this doesn’t look like two shells across the chest like the mermaids we grew up with, but instead it is recycled into black wetsuit tops! (Watch out, the mermaids will be hopping on this trend soon). The fishing industry creates a ton of shell-by-product waste which Vital then uses to recycle into greater things. Additionally, the inner lining is made entirely from recycled polyester and laminated with solvent free, water based glue. 

It would be great to know a little more about what goes into the other products eg. the comb/beanie (made from cherry wood and wool respectively) on their website or a further expansion on the rest of the materials used in these specified products. For example, the pom pom beanie mentions it is “acrylic speckled”, but what does this mean? Is it recycled acrylic or biodegradable? These are all questions I would like to see covered in the product description or on the website somewhere. It would also be great to know where the recycled seashells come from, or where in the world the material from the rubber trees are sourced from. If the shells come from local beaches that would be amazing to know as it shows an even greater effort to reduce carbon footprint and support the local environment. However, if these materials are being sourced from all over the world, the transportation process to the manufacturing locations could increase the carbon footprint of the company quite a lot. This is something to consider to improve their planet rating for this section a bit. Aside from the Yulex, the other information wasn’t as easy to access or find and it would be cool to make it even easier for customers to know exactly what goes into their products in a place that is accessible to read. I only found out half this information because I was actively looking for it, most other customers won’t be doing so. 

How it's made:

2.5

While they considered the overseas manufacturing route by sourcing from China, the minimum quantities for orders, costly shipping, duties and custom fees and the worry over their carbon footprint dissuaded Vital Wetsuits from pursuing this avenue. Instead they chose a domestic manufacturing route. The owner, Keera Belviy was very open and honest about the advantages and disadvantages this brought her. Local production gives the brand more personable interaction and lower costs of initial sample fees. Another great advantage that she didn’t mention was the drastic decrease of their carbon footprint for transport and shipping after manufacturing to the USA. While there may be longer lead times and more expensive costs to source locally, it speaks well of the brand to promote environmental awareness and support to their local community. Even when they do need to use overseas suppliers, they influence them into using as little plastic as possible. They request that the merchandise be grouped together in larger amounts instead of being individually wrapped. Even when they ship their merchandise out to customers they don't use any plastic packaging, only paper. The tape they use is cellulose-based and biodegradable. This shows that even though brands who source from overseas manufacturing companies don’t have total control over what goes on in those factories or the emissions produced, it isn’t an excuse to at least do as much as they can to influence a more sustainable interaction between the two companies. Reducing plastic waste by requesting products be packaged together is a wonderful idea to do this. Other companies now have no more excuses! They should be doing this too.

Now, while this is all wonderful to see, it would be great to know where specifically they manufacture their products. Could they list some countries or US states/cities so that customers know where their item came from? (or how close to home it’s made). What about the processes used to manufacture the items? How are they actually made? Do they have a carbon footprint calculation? These are all questions that I would love to see answered or displayed on their website to show that they are displaying as much transparency as possible. 

Who makes it:

2.7

The founder of Vital Wetsuits is a woman, describing herself as tall and full bodied. Her mission for the brand was to create products that cater to all women, no matter their shape or size. #Womensupportingwomen! She states that she “set out to design and source the cleanest and greenest resources for a high-functioning wetsuit that offers a broader range of sizes for all women''. Now I don’t know much about surfing or wetsuits, but I imagine a wetsuit which doesn’t fit quite right would be super uncomfortable given the tight and clingy nature of the material once in water. It’s wonderful to see that it is a brand that was born from a desire to both cater to a more inclusive audience but also have a sustainable approach as a core value of theirs. Many other large global companies are “shifting” to sustainable practices and more often than not are guilty of greenwashing. Part of me believes the only reason they even pretend or put in a little effort to be more sustainable is because it is becoming a societal norm and they don’t want to be the only ones “not following the trend”. However, brands like this encourage more trust with their consumers as it doesn’t feel as much like they have the same ulterior motives as other global brands, based on their company mission and origin story. Aside from seeking sustainable change, Vital Wetsuits has also participated in some charity projects. They partnered with ‘See Turtles’, a non-profit organisation where a portion of every single purchase with Vital Wetsuits helps fund programs to aid the conservation and monitoring of turtle nests worldwide. If you want to #savetheturtles, this is one step further than buying yourself a metal straw.

The one main critique for this section is questioning the workers who actually make the products. It would be good to know what sort of working conditions the employees experience from the manufacturers Vital Wetsuits sources from. Additionally, who are these employees? Do the manufacturing companies employ workers from marginalised backgrounds to promote equality and inclusivity in the workplace? Are they given fair wages and hours? Are they treated humanely? This is important to know alongside the positives for the other aspects of the brand.

Finally, the business advocates female empowerment. Vital Wetsuits is completely self-funded and independently owned by a woman, for women. Belviy states ‘it is truly essential in this day and age that there be a surf brand showcasing all water women in their truest form while keeping the planet in mind as well’. Not only is Vital Wetsuits  promoting female empowerment, body positivity and the protection of the environment, it has created a wonderful grassroots community to bring together people of all different backgrounds together over inclusivity in a sport they love.