Brands are recycling waste to develop the latest styles in shoes and swimwear.

The deluge of plastic polluting the world’s oceans is owing in part to the resiliency of the moldable, nearly indestructible materials used to create it. Water bottles, grocery bags, and nylon fishing nets persist far longer than we use them, and when they’re not properly recycled, they can end up killing marine life.

Now, sportswear companies are putting ocean trash back to work—recovering, recycling, and repurposing materials for use in shoes, jerseys, and swimsuits.


Aquafil makes the yarn, called Econyl, from nylon fishing nets collected from landfills and ocean cleanups. The company’s “regenerative system” recovers the nylon, creating material of a quality comparable to virgin nylon. But Econyl can be regenerated an infinite number of times without a loss in quality.

Giulio Bonazzi, chief executive of Aquafil, said global fiber consumption in the textile sector is expected to reach 96.4 million tons by 2020.

“We knew we needed to transform our traditional business model into a circular one in order to fulfill the challenges of a market that is rapidly changing,” Bonazzi said. “It is apparent that the linear waste stream in which products are manufactured, consumed, and disposed of is no longer sustainable.”

Aquafil’s product caught the eye of 11-time surfing world champion Kelly Slater…