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New Zealand designed swimwear made from recycled fishing nets and reclaimed plastic bottles have had a surge in interest from the US as parts of the country begin to emerge from lockdown. 

Kalakoa swimwear was created by former lifesaving champion Toni Burke who wanted to make an ethically manufactured range which met the needs of sustainability-conscious customers. 

As parts of North America relax their COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, the company has had a 300 percent increase in site traffic in just two days – and is now shipping daily orders to a growing customer base in the northern hemisphere.

Burke says along with the US market she is sending regular orders to the United Kingdom and Australia as those countries begin to look at life beyond the COVID-19 lockdown.

The swimwear is created from carvico vita, a material made from discarded fishnets salvaged from the ocean, and repreve lycra which is made from plastic bottles and waste products reclaimed from landfills.

“The next step in closing the loop is to allow customers to send back the swimwear they no longer use so it can be upcycled appropriately in exchange for a credit towards new product. 

“This way the material doesn’t go to waste and we also reward our customers for positive sustainability practices,” she says.

Burke says the swimwear arrives from the manufacturers in biodegradable packaging and orders are sent out in New Zealand made compostable bags. 

“I am constantly trying to make our brand as eco-friendly as possible and will have more ideas on the horizon as we grow,” she says. 

Burke says she came up with the idea for the brand after finding it difficult to purchase the type of swimwear she would like to wear herself. 

“There was a limited range of stylish, colourful, reversible designs that were good for the environment and stayed on in the surf! Swimwear is a very saturated market and I wanted to create a product that was beautiful, affordable and sustainable,” she says. 

Burke says the United States, United Kingdom and Australian markets are more developed when it comes to buying swimwear online and have a high level of demand for sustainable products. 

“I also think they are also a bit more daring with their swimwear choices in terms of pattern and design and in NZ we can be a bit more conservative. That’s why I’ve made the swimwear reversible so there is block colour on one side for those who don’t want a swimsuit that makes such a bold or colourful statement,” she says.

Unable to find a New Zealand manufacturer, Burke says all of her products are handmade in Bali and she has visited the manufacturer to check their ethical work practices are sound.

Burke would like to expand the business and create a range for all family members including trunks for men, maternity and children’s swimwear. 

She says plans to market the range through New Zealand retailers were disrupted by COVID-19 but talks are due to resume in the coming weeks and expects local sales to accelerate ahead of the 2021 summer season.

Glenn Baker

Glenn is a professional writer/editor with 50-plus years’ experience across radio, television and magazine publishing.


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