Ali Murrell collecting single use plastic bottles on a sunset beach clean in Cornwall

At the core of everything we do here at Riz is a desire to fight the scourge of plastic pollution that blights our oceans. Whether that involves designing and making swimwear with as low an impact as possible from 100% recycled and recyclable plastic fabric (the fabric can’t be cotton or wool as it needs to be quick drying), working to produce a line of shorts made entirely from plastic bottles recycled from beach cleans, or simply using our voice to encourage others to consider how they can reduce their reliance upon single-use plastics or engage with recycling and beach clean initiatives, without this purpose we are nothing.

Last year we successfully reached our crowdfunding target for our #bottlestoboardshorts campaign, part of our mission to make beautiful shorts for a beautiful, plastic free, ocean. We had three goals:

  • To become the world’s first fully recycled and recyclable boardshort brand.
  • To collect waste plastic bottles that have been washed up on beaches and recycle these into a fabric that we could in turn use to produce a range of shorts.
  • To expand our range to include a line of printed women’s shorts, men’s walkshorts and a casual shirt.

Here’s how we’ve been getting on to date:

  • All of our shorts are now produced from 100% recycled materials and are 100% recyclable. We’ve worked hard to evaluate and re-design elements such as zips, cords, cord-ends, labels and thread to simplify the manufacturing processes and produce the most beautiful and functional swimwear possible, with the least possible environmental impact before and after use.
  • In a barn on a farm we have 15,000 discarded single use plastic bottles. We need 50,000 initially, so this is just the beginning of what will be an ongoing programme to collect plastic bottles either from beach clean events or before they even get to the sea (from waterways and events, for example) to recycle into fabric for our shorts. We’re playing a long game here, and to achieve our ultimate aim of producing our own fabric from ocean plastic sources we need to build the relationships and develop the systems that will allow us to collect the volume of waste PET bottles that we will need. To this end, we have partnered with the Marine Conservation Society, who will receive £3 from every pair of Riz shorts sold, and with whom we will be running a series of Riz-led beach cleans as well as receiving plastic bottles collected at their regular beach cleans held around the country. We’ve also been forming relationships with groups such as Fathoms Free based in the Southwest, and Thames21 who do great work around London to improve the canals and waterways that empty into the Thames. By working with groups such as Thames21 and Paddle and Pick, who are running kayaking and SUP events on the Thames to clean the river in an engaging and active way, we hope to intercept plastic litter before it even reaches the oceans and, in doing so, clean up our home patch. We’re also talking to various event organisers and coastal or riverside landowners about providing them with dedicated #bottlestoboardshorts bins, which would be an exciting development in our quest to both reduce the amount of plastic ending up in our oceans and collect enough to recycle into a dedicated fabric. On June 4th we’ll be running the inaugural Bottles to Boardshorts Riz beach clean at Barnes, West London; we’ll announce further details nearer to the time and hope that some of you will be able to join us there. We hope that in these ways we’ll be able to gather enough waste single use plastics from various marine sources or capture them en-route. When this has been achieved, we will need to process the plastic. We have met with a British based company who can undertake the primary and secondary stages in the recycling; removing plastic that isn’t PET and getting rid of caps, labels and other elements that aren’t PET before washing and mechanically breaking down the bottles into flakes. Our next, and possibly largest challenge is securing an arrangement with a factory that can then process these flakes back into fibre and eventually a woven fabric. The factory that produces the recycled fabric that we use at the moment is in Taiwan, which rules them out due to the unnecessary shipping and the volumes required (both to ship and process), so we need to find a factory in the UK or Europe who can deal with such a relatively small quantity without the need to amalgamate our reclaimed ocean plastics with other “general” recycled plastics. If this can be achieved, then we will have produced a fabric sourced entirely from plastic littering our beaches, oceans and waterways from which we can produce our shorts. If it proves impossible for us to produce the fabric that is composed entirely of the bottles that we have collected, then at the very least we will have collected and recycled a great number of waste single-use-plastics in our quest, and put in place the systems to continue doing so regardless.
  • After evaluating our product line and the wants and needs of our customers, we decided that the best way for us to expand our range would be to do so in a single direction, by focusing purely on men’s swim shorts. It’s what we do best, and we believe that it’s what you, the customers who make all of this possible, want.

litter on the beach

The Bottles to Boardshorts project is undoubtedly ambitious, however every single step that we take along the path to producing a line of shorts from recycled ocean plastics is a positive one for our environment. We don’t have to wait until we’ve crossed the finish line to know that we’ve made a positive impact somewhere, somehow. We hope that you’ll continue to support us on the #bottlestoboardshorts journey (perhaps by joining us at a beach clean or by doing your own and keeping a hold of any bottles for us), and that at the very least it inspires you to look for ways in which you can reduce your own use of single use plastics (by using a metal water canteen and filling it from the tap, for example) so that less plastic ends up entering the natural environment. It doesn’t go away, so the best that we can do is try to use less, and find ways to recycle what’s already out there.