Committed to finding a solution to a huge global problem, we find ourselves deep in our Wetsuits From Wetsuits Recycling Programme. The mission: to find a way to introduce closed loop manufacturing to the industry.
With nearly a year’s worth of R&D under our belts, we’re ready to sign off on our first recyclable full-suit prototype. We caught up with Jenny Banks to hear the latest on progress…
We’ve had car-park comedy squeezing into prototypes, team groans of despair, and gone back to the drawing board countless times, but we’ve never run out of ideas. The last 6 months have been focused on re-thinking the construction of our wetsuit.
Wetsuits are typically made up of three layers: an inner thermal fabric that sits next to the skin; a neoprene or natural rubber foam; and a smooth outer fabric that gives a wetsuit’s rubber core added strength and durability. We discovered pretty early on that it’s these fabric layers which cause issues when it comes to wetsuit recycling.
When we reprocess a wetsuit, we break it down into a rubber crumb. If that wetsuit’s fabric linings aren’t removed beforehand, our rubber crumb becomes contaminated with textile fibres that are difficult to remove, and the quality of the recycled rubber produced just doesn’t cut it.
To facilitate wetsuit recycling we’ve been working hard to design a suit that doesn’t rely on glued fabric finishes for performance. Instead, we’ve chosen to re-engineer our rubber foams to deliver those cold-water must-haves such as warmth and flex.
Yes. There’s very little scientific data on how wetsuits work. We all assume that a wetsuit keeps us warm by trapping a thin layer of water between the skin and the wetsuit. This thin layer then warms up, minimising the temperature difference between our skin and the sea and therefore slows down the rate at which we lose heat to our surroundings.
This theory is actually very difficult to prove in the lab and yet within the surf industry, this assumption is the basis for all wetsuit design. We are seeing an increasing focus on the development of technical lining fabrics for wetsuits at the moment, but without proof of their benefits, it’s hard for us to justify their use because they’re so tricky to recycle.
There’s a lot of excitement for the coming months.
We’ve just been out to Taiwan to share and discuss our research with our wetsuit manufacturer. These guys are the experts and the ones to make our vision a reality. The team is keen to get our full-suit prototypes out into the water because only then will we truly understand how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go.
Alongside our prototyping, we’ve also been preparing for our wetsuit recycling trials. These small-scale experiments will involve sorting and re-processing existing wetsuits, of all shapes and sizes, into a new recycled rubber foam. We’ll then take that back into the lab for testing, to see how it compares to virgin materials. Again, we’ll be working closely with our wetsuit manufacturer and have the honour of hosting them at our Wheal Kitty home in the new year - an affirmation that the work we’re doing is game-changing.
Finally, we’ll be launching our wetsuits from wetsuits tester programme in Spring. Unlike our previous programmes where our testers feedback on small adjustments and fit, there are still lots of unknowns with this wetsuit. Our testers will work with us, in and out of the water, to bring the world’s first fully recyclable wetsuit to the industry. It’s going to be a really unique and exciting experience.