Words by Rebecca Parsons
In 2012, Sensi Graves set out to do the impossible: kick-start a sustainable manufacturing company that produced stay-put bikinis for active waterwomen. A longtime athlete and professional kiteboarder, Graves was all too familiar with the struggle of finding swimwear that kept up with her active lifestyle. In 2010, she began experimenting with materials and designs to create her ideal suit. Two years later, Sensi Graves Bikinis was born.
"I wanted to make this manufacturing company but one of the big hesitations around it was that I've always been environmentally conscious and aware," says Graves. "I didn't want to produce something that was going to do more harm than good. I made a commitment to offset that by being a 1% for the planet company and eventually getting to 100% recycled fabrics."
In the early years of the company, Graves made her suits from traditional fabrics. But in an effort to meet her sustainability goals, she began experimenting with recycled fabrics. After a few trial runs, the seamstress found the perfect fabric for her suits. Graves now uses Ecoynl yarn for her solids and Repreve for her prints.
Repreve collects millions of discarded plastic bottles and transforms them into a performance fiber that can be used for athletic and fashion apparel. Bottles are collected and taken to Unifi, Repreve's bottle processing center, where they are broken down into high-quality clean flakes. The flakes are then transported to the Repreve recycling center where they are blended, melted and turned into Repreve chips. The chips are then loaded into massive silos where they are melted and extruded to form a recycled fiber that is used to create usable recycled polyester, nylon and staple fibers. Repreve has recycled and repurposed over 10 million plastic bottles, saving enough energy to power roughly 95,000 homes for a year.
Econyl collects waste from abandoned fishing nets, industrial plastic waste, yarn discard and fabric scraps and repurposes them into usable yarn. Once the waste is collected, it is cleaned, shredded, compacted, bagged and transported to the Econyl regeneration plant. There, the waste is depolymerized, which means all foreign substances are removed, before being polymerized yet again. Finally, the Nylon 6 polymers are distributed to Econyl's production facilities where they are they processed into usable carpet and textile yarns. Econyl yarn can be regenerated an infinite number of times. The process ultimately saves 70,000 barrels of crude oil and avoids 57,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions for every 10,000 tons of Econyl Caprolactam.
By the time the yarn reaches manufactures, it is essentially the same as any other fabric. It comes in giant rolls and there are a number or different sizes and textures to choose from.
"We have so much plastic in our oceans that if you're not aware of that and you're not working with it within you're manufacturing business, then you're not supporting the world as a whole," says Graves. "I definitely want to demonstrate those values and hopefully be an inspiration to other businesses."
Graves shoots to keep the production process as green as possible by using recycled packaging and hang-tags. She's assisting in the effort to ban plastic straws in her hometown: Hood River, Oregon. And she's partnered with the Plastic Tides Foundation, a green certification company that helps businesses become more environmentally friendly and reduce waste. Down the line, she hopes to establish a take back program to recycle old bikinis, as well as find a way to repurpose her fabric scraps. And by 2019, she plans to exclusively use recycled fabrics.
In addition to focusing on the environment, Graves strives to empower female athletes through her bikinis. She works alongside a team of professional athletes to design and test bikinis capable of withstanding any and all conditions.
"Another huge core value of our business is inspiring a healthy lifestyle and empowering women to participate in water sports," says Graves. "For us, that starts with delivering a product that makes them feel comfortable in their bodies, confident that its not going to come off, and empowered to get out there and do what they love. It's such a fuel in my life and we really want to share that."
We're grateful there are companies like Sensi Graves Bikinis that are focused on empowering women while simultaneously protecting our planet. Hopefully, more companies will follow suit.