While most of us picture escaping to idyllic sun destinations of pristine white sand beaches and turquoise waters, the rate at which we’re going shows a harsher and uglier reality of beaches littered with plastic, struggling marine life, and discarded junk from ocean liners. With tourists already having reported finding massive patches of floating plastic and garbage in popular tropical destinations, this idea that we have of our planet going to shit in the distant future, isn’t so distant at all.
Sustainable fashion is all the rage these days, with brands like Everlane and Reformation quickly becoming household names. In an effort to combat the alarming rate of ocean destruction, growing alongside the apparel industry’s move towards a more environmental process, is swimwear. With a global, shared love for the sun and sea, swimwear is reinventing the bikini, with the hottest trend being recovered ocean plastic.
We had the opportunity to connect with Lisa Jackson, founder and owner of AMARA, a Tulum-based sustainable swimwear brand, and a leader in the ethical swimwear market. With a “from the sea, for the sea” approach, Lisa found a way to blend her love for fashion, with her love for the planet, realizing what many of us haven’t yet – sustainability and fashion can go hand in hand. A Toronto native who found her place in Tulum, Lisa not only understands the grave importance of ocean preservation but realizes that providing a solution has been the best way to open the conversation.
1. Why did you start Amara?
Amara actually didn’t start as an ethical label. I had already been working in fashion and entertainment, and this was my second attempt at launching a brand. I already had strong political and spiritual beliefs. As a bookworm with an extremely curious mind, I began to see the world for what it really is and form strong thoughts and opinions on the subject. I was very vocal about my beliefs and the things I was learning in my personal life but felt that I had to keep that voice separate from the brand for a long time. I began to feel conflicted about my involvement in fashion after seeing the destruction it was causing. Then one day, I came across the Patagonia story and dove deep into their brand philosophy. A light went on. I realized it didn’t have to be fashion or ethics, that the two could actually go hand in hand.
2. Why did you decide to move to Mexico and engage local artisans as your designers? What significance does Tulum hold for you?
Mexico wasn’t really a decision. I feel like it chose me actually. I initially went down for a 4 week inspo trip and at the end of that 4 weeks, I knew Tulum was home. I signed a year lease and didn’t look back. 3.5 years later, I’m still here and still just as enamored by the town. Tulum is the place I truly found myself, my style and my voice. I found likeminded artists and entrepreneurs proving that we didn’t have to compromise on quality or experience to be sustainable. I was immersed in a tropical lifestyle and the brand just took on a life of its own through my experiences here. Two years into living in Mexico, I was still manufacturing in NYC’s Garment District. By chance, I was introduced to a small, female owned, local sewing house, and was finally able to move production closer to home. I love having production close by, where I can be more involved in the creation process. Being able to give back to the local economy that has provided me so much and work with women that truly love what they are doing, has been the greatest reward in the move.
3. Tell us about your manufacturing process?
Our sustainability initiatives begin in the design process. That’s why all our designs are reversible, mix & match and sometimes even convertible. We’re minimalists at heart and want to teach the world to do more with less. Our Italian fabric is manufactured in a green energy facility that works to reduce pollution, protect green spaces, preserve water, and monitor gas emissions. Made up of two game-changing fibres. ECONYL® is created with regenerated nylon recovered from our oceans through the Healthy Seas project, helping to remove tons of plastic waste and save marine life. Add in LYCRA® XTRA LIFE™ for quality that’s built to last. Our swimwear is cut and sewn in a small local sewing studio in small batches to avoid excess waste.
4. What do you find the most challenging about creating eco-friendly swimwear?
The process of creating the swimwear is not challenging at all, that’s the fun part. The challenging part is getting the word out about what we’re doing and keeping up with the rapidly changing industry. We’re the little guy with big dreams.
5. What impact has Amara had on the swimwear industry, the environment, and on the lives of the locals you hire?
I’m following in the footsteps of the greats, such as Patagonia and Reformation, and I hope to make a massive impact on the fashion industry by encouraging all brands to adopt a sustainable model and aspire to constant innovation. We can truly have it all if we put our minds to solving the problems we face. We’re still a tiny operation but as we grow, we hope to create a positive impact in the local economy and quality of life by creating livable wage jobs and flexible work arrangements for locals. Our environmental initiatives include regularly organizing beach cleanups in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere, just South of Tulum, to protect the wildlife from plastic washing ashore. We plan to hold these events quarterly and encourage locals and tourists alike to get involved. We post these events on our Facebook group if you are interested in joining us.
6. What are some of the projects you’re currently working on?
We’re in the final days of a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to build a sustainable boutique in Tulum. To my shock, I found out most of the businesses on the beach road in Tulum are run on diesel generators. When looking for a place to open up shop, we were offered a really great location that would require us to build a structure. Rather than contribute to the problem, I devised a plan to build a boutique that would echo our brand values inside and out. Our boutique will be built from an upcycled shipping container, run on solar power, complete with vintage decor. We turn to the Kickstarter community to help us bring our wildest dreams to life. To reward our backers, we have launched our newest collection, some exclusive Hotcakes and our new Men’s trunks, all at 30% off the in-store price. We’re also planning to launch our ready to wear collection in the near future which will include a range of effortless dresses and resort wear, made with deadstock fabrics and upcycled vintage.
7. Do you have any tips or industry insights on what consumers should look out for when buying sustainable swimwear?
Aside from just sustainable swimwear, conscious consumers looking to create a lifestyle with minimal impact, should follow these simple tips:
- UPCYCLE – utilizing what you have to create something new, from cutting, sewing, dying, to repairing.
- SWAP – or gift any items you no longer use and trade for things that will serve a purpose in your life.
- MINIMALISM – Reducing consumption by ensuring the things you own either serve a function or bring you joy. This is not about deprivation, it’s about intention, elevation and curation.
- VINTAGE – The easiest way to adopt a sustainable lifestyle, is to repurpose items that already exists as opposed to paying for something new to be made.
- AWARENESS – We vote for the things that exist in this world every time we spend a dollar. Whenever shopping new products, make sure to research the company you are spending your money on. Ensure you are buying quality, long lasting pieces from companies that work to reduce waste, use renewable energy, adopt fair trade practices, use organic and recycled materials, and contribute to solving sustainable problems wherever possible.
8. What’s your personal philosophy when it comes to ocean preservation?
We have the technology and know-how to completely eliminate single-use plastic at this point. It is devastating our oceans and marine life. The alternatives exist and it’s up to the consumer to educate themselves and avoid single-use plastic products. The fact that we can now convert used plastic waste into brand new quality products such as swimwear and carpet, changes the game and allows us to imagine how innovation moves us closer to a green future for all. We need to focus on the reduction of consumption and implement easy access recycling programs to ensure this useful plastic doesn’t find its way into the ocean in the first place.
Amara’s designs are made with minimalism, versatility, sustainability and comfort in mind. All designs are reversible, and mix & match, and sometimes also convertible. With the modern woman (and now man) in mind, Amara has found a way to mix utility, sustainability and style. With this brand’s improvement of the local economy, beach clean-up initiative, and dedication in providing sustainable swimwear, Lisa Jackson’s AMARA gets our stamp of approval.
If you’re in Tulum and want to join in on helping clean up the biosphere, join Amara’s Facebook group for more information on meet dates.
Check out Amara’s Kickstarter campaign. Raising funds to build an eco-sustainable boutique made from an upcycled shipping container, this boutique will be solar powered and built with no ecological footprint. With Lisa’s core principles in mind – minimalism, sustainability, nostalgia, versatility and comfort – this eco boutique will be a sustainable solution to traditional retail.
For more information and to shop the collection visit Amara’s website.