Part 6

100% Recycled
Re-Thinking Rash Vests

The NuWave Journey

A NuWave of UV Protection

NuWave is about more than natural rubber; it’s about designing and making wetsuits and watersports kit with the most positive impact possible. Naturally, that covers more than just one material. It requires us to consider all of the materials that go into our products, where they are sourced from, and how those products are manufactured, transported, used and then recycled or disposed of.

Our Spring/Summer ranges always include rash vests and UV skins. They’re designed to be worn either underneath a wetsuit (to reduce the risk of chaffing) or as stand-alone tops in warm water locations where you don’t need a wetsuit to keep warm but you do need something to keep the sun off your skin. These tops are NuWave but they aren’t natural rubber. So, what are NuWave’s rash vests and UV skins products made from, and why and how are they a better choice?

What is a Rash Vest?

Rash vests are figure-hugging tops, either short sleeve or long-sleeved and always with a high neck, made from smooth and stretchy synthetic material with external seams. Also known as a “rash guard” or more often a “rashie” amongst surfers, they were originally created to be worn under a wetsuit back in the days when wetsuits were more basic and often rubbed and caused a rash, before internal linings were improved. In warm water surf destinations they offer sun protection as well as protecting skin from the bumpy and sticky wax whilst lying on the deck of a surfboard and paddling around.
Because they are tight fitting, don’t soak up water (so don’t get heavy) and can be made in a massive range of colours and patterns, these days they’re also commonly worn on the outside of wetsuits for identification purposes. Surf schools use them to easily distinguish instructors and their groups, and rash vests are also worn in surf competitions like a jersey to help judges spot and score the different competitors.

What Are Rash Vests and UV Skins Made From?

Our NuWave rash vests (UV Skins and Rash X) are made from 100% recycled material. All rash vests are made from a stretchy synthetic fabric so that they are figure-hugging, smooth, don’t absorb water and are quick-drying. We use 85% recycled polyester and 15% recycled spandex (also known as elastene, or it’s trade name Lycra, which DuPont holds the trademark for) for stretch. Spandex (an anagram of ‘expands’) is a type of polyurethane fiber that can stretch 5-8 times its normal size, and which is blended with other synthetic fibers to create stretchy and form-fitting garments including swimwear, sportswear and underwear.

Rash Vests That Are 100% Recycled

NuWave Rash X and UV Skins tops are made of recycled polyester or rPET (85%) and pre-consumer recycled spandex (15%).

About Recycled Polyester

Recycled polyester is made primarily from post-consumer plastic bottles and is known commercially as rPet. It is a lightweight and quick-drying fabric and the recycled version offers identical performance characteristics to the virgin plastic version with a greatly reduced environmental impact.
Polyester can be recycled in two different ways, and both have benefits and drawbacks. Mechanical recycling of polyester is the most common and well-established. It takes clear (or light blue) post-consumer plastic waste, such as drinks bottles, and shred and melts it to create a new yarn. Polyester can be mechanically recycled multiple times but the quality of the fiber declines each time the process is repeated.
Chemical recycling of polyester can be repeated infinitely with no impact on material characteristics and quality, however it is a more expensive and energy and chemical intensive. Chemical recycling breaks down the material to a molecular level and then re-polymerising it to (re)create what is essentially virgin polyester from a recycled source. A wider range of waste polyester can be recycled this way compared to mechanical recycling (different coloured plastics, or contaminated waste such as ocean plastics), with less environmental impact compared to using virgin polyester. It is less widespread than mechanical recycling however because the infrastructure for chemical recycling is not so well developed.

About Pre-Consumer Recycled Spandex

Pre-consumer recycled material takes waste from the initial manufacturing process such as offcuts and trimmings and recycles it before it leaves the production stage of a material’s lifecycle. It has never made it to the consumer, and has never been used.
Spandex, or elastene, is a polyether-polyurea copolymer that is prized for its exceptional elasticity and strength, and that exhibits other properties such as high moisture wicking that make it so suitable for sportswear. Like all synthetic fibers spandex is made from oil, and in addition the manufacturing process uses toxic solvents – both for the creation of virgin spandex and in the recycling process. For most applications spandex is blended with other (majority) performance fibers such as polyester.
Ideally, a manufacturing process wouldn’t create waste. Pre-consumer recycled spandex reduces wastage (and therefore landfill and environmental impact) however it has been made and then remade before it even reaches the consumer, so has used more energy and more chemicals in its manufacture. It is good, but not as good as the industry not creating that manufacturing waste in the first place.
We use as little spandex as possible without compromising on the performance of our NuWave RashX and UV Skins products. Using pre-consumer recycled spandex reduces both the extractive environmental impact of our products and the volume of textile manufacturing waste. We’re also continually evaluating new performance fabric technologies in the search for more circular materials blends that consumers can recycle.

NuWave’s Lower Impact Lycra

Our range of NuWave rash vests and surf t-shirts are designed with lower environmental impact in mind. They are made from 100% recycled materials, with a higher ratio of post-consumer recycled content to pre-consumer recycled content. Less plastic bottles and fewer fabric offcuts end up in landfill through our material choices. Our manufacturing partner estimates that compared to non-recycled alternatives this line requires up to 59% less energy to produce and that CO2 emissions are reduced by up to 32%.

The Search For Circularity

There are highly publicised issues with waste, recycling and circularity in the garment industry. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that globally, 73% of the materials used to produce clothing are landfilled or burned at the end of their life, while less than 1% of old clothing goes on to be used to make new clothing. Textiles that are a blend of materials (as a lot of clothing is but in particular sportswear) are difficult to recycle because of the issue of separating the fibers. That problem is particularly acute in spandex or elastene blends.
NuWave’s RashX and UV Skins tops are 100% recycled, but like most products that contain spandex they are not easily recycled. They have a lower environmental impact than most comparable products on the market however we want to find on an end-of-life solution so that the impact can be even lower. Ultimately, that’s what we’re aiming for.

By choosing a NuWave RashX or UV Skins product you’re reducing your own and also the surf industry’s environmental impact, and enabling and encouraging research and development into how to reduce that impact even further.