Wetsuits have been made from a synthetic foam rubber called neoprene for sixty years. Decade on decade, the petro-chemical industry drove material technology advancements that were difficult for natural rubber to catch-up and compete with. Without a viable alternative to neoprene the worldwide wetsuit industry carried on in a bit of a confirmation bubble; surfers wanted warmer, stretchier, wetsuits to help them to perform at their best and explore and surf new frontiers in colder climates, and wetsuit brands presented a solution using the only option available to meet those demands. For many years, very few questions were asked because people’s (both consumers and those of us creating products) priorities were different and there wasn’t the correct focus on environmental and social impact that society now has.
When Yulex Inc. first developed natural rubber foam for wetsuit applications as an alternative to neoprene 15 years ago, its superior environmental credentials were enough to give it a toehold in the market. Their first wetsuit utilising natural rubber launched in 2012, catering to surfers who made purchasing decisions based primarily upon sustainability, but these new suits were scarce, had high price tags, and didn’t perform very well.
At C-Skins we are continually researching and testing innovations that might give us an opportunity to improve our products. Nothing is off the table when it comes to research and development. That natural rubber technology was shared with the rest of the industry a few years later. Having made several other switches in favour of lower impact materials and manufacturing techniques, we gave it a go.“We first tested natural rubber in 2018, designing and making a sample version of our top of the range ReWired wetsuit using Yulex natural rubber” recalls head designer Jon. “At that point in time the price of the foam was more than 30% higher than limestone neoprene, the overall weight of the finished product was significantly heavier, and it was much less stretchier than the standard version.”