Plastic bottles rarely look good in the ocean. That is something that Hong Kong-based Mazu Resortwear is hoping to change with its new line of swimwear, which is made from salvaged plastic bottles. Adam Raby, the founder and CEO of the luxury swimwear brand, explains to Asia-Pacific Boating that his latest collection of shorts are made out of PET, a form of polyester that can be extracted from 90% recycled plastics. Every pair of shorts made from PET uses the equivalent of 12 plastic bottles – waste that could easily have ended up in the ocean.
“This material and our new message of sustainability have been five or six years in the making,” admits Raby, who launched the brand in 2014. “Sustainability and the ocean have always been things I’ve been super passionate about. It’s so hard nowadays, particularly in Hong Kong, to be plastic-free. We all go through much plastic, it’s shameful.”
Mazu Resortwear takes its name from the Chinese goddess of the sea – a nod to Hong Kong’s rich maritime history and Raby’s Chinese ancestry, as well as an ode to his lifelong affinity with the ocean. Mazu’s distinctive and playful prints celebrate local marine heritage: motifs range from the emblematic pink dolphin (Raby’s self-professed spirit animal) to sampans and junks.
Raby says his love of the ocean is tied to his boating background – his grandfather was in the Navy, and his father is an avid sailor and longstanding member of Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club. “My dad had a small Sonata racing boat, and when he retired, he bought a 40-ft J/Boat,” Raby explains. “I’ve recently started researching some hybrid boats. One day I’d love to get a small eco-friendly boat – something you can take out to Tai Long Wan in Sai Kung for a day, or even overnight.”
Raby has harboured a vision of using recycled plastic in his designs ever since launching the company in 2014, but struggled to source a recycled material that met all his needs.
“Recycled swimwear wasn’t much of a thing when I started,” he says. “I was hunting fabrics, getting swatches, and learning about them. Every fabric is made up of different percentages of things; it could be cotton, a cotton and silk-blend – every fabric has a different set of qualities. Some feel softer, but hold more water so take longer to dry. Some types of polyester feel quite cheap – the recycled fabric I was finding just wasn’t good quality.”
Technological advances in recycling, as well as growing economic viability in using recycled materials, mean that Raby’s hunt for the perfect, planet-friendly polyester eventually came to an end.
“When I finally found this particular fabric, I realised it ticked all the boxes: soft, durable, light-fitting and comfortable, but it still feels luxurious,” he says. “We then had to put it through lots of testing to see whether it would work with our prints, as well as surviving the heat and humidity of Hong Kong before it’s ready for the market. That’s why it’s been so long in the making – we tested these shorts for two years!”
The PET in question is created from plastic bottles, currently processed in a recycling factory in Guangzhou, China. In the factory, bottles are cleaned, labels removed, and the plastic is put into a machine that churns and chops the material into small flakes, which are compressed into pellets. These plastic pellets are spun into a yarn, which is ultimately woven into the fabric used in the shorts.
It really does piss me off to see people treat the ocean like sh*t
“As we develop things, we’re going to start trying to collect as many plastic bottles as possible ourselves, and courier them to the factory,” adds Raby. “We want to go old school – we’ll be arranging beach cleanups in Hong Kong, and we’ll wash the plastic and take the labels and caps off by hand. It can be time-consuming, but it’s just so good that factories can process this nowadays.”
The marine plastic crisis has reached a critical level. A study undertaken by the World Economic Forum found that 32% of the 78 million tonnes of plastic packaging produced annually around the world ends up flowing into our oceans. This is the equivalent of an entire rubbish truck filled with plastic being dumped into the oceans every single minute. If nothing changes, this will have increased to four trucks per minute by 2050. Worse still, only 14% of global plastic packaging is currently collected for recycling.
“Plastic is its own worst enemy,” muses Raby. “So cheap, so durable – the best thing about it is also the worst thing about it.”
Before the coronavirus pandemic, a chorus of academics, journalists, businesspeople and conservationists had decreed that 2020 would be “the year of sustainability”. Covid-19 has undeniably derailed the ongoing global fight against single-use plastic this year.
“In 2020, it’s a lot harder to get that message [of sustainability] out there, as a brand,” sighs Raby. “But we will ride this wave, and then we will reassess everything.”
Mazu’s first collection to be produced from recycled PET is a collaboration with celebrated photographer Keith Macgregor. The trunks are printed with Macgregor’s photo of a traditional Chinese junk boat, passing through Lei Yue Mun, Hong Kong, at sunset in 1984.
In 2020, it’s a lot harder to get that message of sustainability out there
“I’ve been one of the biggest fans of Keith Macgregor for the longest time, he’s such a charmer,” says Raby. “He should be more famous because his photographs are history. I was so glad to find a fabric that can do his photos justice; not too shimmery. I am so proud of these shorts – it’s the culmination of everything I’ve been trying to do from the beginning of the business.”
Raby has also partnered with the W and Four Seasons resorts in the Maldives, and Baha Mar in the Bahamas, to supply customised recycled shorts. The problem of ‘greenwashing’ has become a growing phenomenon across brands trying to jump on the lucrative, eco-friendly bandwagon. Raby offers a refreshing level of sincerity in his mission.
“It really does piss me off to see people treat the ocean like sh*t,” he says, his mug of coffee swirling as his hands wave in frustration. “I have been known to call people out if I am on a boat and I see someone deliberately throwing trash over the side. People with boats should be 100% warier of waste.”
The year 2020 might not have panned out how Raby, Mazu, or any of us intended. But there is one good omen on the horizon.
“[Goddess] Mazu’s birthday is always the 23rd day of the third lunar month,” Raby explains, adding that the company holds an annual flash sale on that day. “Well, I just found out that next year Mazu and I have the same birthday!”
There are many ways to pay homage to the goddess of the sea, but nowadays, working to remove plastic from our oceans is undoubtedly foremost among them.