Seea is a company that has grown from a fledgling two-person team to a force within the women’s surf, swim and apparel market, gaining the attention of the industry with its innovative design efforts.

Seea Founder and Designer Amanda Chinchelli in Barbados. Photo: Luki O’Keefe

It comes as no surprise that this small team of creatives is now pushing the boundaries of what’s possible when it comes to manufacturing, sourcing and packaging products with an eye to sustainability. The thoughtful, organic approach they are taking means making gradual yet meaningful changes to each piece of Seea’s product lifecycle.

We caught up with Founder and Designer Amanda Chinchelli to hear her thoughts on how a young company can leverage industry resources and outside knowledge – Seea has teamed up with Patagonia to understand and use its Yulex wetsuit model, as well as Repreve and Econyl – to make positive changes to mitigate our collective impact on the environment.

How long have you been working on making Seea’s product more sustainable? What has that effort entailed?

Seea has replaced its plastic packaging for biodegradable bags for many of its products. Photo: Seea

We’ve been aware of the recycled fabric options but were not producing enough to be able to meet minimums for quantity and price. The first time that we tested a recycled nylon fabric in 2016 (for the 2017 collection), the price and quality wasn’t up to our performance standard in the right weight and hand feel.

The next year, everything all came together with quality, price and order minimums to replace all the nylon/spandex and polyester/spandex with Econyl and Repreve, respectively, to develop the 2018 collection. These styles first hit retail in November last year. We also developed our own lining with Repreve to be the right weight and hand-feel we wanted.

In the past, we sourced terry cloth and French terry fabrics to make our changing capes from end-of-roll fabrics. Our capes always sell out-some colorways are gone in a few days-so we’ve been looking for a resource to make a larger run.

We first met with Recover’s distributor in January 2017. Their closed loop system of upcycling postconsumer waste, plus learning about the water and energy savings was exactly what we were looking for. We developed a custom terry cloth jacquard (a jacquard version of one of our original swimwear prints) for a changing cape, beach poncho and cocoon wrap group.

Some of our smaller projects included replacing hangtags with recycled paper, sourcing recycled paper packaging for all e-commerce orders, and replacing plastic bag packaging with biodegradable bags.

From an investment standpoint, how do you justify the extra effort and expenses that go into adding sustainable materials and processes to your existing production? What do you expect in terms of ROI?

Hangtags were one of the first elements to be updated. Photo: Seea

It’s definitely an investment in time and money to source, sample and test any new materials. There is a risk if the materials don’t work out. We don’t have the product development womanpower to research, track and implement sustainability across the whole supply chain overnight. You have to pick and choose your priorities.

The price of sustainable materials is more expensive than sourcing virgin materials but in the future we believe the cost will be more competitive as recycled materials become a new standard. For us, it’s worth it because there is an environmental cost in the long run for not choosing recycled materials. If the options are out there and perform just as well, why not?

What was it like making this shift to recycled materials and biodegradable bags, and how much effort did it take to communicate and coordinate with your manufacturing and shipping facilities?

Photo: Luki O’Keefe

We ship everything – both to our wholesale accounts and e-commerce customers – from our warehouse in San Clemente.

It was our warehouse manager Sydney Norberg (who is also a brilliant leather maker and events and props stylist) that led the transition to recycled paper packaging. Because she knows the whole shipping, returns and customer service process, she was able to determine the best solutions that balanced function with aesthetics.

For the biodegradable bags, we found out about the company in Bali through Danny Clayton who founded Salt Gypsy. We started with a small test order of the biodegradable bags. The hand feel of the bags has a supple matte texture, so we placed a small order to test their durability through different scenarios.

We found they are more susceptible to tearing than plastic, but overall they performed well. A custom print on the bags explains that they are biodegradable, and we got a lot of positive comments from our customers that noticed the change.

Unfortunately, the biodegradable bags are only available in certain sizes. For our larger items, like our beach pants, changing capes, and all the Yulex wetsuits, we are still using plastic bags and choosing recycled plastic when possible.

Even though implementing these changes hasn’t always been smooth or easy, it is a worthwhile investment for us because we believe it is necessary to try new sustainable solutions.

Why did you see this as an important step toward creating a more sustainable process?

The long sleeve Umi Surf Suit is part of Seea’s new Generations

For us, as surfers, making choices that protect the valuable resources of clean water, land, and air is simply the right thing to do.

In the case of packaging, we focused on solutions that reduced our single use plastic bag waste. As we grow, it is necessary and logical that we think more responsibly at how we do business. We want to make an awesome product and contribute to slow, human-scaled economic growth with as little impact to our planet – our playground – as possible.

Talk about the specifics of working with Patagonia to source Yulex and how you will specifically apply that to Seea’s production?

Seea’s recycled packaging proves that sustainable and aesthetically pleasing go hand-in-hand.

We’ve made small runs of neoprene (a jacket, shorts, pants and a few spring suits) that were sewn locally, but we were limited on certain technical capabilities and wanted to expand this category.

We met with Hub Hubbard, the product developer at Patagonia’s headquarters in Ventura and he explained all the specifics of Yulex, answered our questions, introduced us to the CEO of Yulex, and gave us a roll of sample fabric.

There are other neoprene alternatives that claim to be sustainable – for example limestone – and he shared a huge amount of knowledge about the way Yulex is made and why.

The fact that it is not just sourcing natural rubber but also FSC-certified plantations that don’t contribute to deforestation, and the lower carbon footprint in the production process-these details made us confident it was the right material for us.

There were definitely many rounds of development to work with this new material. Yulex stretches and reacts differently than the neoprene we used previously so the patterns had to be adjusted several times to get the fit right.

Manufacturers are usually really private about their sources but we’ve found the community of manufacturers who use sustainable options to be the opposite. Like we mentioned before, Danny Clayton introduced us to her biodegradable bag supplier, and companies that have discovered sustainable alternatives have been happy to share their solutions that work towards the bigger picture of manufacturing responsibly.

How do you hope to build upon the sustainability program in the future? What other ideas or changes do you have brewing?

Seea’s Kiki One Piece. Photo: Luki O’Keefe

Now that we know what resources are available, we design with those in mind. When we research new fabrics, we look for fabrics that are recycled from other fibers or naturally derived.

The biggest item on our wishlist is to replace our textured fabrics and C-Skin fabric (a heavier knitted polyester that feels like 0.5mm, is breathable and molds to the body really well) with a recycled fiber. Both of these are made with virgin fibers. We’ve been talking to our fabric vendors about recycled polyester or recycled nylon yarn options for the future.

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