It’s long been a dream of the Patagonia wetsuit skunk works to develop a neoprene-free wetsuit that’s as good for the planet as it is for surfing. This fall, after nearly five years in development, they released a fleet of suits made with Yulex biorubber that comes pretty damn close.
“Switching to natural rubber reduces the CO2 emissions from one wetsuit by up to 80%,” explains Patagonia.
In terms of performance, their newly released Yulex fullsuits are reportedly 20% more stretchy while also being 5% lighter than their previous suits.
“These suits were designed with performance, simplicity, repairability, and recyclability as the focus,” reads a statement from Patagonia.
Paying special attention to the shoulder area, they’ve updated the interior lining of the suit for additional wearability. And when it comes to the tapping on the seams, in 2016 Patagonia moved to rubber tape from hevea trees to cut down on CO₂ emissions. They partnered with the Forest Stewardship Council to ensure that the rubber they were sourcing came from plantations that preserve biodiversity and ecological integrity. They also use a water-based glue for a cleaner manufacturing process.
Another big update in Patagonia’s newest fleet of suits is that they’ve also been designed to be easier to repair. And when a suit’s finally worn out, they are able to be recycled into other products. Patagonia’s done a great job building wetsuit repair into what they do, and this fall they traversed the East and West Coasts on their Wetsuit Repair Tour, where they showed up to finer surf shops to offer repairs suits by any brand (but Patagonia’s repair facility only accepts Patagonia suits). These repairs also factor into the new line of suits that are being offered. It’s all about not being afraid to test and learn to make a better, more sustainable product.
“Patagonia’s onsite wetsuit repair and design teams compared notes, removed seams from high tension zones and modified the most commonly repaired areas,” explains the company. “All Patagonia wetsuits can be repaired in Ventura, California, and when it is at the end of its life, it can now be recycled into new Patagonia wetsuits and packs.”
Patagonia has partnered with Yulex to create a plant-based rubber from the guayule tree. Grown in Guatemala, this "biorubber" is considered a renewable non-food crop and can be grown without pesticides and requires little water, ultimately making it an environmentally clearer product than the traditional neoprene that is used in most wetsuits.
Hoping to get other brands on board, Patagonia and Yulex have made the eco-tech available to the rest of the surf industry.
“Yulex natural rubber has also been shared with the wetsuit industry at large, hoping it will eventually spread beyond Patagonia and into the wetsuits of every major player in surf,” the company explains. “Patagonia has urged these other brands to adopt Yulex in hopes to lessen the dependency on neoprene in the industry.”
To date, surf brands Billabong, needessentials, Seea, Finisterre and SRFACE have all adopted it in one form or another.
Making a better, cleaner wetsuit is no easy feat, but thankfully the folks at Patagonia are up the task and doing a heck of a job.
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