Sustainable swimwear can't save the world - but it's a good place to start

Kvinde iført badetøj fra Copenhagen Cartel

How do you get the idea to make sustainable bikinis? How does it help the climate? Copenhagen Cartel's founder and CEO, Katrine Lee Larsen, tells how a year in Bali was decisive for her, how she found her own way into the climate fight, and how a bikini can clean the world's oceans.

Imagine you are on the paradise island of Bali. The sun warms your skin. The palm trees sway in the breeze and the ice cold drinks do their best to cool you down. It's just not quite enough, so you decide to jump into the cool blue sea. You jump in and the cold water pushes the heat away for a while.

It is wonderful.

But when you come back up to the surface, you've had a little more than just a relaxing dip. You've also got a long piece of plastic wrapped around your arm, a six-pack holder in your hair, and straws between your toes.

Doesn't sound very delicious, does it? Nevertheless, that's what happened to Katrine Lee Larsen every time she took a dip in the seas around Bali.

"I think most people know the beautiful pictures from Bali with green palm trees, white sand and azure waves. But there is a flip side that tourists usually don't see. I experienced it with my own eyes during the year I lived in Bali. The monsoon rains, combined with Bali's location, make the island a "natural" dumping ground for the rest of the world's plastic waste," says Katrine Lee Larsen, founder and CEO of Copenhagen Cartel.

She continues:

“I didn't realize how massive the amount of plastic was in the oceans until I came to Bali. Therefore, it was totally unnatural for me to see this beautiful paradise island, the Island of the Gods, covered in huge amounts of garbage. The fact that it came washing in from the sea made it all the worse. It cut my heart. When I researched the matter, and opened my eyes to how destructive plastic is to our world's oceans, their animal and plant life, and also to people and the climate, I just knew there was no turning back for me. I had to contribute to the change.”

The world's oceans are in crisis

Every year around 8 million tons of waste in the world's oceans. This is the equivalent of a truck full of plastic being dumped into the sea every minute. Plastic in the ocean is a serious threat to marine wildlife, plant life and entire ecosystems. 

The plastic is broken down into smaller pieces, which look confusingly like the natural food of many marine animals. In addition, special fishing gear and fishing nets that have been dumped into the sea pose a great danger. Every year stray fishing nets catch millions of sea animals, including sharks, rays, bony fish, turtles, dolphins, whales, crustaceans and birds. 

“When I first delved into the knowledge and research that exists about marine plastic, it was just before I gave up again. The problem is so huge that it can easily seem like no matter what you do, it will never make a difference. But it doesn't fit. Everything makes a difference in some way. It dawned on me when I first got deeper into the industry and met many other sustainable enthusiasts. It gave me back my optimism, and then I found my own way into it," says Katrine.

From waste to wear

In the end, the fishing nets became Katrine's opening into the ocean's climate battle.

Most modern fishing nets are made of nylon and other plastic components, which make them extremely durable. Precisely because of this, the nets can drift around for years, carried by the ocean currents, where they catch and kill marine animals in their path. On the other hand, the nets are ideal for recycling.

“The process of making brand new nylon is really bad for the planet. It requires coal, crude oil, natural gas and huge amounts of water. By recycling old nylon fishing nets, we save all the components required for a completely new production, we save on water and energy and at the same time contribute to cleaning the oceans of the dangerous nets," says Katrine.

A circular concept

Katrine says that her insight into the plastic problems made it important for her to create a brand that contributed to the green agenda - also in addition to the traditional value chain.

Therefore, Copenhagen Cartel's founder is concerned with finding new methods for sustainable production, enters into collaborations with leading environmental NGOs, contributes to knowledge and educational materials, donates parts of his profits, and initiates partnerships with other companies that support the climate-friendly agenda.

It may seem like a lot of work to create a sustainable bikini brand, but for Katrine it is precisely the essence of her mission. 

“My purpose is to create real change. If we are to save the sea and the climate, we will both have to clean up after ourselves, but we must also change the way we do things. We will have to stop the problem at the source," says Katrine and continues:

"That's why I work on two tracks. One that is about changing the way we produce and what we produce. The second track is about changing our behavior and the need to make demands on the products and manufacturers we support. Bikinis are my license to talk, but ultimately I really want to raise awareness about the problems in the ocean. So it may well be that swimwear cannot save the world's oceans. But I think Copenhagen Cartel proves that it is a good place to start.”

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