For fashion designers, sustainability can be an Achilles Heel. Over the last few seasons, we’ve seen brands attempt to transition to eco-friendly, losing any semblance of style along the way. Think of green fashion and you get hemp, flax and TOMS—they’re less destructive on the environment, and they’re also ugly as sin.
But LA-based swimwear designer, Skatie Noyes, has figured out a way to solve the sustainability problem. With her eponymous line, Skatie, the designer sources surplus fabrics and recycled materials to craft dreamy swimwear that doesn’t hurt the environment or your wallet. Only two months old, the brand has already started making a name for itself, paving the way for an eco-friendly, fashion-forward future.
A Midwestern surfer girl, Noyes knows swimwear, having spent most of her life wearing it. That experience, and a lifelong fascination with California give Skatie suits functionality and an effortless spirit, made in LA—swimwear for the socially conscious. With an understanding of the harmful processes permeating the fashion industry, Noyes has created a model that greatly decreases the brand’s carbon footprint, while also producing designs any girl can afford, and would love to wear.
BULLETT called Skatie to learn more about one of this year’s most exciting brands.
How did you get into fashion and designing swimwear?
I grew up in Chicago, on the beach, but I definitely always wanted to live in California. […] I’ve been surfing since I was 10, and I always wanted to have a brand that embodied the California lifestyle. My grandma taught me to sew when I was 7 and I just always knew I was going to do this. I’ve always made my own stuff, and I still surf 5 days a week, so being in a bikini is big part of my life. I started designing for other people before I launched my own line, and I worked for this line called Gypsy 05 in LA. It was amazing stuff, but it was really expensive, and I realized not so many people can afford that. So I started playing with the idea of using surplus fabrics. I like the idea of reaching people who can’t afford to spend $200 on a bikini—kids in the Midwest whose only other option is Target or Forever21.
What is your design process?
When I was designing at Gypsy, I knew a bunch of other designers in the industry, and I was super disheartened when I realized how much waste was happening. We had a warehouse literally full of hundreds and hundreds of yards of the most amazing unused fabrics, that because it was last season’s prints or color-way, we would never use it again. I started realizing that was a trend—there’s all this amazing fabric just sitting around. So I reached out to a bunch of other swimwear designers in the industry and asked them about buying surplus fabrics. There’s three designers who have worked with me that have been amazing—Mara Hoffman, Lolli Swimwear and Beach Riot—but some brands won’t work with me. I’ve approached them and they’ve said, ‘Hell no you can’t have our prints. We’d rather burn them.’ And that’s the problem with the industry. It’s sad that there are 20 billion tons of textiles going into landfills every year and it’s completely pointless. I really believe I can make something out of anything.
Do you strictly use surplus fabric?
I have my surplus fabric and then there’s a textile company in Italy that has created the first ever sustainable swimwear fabric, which takes recycled yarn and makes it into a new, amazingly soft swimwear textile. So I do half of my line out of 100% surplus and everything else is recycled. People don’t realize that nylon and spandex are the harshest and worst on the environment, and that’s what swimwear is made out of. So any way to get around that is huge.
How would you describe your brand?
We’re swimwear and bikinis that are fun, timeless and effortless, but that are affordable and that aren’t going to be trend-driven—I have no interest in being a trendy designer. I’d like to think the stuff I make is more iconic and fun, and light hearted, and it’s really most important for me to design for everyone—I’m never designing just for one type of girl. My goal is to prove that responsible can be beautiful and you can make something out of anything.
Besides sustainability, what is important to you as a designer?
My mission is sustainability in the fabric and cutting down on wastage, but I also make everything locally and source everything locally as much as I can. People who are manufacturing in China and Indonesia—they don’t understand how terrible the working conditions are for the people making their fabrics. I have personal relationships with the women who are hand-sewing all of my bikinis—I know the conditions they’re working in. It’s easy for designers when they want stuff done faster and in larger quantities to turn a blind eye, when there’s literally children who are 12 working in these factories in China. Being local, being made in California, is really important to me, and I definitely think I have something to say as a designer.
How do you make sure your designs are unique when using the same fabric as other swimwear brands?
In a way, I’m lucky getting the fabric I do because it helps lead the design process. Usually when I see the fabric, that dictates the designs I want to go with. But I also look at what people are buying. I read a lot of fit reviews and read what people like and don’t like about the fit of bikinis, and try to design from the perspective of what people actually want to wear, and I look at what everyone around me surfs in. Honestly, you can do a lot with a tiny little piece of fabric.
How do you find a balance between functionality and sustainability, while also maintaining a level of sexiness?
As a designer, and as a surfer, I naturally think about functionality and how it looks, always. When I started my line, I developed 22 styles and literally took every single one out and surfed in it—that’s how I made sure they worked. If they weren’t functional or weren’t right, I didn’t put them in. Even the material I use—there are so many brands out there and they’re made by people who have no idea what a bikini actually needs to be. I don’t think there are that many lines who do swimwear, that actually have a background like me—that understand why bikinis fit well and what they need to actually do in the water.
Who is the Skatie customer?
My girl is someone who cares about style, but wants to have fun—my bikinis aren’t for a girl who lounges by the pool all day, sipping cocktails. I mean, yeah, of course you can do that, but my girl is someone who gets in the water, goes on adventures, but wants to look fucking cute. She’s anyone, really—anyone who is interested in having fun and wants to live an outdoor lifestyle, but who cares about the environment, because ultimately, people who are going to care about what I’m doing, are the girls who give a shit. It’s easy for people to bury their heads in the sand and not care about this stuff. It’s really important to me to make an impact on the industry and create positive change—and have an awesome brand while doing that.