The mission of Undersea Wear, the joint project of Móni Tóth and Szandra Szomolányi, is to protect the environment. In addition to the swimsuits that they make from ocean waste, they use a range of tools to raise awareness of the serious problems. This time we talked about the guiding principles of the brand, the “greening” of the fashion industry and social participation.
Two Hungarian women are setting up a bikini brand on a Spanish island, using sustainable materials to raise awareness of environmental protection. Sounds like a short summary of a motivational book at first, but what is your actual story? How was Undersea Wear born?
We’re both lovers of nature, which also means we love to travel. Usually, we don’t target the big cities, but rather the peripheral areas, which can be discovered while still intact. However, in recent years, we have found ourselves increasingly in a situation where we are faced with the fact that these hidden paradises are also flooded with garbage, and the ocean is bringing more and more waste ashore every day. Since we also love scuba diving, we are experiencing more and more sad things underwater. Seeing these things with our own eyes is always a very heartbreaking experience, but thanks to these, we’ve been doing more and more research. Acidification of the oceans, bleaching coral reefs, oceanic noise pollution, overfishing and more. So our primary goal, when we created the brand, was to promote environmental protection, raise people’s awareness and direct them to various problems, and inform them. Undersea Wear gives us a perfect platform for this, as we try to convey these messages in a digestible and easy way.
Nowadays, sustainability is especially important and fortunately, it is increasingly over-represented in the fashion industry. What’s your experience, is it worth it for a brand to go “greener”? What are the negative and positive returns of developing a conscious concept?
It is an interesting question whether it is worth greening the fashion industry, because if we mean a simple monetary profit, then the answer is not so clear, because recycled materials, fair trade production methods, carbon-neutral delivery, etc. are all more expensive than conventional solutions that leave a larger ecological footprint. However, once we include ecological aspects and the benefits of reducing our footprint, for example in the protection of marine life or the human rights of workers, it is clearly worth it. Of course, in addition to monetary costs, this takes a lot of energy, as we constantly try to develop our products with the latest, most ideal, least polluting materials and technologies, so that the best possible quality can be combined with the lowest possible ecological footprint. In terms of the final result, it is important to emphasize that, as a result, our products are of good quality and have a longer lifespan. So I think it is the duty of an environmentally conscious brand to sometimes enforce sustainability criteria at the expense of the highest economic profit because only through such decisions can a more sustainable fashion industry emerge. In the case of Undersea, this is how we do it from the beginning.
In addition to the conscious use of materials, you use diverse and distinctive visual elements in your collections. What inspires you during the design processes?
We dream up our own swimsuits and it is important for us to create comfortable, simple but still special, unique pieces that make the wearer stand out from the crowd. After all, this is also the message of Undersea, so we try to make it felt with shapes and colors. We are primarily inspired by the diversity of nature, which we combine with current trends. Each year, we choose a specific theme and build the collection around it. In addition, we have a special set of swimwear in each of our collections, which is always inspired by the color or even the texture of the skin of a particular protected marine organism to draw attention to the problem.
Instead of just building a one-sided relationship with your customers, you are building a community—this is felt on your social media platforms, your campaigns, and your educational blog. Last time, you were in a pop-up store, where the customers could meet you. Why is this important to you?
The reason why we put so much emphasis on building and educating our own small community is that we believe the first step towards transforming the fashion industry is to change the way customers think. If the demand for such products increases greatly, such as ours, and at the same time it becomes important for people to be transparent or to present different body types, for example, then the major fast fashion brands will simply have no other choice. We can already see the beginning of this process. In addition, we want to make sure that we are not seen as a brand, but rather as a movement that has real people behind it, who they can meet, talk to, ask questions or even ask advice.
Speaking of your body positivity campaign, do you think a swimsuit brand can influence socially desired body images?
Today, a brand that considers itself sustainable needs to think about sustainability in a complex way, which includes social engagement. As a swimsuit brand, we come into contact every day with women who are constantly struggling to accept their own bodies, and this affects many areas of their lives. In today’s world, women are more exposed to this, because we know what unrealistic images social media puts in front of us. We listen to this feedback on how they would feel more comfortable, and we constantly watch and let them shape the brand.
What are your plans for the future? How do you see the brand in five years?
We are currently working on opening our first store and the goal is to set it up this year. This would be a very important milestone in the brand’s life, and since we would like to open the store in Fuerteventura, the Canary Islands, it would significantly strengthen the presence of Undersea in the international market.