When we launched this sustainable brand last year (2022) we were one might say - rookies. Sure, we had spent several years in preparation, sourcing an incredible new generation sustainable fabric, made from recycled plastic bottles from the ocean, making sure our business model was as sustainable as physically possible, working endless hours sampling, shooting the product lines and literally using all our creative and entrepreneurial skills to set up this new generation brand. What we weren’t prepared for was the extent of the hard facts of ocean pollution. The continual knowledge that we gathered during our journey was heart breaking and continues to astound us – for all the wrong reasons.

We live on an island in the British Isles, we recycle, we were conscious of ocean pollution, we helped clean up local beaches, but we underestimated the story. There was growing frustration in our small team at the lack of change in our society and how much work there is to do with regards to ocean pollution.

 As we continued to educate ourselves, following Instagram accounts such as UN OLA, UN World Oceans Day, Plastic Soup and many more incredible digital voices helping to make change, we realised that only together, as one society can we make change. It’s a colossal job, with governments, NGO’s doing their bit but frankly it’s not enough. So as a brand, we can do our bit, to help share our growing knowledge, share the words of the experts and activists and through HartiSWIM’s art and evolution, help make change.

How do we do that? Well we believe that no demographic, no matter how invested they are in climate change, wants to be bombarded by continual messaging about ocean pollution. So it needs to be part of our brands narrative on our social media. It needs to be discussed in the office, on photoshoots, with everyone and each other, with retailers and with our families. It needs to be part of our brands DNA. It’s just what we talk about when we are not talking about styles and art.

We need to share knowledge and hard facts. For example I bet you didn’t know that the world’s oceans are polluted by a ‘plastic smog’ made up of an estimated 171 trillion plastic particles that if gathered would weigh around 2.3 million tons, according to a new study from the University of Auckland.

A team of international scientists analysed global data collected between 1979 and 2019 from nearly 12,000 sampling points in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans and the Mediterranean Sea.

They found a “rapid and unprecedented” increase in ocean plastic pollution since 2005, according to the study published recently in the journal PLOS ONE.

Without urgent policy action, the rate at which plastics enter the oceans could increase by around 2.6 times between now and 2040, the study found.

Plastic production has soared in the last few decades, especially single use plastics, and waste management systems have not kept pace. Only around 9% of global plastics are recycled each year.

Huge amounts of that plastic waste end up in the oceans. The majority comes from land,  swept into rivers – by rain, wind, overflowing storm drains and littering – and transported out to sea. A smaller but still significant amount, such as fishing gear, is lost or simply dumped into the ocean.

Once plastic gets into the ocean, it doesn’t decompose but instead tends to break down into tiny pieces. These particles are really not easily cleaned up, we’re stuck with them.

Marine life can get entangled in plastic or mistake it for food. Plastic can also leach toxic chemicals into the water. 

And it isn’t just an environmental disaster; plastic is also a  huge climate problem. Fossil fuels are the raw ingredient for most plastics, and they produce planet-heating pollution throughout their lifecycle – from production to disposal. 

Figuring out exactly how much plastic is in the ocean is a hard exercise. The ocean is a complex place. There are lots of ocean currents, there are changes over time due to weather and due to conditions on the ground. 

Most of the study’s samples were collected in the North Pacific and North Atlantic, where the majority of data exists. The study authors say more data is still needed for areas including the Mediterranean Sea, Indian Ocean and the South Atlantic and South Pacific. 

Since the 1970s, there has been a slew of agreements aimed at stemming the tide of plastic pollution reaching the ocean, yet they are mostly voluntary, fragmented and rarely include measurable targets, the study noted. 

The study authors call for urgent international policy intervention.

The United Nations has agreed to create a legally binding global plastics treaty by 2024, which would address the whole life of plastics from production to disposal. But big divisions remain over whether this should include cuts in plastic manufacturing, which is predicted to quadruple by 2050.

Many people feel that the only real solution are policies that reduce the amount of plastic produced in the first place. There are so many plastic and petrochemical companies making it impossible to curb the amount of plastic contaminating our oceans so perhaps if they won’t stop, the challenge then falls on the consumers to stop buying them? We know that plastic just doesn’t end up in our oceans, but our air, soil, food and bodies.

So why are people not scared or taking more action? I don’t have the answer to that but I know that HartiSWIM can change our own future by merely changing our attitude! In fact we all can. By casting our voices across these waters, perhaps we can help make ripples.

By Tessa Hartmann CBE, Founder & Creative Director HartiSWIM