Riz Boardshorts: Recycled fabric from the ocean, for the ocean
This London-based boardshorts label are taking plastic waste from places like the Thames to create a recycled material for their shorts
Since encountering Riz Boardshorts we were instantly inspired by their gutsy yet artfully illustrated prints. There aren’t many boardshorts that can look this good as well as do good for the environment. Co-founders and friends Riz Smith and Ali Murrell have been working with recycled materials since they launched the label in 2009—conscious of their environmental impact and wanting to extend their love of the ocean into their product. We caught up with Riz himself in their studio to find out exactly how two guys in the middle of London started a surfwear brand.
What is the ethos behind Riz Boardshorts?
The ethos behind the brand has always been to design ‘the most beautiful and environmental boardshorts in the world’. By only producing one product, men’s swim shorts, it has allowed us to perfect one thing. This pursuit of perfection is part of our ethos. What we’ve realised along the journey is that perhaps a brand can also inspire positive change—both a greater appreciation for the natural world and also a shift in consumer behaviour.
What inspired you to get involved in the fashion industry? Tell us a little bit about your personal journey and what lead you to start your own label.
I went to a really traditional all-boys school and was the only person to go to art college. I knew I wanted to do something really creative and just found fashion came naturally—which is not that common for a guy, and so I thought it was exciting. At the time I was inspired by what brands like Paul Smith were doing for menswear and thought I could do something similar.
However, after university, a shift in fate meant that I cut my teeth designing for large swimwear and surf brands, designing boardshorts, swimwear and sportswear stuff. Here I learnt the global beachwear market. It was generally either young, adrenaline-fuelled boardshorts in crazy prints, elasticated ‘dad’ style shorts, or short, shiny, fashionista swim shorts. The idea for Riz came from a need. I was disillusioned by the creativity of big brands, how they did business and saw a gap for something better. So I decided to build a small, honest brand fusing creative menswear, swimwear and sustainability into a single product I could handle.
How did you go about selecting where you would manufacture?
Anyone who has ever tried to source a relevant manufacturer will tell you how hard it is; it’s like a dark art. We tried various dead-end routes until we were recommended a small factory in Portugal via a friend. We originally wanted to manufacture in England but couldn’t find the right price and quality. We’ve now been using the same factory in Portugal ever since we started five years ago, deepening the relationship and strengthening our product. We print all our fabric digitally in England where we also have a good relationship and strong local, creative control. Validating the ethical practices is definitely an ongoing process, but one we find comes much easier if you work with smaller, transparent sources.
What is the basic process behind designing your prints and styles?
For men, wearing boardshorts and swim shorts has always been a place where you can get away with wearing colour and print. A little like a tie. However, being a British brand we didn’t want to use tropical prints. It’s been really fun to give everything a British twist, I suppose you could call our style ‘British-Aloha’, or British-Hawaiian style. At the moment we work with a small collective of artists and illustrators to come up with unique prints that convey this style. It is here we incorporate themes of endangered fish, flowers and insects that we hope will foster awareness and inspire appreciation for the natural world around us.
You are currently working to develop a new ocean plastic fabric and have recently launched ‘Bottles for Boardshorts’. Can you tell us about the materials you use for your shorts?
We currently make all our swim shorts from recycled polyester which is made from recycled plastic bottles. It’s a really durable yet comfortable fabric with a peached face and satin back. It’s hard to imagine when you feel the softness and drape of the fabric that it is in fact plastic. With the rise of plastics in our oceans however and the simple fact that our shorts are made from plastic and designed to be worn in the oceans, we feel it makes poetic sense to use these very plastic bottles found on beach cleans to make our own material. Not only do we get to help protect what we love, but in turn create a positive solution from a plastic problem.
So this is also why we launched our #Bottlestoboardshorts project. We are still in the collecting stages of plastic bottles, and because we are based in London, we are currently focussing on a lot of beach-cleans along the Thames. Not only is this easier for us to get to, it also stems the problem closer to the source, stopping the bottles from drifting out into the sea.
Another important factor for creating our own fabric is to create a provenance on the material. By tracking where the plastic bottles are collected, we know exactly where the eventual yarn has comes from.
By taking donations of old swimwear from customers, you are working to create a perpetual loop that transforms these into new products. Can you tell us how this works and what inspired this movement?
We call this idea ‘Rizcycling’. It came from the fact that our shorts are essentially made from plastic and that they will never degrade. The inspiration was ‘think end of life at beginning of life.’ We don’t want our shorts ending up just lying in someone’s cupboard, ending up in landfill or worse, our oceans. And so we ask our customers to send back their shorts, when eventually worn out, in return for a 25% discount off a new pair; fostering a more sustainable 360-degree process. The worn out shorts can be sent back to the fabric manufacturer, the fabric is then broken down and turned back into other forms of plastic products, giving another life and another form. At present we haven’t had a huge amount of shorts returned back to us—hopefully because of the fact that they last ages and people are still enjoying them! The shorts that get returned to us in good-quality we will eventually re-sell (or Rizsell) as this is the most sustainable thing to do, keeping things alive!
Considering you’re located in London, what has the response been like to a surfwear brand?
I actually love the irony of designing boardshorts in the pouring rain in London. It’s quite honest. People here travel all the time to escape the weather. It’s as if the shorts are a metaphor for summer, hence why we use the tagline ‘It’s Always Summer Somewhere.’
We definitely aren’t trying to align ourselves with the British surf culture, instead focussing on a passion for style, sustainability and our love for the sea—these elements people get and respond well to.
You are doing some great work to spread the word about ocean pollution and endangered species. Can you talk about your partnerships with ocean and environmental charities?
Our main partnership is with the UK based charity Marine Conservation Society. At present £1 from the sale of every pair of shorts goes directly towards their fantastic efforts. We’re helping them with beach cleans and are in the process of developing a reusable water bottle with them. We are also currently looking for shared ambassadors that depict both our visions to help spread the word even further.
Do you have any advice for people who are wishing to make more conscious lifestyle choices?
I think the key word here is ‘conscious’. Being more conscious of our choices is a great place to start! Most of us consume through habit, being victims of marketing and social pressure. A lot of it is common sense though—do I need this, do I love this, or do I just think I want this? In our overly saturated consumer society and digital lives, I’m a believer of ‘less but better’.
What are your top tips for people wishing to shop more ethically and sustainably? What are the most important aspects to be looking out for?
I’d say a good place to start is to only buy things you love and that will last. This is the most sustainable practice—long-lasting clothes are better for the environment. When choosing your clothes, do lots of research. Try and choose brands with transparency and honesty. Always go organic, and recycled for synthetics. Another great approach is to buy second hand—whether from markets or eBay etc. Reusing; recycling; keeping clothes alive. Considering how many millions of garments are produced each year and how little fashion moves on, there’s enough out there to keep us going for ages!