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Tailors of sunshine

Have Riz Smith and Ali Murrell created the world’s most sustainable swim shorts?
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Tailors of sunshine

This article first appeared in our Health Revolution issue of My Green Pod Magazine, distributed with The Guardian on 24 July 2020. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox

In 2009, eight years before Blue Planet II hit our screens, ocean plastic and its devastating effects were still far from most people’s minds.

That was the year Riz Smith and Ali Murrell, school friends since the age of four, set out to create ‘the most beautiful and sustainable swim shorts in the world’, using recycled fabrics to create shorts that are made to last.

Tackling ocean plastic

Riz started his career designing men’s swimwear and beach shorts for big brands, where ‘everything was about profit’. Ali had a degree in natural sciences and worked in finance.

‘We were both disillusioned with big business’, Riz tells us. ‘We came together in 2009 with a simple mission to build a small, honest beach shorts company. Ali was a sailor and I was a surfer, so it seemed only natural to want to build a product that had a positive impact on the environment we both love so much.’

Riz had discovered recycled polyester fabric, made from recycled bottles, years before Shorts for Life launched, but back then hardly anyone was using it.

‘This was how we started’, Riz explains. ‘A few years later, Ali sailed across the Pacific and saw firsthand the effects of plastic pollution. As the company organically evolved, we realised the opportunity and responsibility for a brand like ours to support a plastic-free movement.’

The impacts of fast fashion

Most mainstream swimwear is designed using virgin synthetic materials made from plastics. They are made cheaply, follow the frantic pulse of fast fashion and are often seen as disposable, lasting just long enough for your holiday.

‘We believe all swimwear makers should use recycled fabrics’, Riz tells us, ‘to help stop the demand for virgin plastic materials. Any clothes that are not designed to last or cannot be recycled are surely unsustainable.’

According to Riz, it’s extremely easy – and also not that much more expensive – to source recycled and recyclable fabrics for swimwear.
‘Even over 10 years ago, when we discovered recycled materials, they weren’t that expensive’, Riz tells us. ‘It goes to show how obsessed people are with saving a tiny piece of margin – plus how little people understand or care about the impacts of what they are creating.’

Tailored surfwear

As the name suggests, Shorts for Life are made to last, and they look just as at home in the city as they do on the beach.

The brand’s look and feel was inspired by London – influenced by Savile Row, tailoring and traditional menswear. ‘It’s this contradiction between surfwear and tailoring that we like’, Riz says. ‘Living in London, our shorts were also born from the need to escape to the beach. They were created to take you between the streets and the sea – just one pair for both dinners and dives.’

A talented group of artists and illustrators creates the designs; they are people Riz and Ali have ‘met along the way’, and who have a style and character that suits the company’s ‘British-Aloha’ vibe.

‘The aim for the prints is to inspire a greater understanding and appreciation of the natural world’, Riz explains, ‘so we are drawn to artists who can tell stories through print.’

To inspire a deeper connection with the sea, Riz and Ali have for many years worked with the Marine Conservation Society, donating £1 from the sale of each pair of shorts and sharing the charity’s cause with their customers.

Free repair service

Earth-friendly inks are used to print the designs, which makes the colours even more vibrant. ‘We use a process called sublimation print or digital printing’, Riz explains. ‘The pattern is fused into the actual fibres, so the print won’t fade and is super rich.’

The fabric is really tough and the shorts are triple-stitched for strength. Riz admits it’s hard to know exactly how long a pair of Shorts for Life lasts, as nearly all the shorts people own are still doing fine. A free repair service is available for issues such as lost buttons or tiny rips.

Do one thing

Riz and Ali have also created the Rizcycle programme ‘to keep the vibe alive’. ‘The idea is to extend the life of our shorts for as long as possible’, Riz tells us. ‘If and when a customer’s journey with the shorts comes to an end, or they don’t fit any more, the shorts can be returned and we will give a discount for the next pair. We are in the process of setting up a new section on the website to resell worn, pre-loved shorts. Styles that are totally worn out can be recycled.’

So what’s next for Riz Boardshorts? ‘We only make shorts. That’s it’, Riz says. ‘It would be great if that’s all we continue to do – always getting better at doing this one thing: helping people connect to the beach. With the world sinking in ‘stuff’, it would be great to work more on how design can have a positive impact on people and the planet. The future is circular, so watch this space.’

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