Inspired by their ocean-dwelling days and their love of mother nature, Emma Bäcklund and Jen Sharpe share more than just their passion for environmental protection. They understand the value of good quality surf-wear, and they're on a mission to re-establish what living on the coast for women is really about - surf, run and play.
Their Australian-based label, U&I, fills the gap between the uninspiring triangle and forgotten function, and their values are just as strong as their long-lasting quality swimwear.
Emma and Jen certainly took some hits amongst the chaos of covid, but listening to their positive outlook and their reflections of 2020 make it pretty clear; it'll take more than a year like last year to force Emma and Jen to dry out their swimwear for good...
How did 2020 impact business and the way you work?
2020 saw a snowball effect of change for U&I, from closing down the Torquay studio due to Covid, to one of our founders moving on. However, with this change has come opportunity and the next chapter of U&I has begun with a partnership of two passionate surfing mums who are on a mission to create women’s surf culture and positive change. The best part? Our business is now based in two iconic surf locations – Bells Beach and Noosa!
We've learnt the importance of slowing down and we've learnt how to run a business through Zoom calls. You really can work from anywhere together as long as you have a shared value and vision. We have shifted our focus more to online retail by launching a new website alongside our latest collection – the Merlot Edit.
What was the most important lesson you learnt in 2020 and how has it shaped your brand moving forward?
We learnt that there were many things we as a society took for granted until now including travel. Both of us have family overseas (in Sweden and Canada), so this is certainly been very hard for us with trips cancelled and missing out on seeing loved ones.
On a positive note, we think that Covid has really helped promote localism and it helped to shine a spotlight on the importance of community. We've seen small businesses in both our local communities across many industries support each other more than ever. We believe these local micro-economies are extremely important and even the answer to a more sustainable future for us all, and we're excited to be a part of this.
What ethical commitments are you making for 2021?
We're much more than your average swimwear label. We're passionate environmentalists whose goal is to untie water women across the globe to help protect our coastal playgrounds. We will continue to be involved in activism projects and initiatives including Surfers for Climate and Surfrider Foundation.
We are committed to continuing to make our limited collection runs in Australia or alternatively through a Fair Trade Certified factory overseas. We want to provide full transparency around our supply chain, and also to tell the story around our makers.
What sustainability commitments are you making for 2021?
In line with our values, in 2018 we made the switch to using 100% regenerated nylon from post-consumer waste including ghost fishing nets and discarded ocean plastics. In 2021 we continue to be committed to only using this in our swimwear, and our online orders come in recyclable or compostable packaging too. We've also made a start on our very first 'Bed to Beach' apparel collection (exciting!) and we're only exploring sustainable materials or dead-stock fabrics.
How are you changing the fashion industry for the better?
We are committed to slow fashion, limited run collections, and only using sustainable fabrics. We want to be part of the change – it’s the only reason we're in business! We're currently exploring a ‘made to order’ model for our apparel with pieces that seamlessly transition from bed to beach to everyday wear. Our ethos is that less is always more for our ocean dwelling community, if you have the right swim and fashion to get you through your day.
Make ethical choices for a better fashion future and shop the full U&I LABEL surf and swim range here.
The Fashion Advocate x