Is it possible to manufacture wetsuits without using neoprene? This petrochemical-derived synthetic rubber has been the main component of surf and dive wetsuits since the early 1950s. But the energy-intensive manufacturing process makes it very environmentally damaging.
Patagonia decided to take up the challenge, partnering with natural rubber manufacturer Yulex to develop a renewable, plant-based replacement for neoprene. They didn’t want to use hevea—the world’s main source of natural rubber—because of its association with deforestation in developing countries. But when they discovered certified hevea plantations in Guatemala, they changed course and started producing neoprene-free wetsuits from this source in the fall 2016.
According to the manufacturer, the suits are warm, light and fast-drying. Prices range from $169 to $529, depending on model.