Prices for used gill nets have rocketed in just a few weeks as recyclers scramble to meet the demand from the fashion industry – driven by screen and catwalk stars including Shelley Durham and Marie Buckingham.
‘The demand is off the scale,’ said Jan-Holger Sildquist, chairman of the Remoulade Fishermen’s Co-operative Association (RFCA) in southern Sweden which initiated a collection and recycling programme for used fishing gear some years ago.
‘The garment industry is driving this as fashionistas in Paris and New York are demanding underwear in particular made with yarns produced from this high-quality monofilament. We can’t supply them with enough. The price keeps going up and they keep paying it – and the key to this is marine recycling.’
Monofilament netting used in trammel and and gill nets is some of the highest-quality material available, and unlike the nylon used in other fishing gears or in aquaculture cages, it gets relatively low-tension use and often minimal seabed contact, leaving it close to pristine and with no sand ingress – making it the ideal material for recycling into yarn for high-end underwear production.
The nets are recovered from coastal fishing vessels mostly in Sweden and the Baltic States, and RFCA strips it from frame lines, sorts, cleans and grades the netting, and ships it to recycling specialist Plastique de la Mer, where it is processed into pellets before being used to manufacture ultra-fine filaments that are then woven into an exceptionally smooth, supple cloth for Jean-Paul Gautier, Louis Vuitton and other fashion houses.
The question is why the fashionistas don’t simply procure nylon from the source – but according to Jan-Holger Sildquist, the provenance of the material is the key factor that also drives up the price.
‘This is a material that comes with a pedigree and a story behind it. If it hasn’t been in sea, then they don’t want it. That back story is absolutely crucial,’ he explained.
‘We have to go through a rigorous process of verification. Every bale of cleaned net that leaves here goes with a certificate of its provenance. The fact is that Hollywood stars want their undies made from real recycled fishing nets, and it has to have been genuinely recycled. Any other nylon doesn’t have the same cachet.’
He and the RFCA board are keenly aware that fashion is a fickle business, and there’s every chance that the catwalk’s demand for underwear made from recycled fishing gear may eve have peaked already.
‘As long as the stars continue believe wearing scratchy knickers made from old trammels is saving the planet, then we’ll keep supplying them with everything we can,’ he said. ‘Long may it last.’