One would assume while looking at Natasha Tonić‘s garments on a rack — which I first encountered while backstage at Paraiso Miami Beach during Miami Swim Week — that the Los Angeles-based designer’s line isn’t traditionally considered swimwear. But it isswimwear, actually, and a few other things, too, thanks to Tonić’s very specific fabric choice and the foundation of her namesake brand: hemp, a sustainable material that’s anti-microbial, durable, breathable, biodegradable and UV-resistant. (The pieces are soft to the touch and are not only meant for the beach or pool, but also for everyday wear and even the gym.) It’s also a more eco-friendly option than swimwear’s historic use of synthetic fabrics, as well as those made from recycled polyester or plastics, which can still contribute to microfiber pollution

“It’s amazing that we’re recycling polyester to make another swimwear or activewear brand, but at the end of the day, it’s still polyester going back into the water,” says Tonić. “I was trying to find a solution.”

Well before she started a career in fashion, Tonić studied molecular biology in her native country of Serbia, which she fled because of the war, then went on to study art and business in Prague. She finally ended up in LA where she studied fashion marketing. In 2008, she founded a sustainable ready-to-wear line, but having her first child prompted her to take a break from the business and figure out her next venture. In 2017, Tonić started designing hemp-made swimwear, but faced the challenge of introducing such a non-traditional fabric to the space. “Everyone wears polyester, so how do I convince people that hemp swimwear works? It sounds very ‘hippie’,” she admits.

So Tonić took the high-end route, designing a $148 sleek one-piece swimsuit with a high neck, low back and cutouts at the hips. It’s now one of the brand’s signature styles, and a low-impact tie-dyed version (for $168) is also a favorite. The collection has expanded to bikinis and some apparel, too, including a catsuit and jumpsuit. A portion of every sale is donated towards efforts against plastic pollution, and the brand has partnered with such organizations as 5 Gyres and Basta con la Plastica.

As for convincing customers that hemp swimwear does indeed work as well as any other swimsuit fabrication, Tonić took it upon herself to test her own designs in various environments, from the ocean to a hot tub. For a month she stayed in Croatia (where she’s been visiting since she was a child) and went swimming in the sea. “Every day I used the same bathing suit,” she recalls. “Sometimes I didn’t rinse it at all and would let it dry out in the sun, just to see what would happen. It was like brand new.” Next, she tried the swimming pool, and while her pieces can withstand harsh chlorine, she suggests a quick rinse with natural water afterwards to prevent wear. In a Jacuzzi, there was no problem, says Tonić, and while she prefers to hand-wash and hang-dry her swimwear, the suits do just fine in a machine.

Models pose with designer Natasha Tonic backstage at Paraiso in Miami Beach. Photo: Jason Koerner/Getty Images

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