Pacific Islands

Cut from the Cloth

Kim Van Loo is the creator of West Indies Wear a label she launched from her 34-foot yacht in 2006. Here she tells of the inspiration for use of natural fibres, particularly cotton.

October 24, 2019
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Rebecca Murphy

Rebecca Murphy

October 24, 2019

“When I first sailed to the islands many years ago, I took all the sorts of things that I imagined would be perfect to wear in my new life cruising the islands.

I had imagined I would spend my days exploring the secluded bays, swimming at different beaches, snorkelling the reefs, and a few boat chores in between. Evenings would be spent sipping ice cold beers, whilst listening to reggae music and watching the sun set over the horizon.

As I was leaving behind my job as Head Designer at Billabong South Africa, I had packed an assortment of boardshorts, t-shirts, strappy singlet tops and a few bikinis. I had done enough backpacking prior to this trip, to know that some lightweight pants were important after dark for keeping the bugs at bay, and sarongs would come in handy for any number of things. Never once did I consider what fabrics these items were made of, which is ludicrous given the fact that at this stage, I already had nearly 10 years’ experience in the fashion industry.

The one fairly significant detail that I overlooked was the relentless heat in the tropics. I had never lived in the tropics before, and nothing could have prepared me for how hot it was living on a boat without air conditioning in the tropical summer.

The first thing I noticed was that my 100% polyester board shorts were not very cool and comfortable to wear, they were hot and sticky. My 100% rayon sarongs were heavy in weight and did not breath at all. Luckily I could spend most of my time on the boat in my bikini, but I did have to go to town some time. The dresses I had were made of rayon also. Although they felt soft and lightweight, in the humidity the synthetic fabric did not breath at all. With no way to escape, sweat ran down my body on the inside of the dress. This was the beginning of my obsession with natural fabrics. 

What I discovered was that by wearing natural fabrics like light weight pure cotton in the islands, my body stayed cooler, because these fabrics could breath. Air could flow through the weave of the fabric allowing my skin to breath. My skin could cool down and the sweat evaporated.

Cotton is actually grown on a bush – you can’t get much more natural than that.

So next time you are planning a trip to a tropical location, be sure to think carefully about the fabrics of the clothing you are putting into your luggage. Choose light weight cotton voile tunics and sarongs which can provide sun protection, but still breath, keeping you cool. And remember, sarongs are a versatile travel accessory, particularly if they are cotton, you can use them as a beach towel, you can wear it as a dress or a skirt, as a scarf and as a wrap.

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