Outdoor clothing company Patagonia has partnered with the Yulex Corporation to develop a wetsuit based on guayule, a renewable bio-rubber that is thought to be the first alternative to traditional fossil-based neoprene.

"When we started to build wetsuits we knew that neoprene, by nature of its production, was the most environmentally harmful part the product," explains Patagonia's surf director McCaffrey.

"Our initial approach was to use innovative materials, like wool, that are highly insulating and allowed us to use as little neoprene as possible. But we quickly realized that we needed to create a new material that could be a true alternative to neoprene.

"After four years of working together, Patagonia and Yulex have co-developed a unique material that allows us to make a wetsuit that is 60% guayule (plant) based. 

"Our goal is to have the formula be 100% plant based, but we feel that for now this new material is a big enough step forward to let the world know it is possible to buy something cleaner.

"This is just the first step; it's our hope that other brands see this as interesting and join the effort to innovate and implement alternatives to traditional neoprene that is used in wetsuits."

Yulex's biorubber material is made from guayule, a renewable, non-food crop that requires very little water, is grown domestically in the US, uses no pesticides, and in comparison to traditional neoprene, has a very clean manufacturing process.

The new suits will initially be available in Japan. In spring 2013, customers will be able to order custom suits from Patagonia's wetsuit facility in Ventura, California, with a global roll out to follow.