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Making a splash in the swimwear market

Liberty swimwear ss19 (12)

Drapers takes the temperature of the growing global swimwear market.

As the weather becomes warmer and thoughts turn to lazy days lounging under sunny skies, retailers and brands are concentrating on their swimwear offers.

A wave of cult labels and retail heavyweights have chosen to take their first dip in the swimwear market for this summer season. Self-Portrait, the premium womenswear label founded by Malaysian designer Han Chong, launched its first swimwear collection in March, focusing on intricate, structured pieces in delicate floral prints and terracotta tones.

On the high street, fast fashion chain Quiz unveiled a 43-piece swimwear collection including bikinis, swimsuits and kaftans the same month. Department store Liberty London also introduced its first own-brand swim collection last month, which presents the retailer’s vibrant prints in sleek silhouettes.

The deep end

There is good reason why retailers are diving head first into swimwear. The global swimwear market is set to grow by 6.2% to $28bn (£22bn) by 2024, a report published last year by Allied Market Research suggests. Growth is being driven by demand for more fashionable, trend-led product.

Pieces need to be designed to be worn and used in a variety of different circumstances now

Amelia Hornblow, Liberty London

“We’ve seen a massive surge in the number of brands offering swimwear over the past couple of years, both in terms of swim-specific brands and mainline labels adding swim collections,” explains Claire Spencer-Churchill, co-founder of resortwear trade show Splash Paris and womenswear agency Claret Showroom. “There’s a lot of swimwear on offer but I wouldn’t say that the market is saturated. Yes, the category is very competitive but that’s a good thing, because brands really have to be on their A game.”

Swimwear is finding a new lease of life away from the swimming pool, as customers begin to experiment, wearing one-pieces as bodysuits and passing bikini tops off as crop tops. Keen to tap into the trend, retailers are bolstering their swim collections with transitional pieces that can be worn from beach to bar and back again.

Agent Provocateur spring 19

Agent Provocateur spring 19

“Swimwear was a natural extension for us given the success of our loungewear range, which launched 18 months ago,” explains Liberty director of product Amelia Hornblow. “We noticed that customers were styling some of our lounge and sleepwear pieces, like the robes, on holiday over swimsuits. Customers like pieces that are versatile and can be layered, so in the collection we have a one-piece with a matching pair of shorts that customers could wear to a lunch on holiday, or style the shorts separately for an evening look. Pieces need to be designed to be worn and used in a variety of different circumstances now.”

Sarah Shotton, creative director of lingerie and swimwear brand Agent Provocateur, agrees: “The swimwear market now is about so much more than just sticking a swimsuit on the shop floor. Women want the swimsuit or bikini with the matching cover-up, or the dress that takes you from the beach to the bar or the club. They want this all planned before they go on holiday, and it’s easier for them if the retailer has thought about it for them.”

We’ve seen a massive surge in the number of brands offering swimwear over the past couple of years

Claire Spencer-Churchill, Splash Paris and Claret Showroom

Lazy oaf swim ss19 (4)

Lazy Oaf spring 19

One-way traffic

When it comes to product trends, Shotton says Agent Provocateur has seen a surge in demand for swimming costumes: “The main trend is the return of the one piece. Cutaway swimsuits have been popular for the past couple of seasons, but now leg lines have got higher, backs lower and the new swimsuit is cutaway at the sides and some even have a thong bottom. Our Laurella swimsuit in red – reminiscent of Pamela Anderson in Baywatch – has been very popular.”

Swimwear is a revealing category, and female shoppers in particular are still often bombarded with messages about how to achieve the “perfect” bikini body. Retailers need to focus on fit to create flattering product for a range of different body shapes.

We’re trying to make sure there’s something for every shape and body type, such as more supportive styles for bigger busts

Shirley Webb, Lazy Oaf

Young fashion brand Lazy Oaf launched its first swimwear collection for spring 2016. Design manager Shirley Webb tells Drapers that taking an inclusive design approach is at the heart of a successful swim offer.

“What’s been important from our very first swimwear collection – and is only becoming more so – is making sure that our range is really inclusive,” she argues. “We’re trying to make sure there’s something for every shape and body type, such as more supportive styles for bigger busts. Size inclusivity is an increasingly hot topic across the fashion industry in general and this isn’t a category that customers should feel scared of being unwelcome in.”

When developing its own-brand swim collection, Liberty chose to fit each piece of swimwear at least six times on a variety of body types.

“With swimwear, the fit can be really unforgiving, so you have to ensure each seamline is in exactly the right place and that you’re giving just enough coverage,” explains Hornblow. “You’ve got to tick a lot of boxes with just a few silhouettes. We also had to make sure we were engineering our prints in exactly the right way to help contour customers’ bodies.”

Arabella MacRitchie is the founder of womenswear swimwear label Arabella London, which is stocked by Harrods. She argues customers are now looking for structured styles in the wake of a trend for non-wired bandeau tops: “There is a focus in structure and underwire. We’re seeing massive traction with structured pieces rather than the more relaxed, pared-down styles. Customers are demanding great quality and fit.”

Hot point

Choosing exactly the right moment – preferably when the sun is shining – to promote swimwear to customers is another key consideration for retailers and brands looking to make an impact in the market.

“It is difficult to hit the market at exactly the right time,” argues Sam Smith, design manager at lingerie and swimwear brand Panache. “Spring seems to be the new summer, as the UK sees record breaking temperatures earlier and earlier in the year. This will be something many brands will aim to tap into by bringing product to the market earlier.”

Within the next few years, it will be strange for swimwear not to be recycled – it is going to become the standard

Nick Crook, Boardies

This is also a category where consumers are increasingly spoilt for choice when it comes to sustainable options. Monki, part of the H&M group, also launched its first sustainable swimwear collection, made from recycled polyester and recycled polyamide, for spring 19. A host of on-trend contemporary names in both men’s and women’s wear, including Stay Wild Swim, Peony and Riz Boardshorts, are using fabrics made from recycled marine plastic. Those not thinking about how to make their swimwear sustainable risk being left behind.

“Recycled yarns and fabrics are really emerging in swimwear now and will be an absolute essential within a very short amount of time,” Panache’s Smith adds.

Nick Crook, founder of men’s and women’s swim brand Boardies, which makes its swimwear from recycled plastic, agrees: “Within the next few years, it will be strange for swimwear not to be recycled – it is going to become the standard. Customers are aware of the problems of plastic in the oceans, which means there’s an intrinsic link to swimwear.”

Brands and retailers are looking to tap into consumers’ desire for on-trend, fashion-forward swimwear. Those looking to make a splash will need to create a comprehensive offer of versatile pieces, achieve the perfect fit and think green. 



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