Focused on fit, swimwear brands are making a splash online
Virtual fitting rooms, fit quizzes, and unconventional approaches to sizing have served as a secret weapon for online swimwear brands during the pandemic.
Although the pandemic had an immediate impact on swimwear sales, it didn't last for long. Sales of bikinis and one-pieces initially slumped last spring according to market research firm NPD Group but, by June, the gap was closing.
“The past year has been challenging in many ways – but [we] definitely benefit from the tailwinds of COVID, [with] more people shopping online,” says Melanie Travis, founder of online swimwear brand Andie. “I thought swim was fairly tied to the travel industry, but what we discovered is that you don’t need to travel anywhere to wear a swimsuit.”
Across 2020, Travis says Andie saw sales growth of over 100%. And while a significant chunk of those sales were driven by customers living in “places with lots of beaches” such as Florida, California, and the Jersey Shore, Travis says sales remained healthy across the U.S. “People had vacation FOMO,” she says. “They wanted a new swimsuit even if it was just to lounge on your fire escape or a puddle of sun in your living room.”
Since 2015, the majority of swimwear sales in the U.S. – $5 billion in 2019 – have taken place at Target stores.
But a crop of young brands, such as Andie, Summersalt (which has raised $27 million in venture capital funding since 2017), and Sidway (the brand behind that brown-and-white polka bikini and founded by Nasty Gal’s former swimwear designer) have been nipping at Target’s heels by creating swimwear lines laser-focused on fit.
During the pandemic, virtual fitting rooms, fit quizzes and unconventional approaches to sizing have served as a secret weapon for the online swimwear brands.
Before launching Summersalt, its cofounder Lori Coulter ran a 3D body-scanning startup – technology that was then used to scan the bodies of 10,000 women in order to inform Summersalt’s swimsuit sizes. Andie uses a 12-question survey that quizzes customers on things like “do you have a long torso?” and “what makes you feel most comfortable in a swimsuit?” alongside more expected details like bra size and height.
Kitty & Vibe, a New York brand launched in 2018, offers two “butt sizes” for every hip measurement, ensuring a more inclusive sizing regime. Raq, a three-year-old Australian brand, offers 35 bra sizes, while in the U.K., Youswim makes its swimsuits with a stretchy, ribbed fabric that can expand and shrink so it still fits even if your body changes shape.
By honing their ability to serve up the right fit to customers, the online swimwear brands are claiming their niche in the overall swimwear market and finding other applications in intimate clothing categories.
Last month, Summersalt added a line of underwear to its range, which now includes sleepwear, activewear, and knit pieces alongside swimsuits. According to Modern Retail, the brand saw 565% growth in non-swimwear sales between 2019 and 2020. In December 2020, luxury swimwear brand Solid & Striped expanded into activewear, while Andie was able to sell 30,000 swimsuits in May 2020 by marketing them as yoga apparel.
Swimwear is expected to fly off the (virtual) shelves this summer. “The fashion industry is at an inflection point, with millions of customers having moved to digital-first shopping,” Summersalt’s Coulter says. “And post-COVID revenge shopping is well under way.”
Brands like Summersalt, she adds, are well-positioned to take advantage of this shift. “We’re expecting an enormous summer and a huge year,” says Travis. “A lot more people are now comfortable shopping for swim online, and when you marry that with what people are calling the ‘Roaring 20s’ coming up, we’re really prepping from a customer support, inventory, and operational standpoint to have our biggest summer by leaps and bounds.”
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