The $4.4 billion swimwear industry is luring designers to the kiddie pool.
Swimwear was a hot ticket item at KidShow in Las Vegas (Aug. 18-20), which along with swim specialists like Coral & Reef, Snapper Rock and Chrissie D. Swimwear, saw more sportswear names like Jessica Simpson, Hatley and Carter’s dip their toes in the burgeoning category.
Last month the NPD Group reported that swimwear sales increased 13 percent during the 12 months ended May 2014. And as sales have grown, so have many of the category’s niche lines geared toward trendy tweens, active kids and resort.
Lesley Lewis, a Dallas-based rep for To the 9’s, a collection of high-quality, European sourced swimwear and cover-ups for tween girls, said, “The boutique business is on fire.” She sees a willingness to spend more among parents, more parents shopping for resort season, and as a result, more hotels and resorts are picking up the line. The company is doing especially well with its fashion-forward cover ups, like flowing palazzo pants, jumpsuits and Swiss macramé shorts, Lewis said.
Resorts and hotels have become important retail partners for UV50+ children’s swimwear brand Snapper Rock. While the company’s line of sun protection swimwear for newborns to kids size 14 continues to drive sales, its assortment of coordinating cover-ups and accessories like hats, swim bags and headbands, provide retailers a chance to make that all important upsell. For Spring ’15, the brand emphasized mix-and-match boardshorts, kaftans and toweling cover-ups to take kids from beach to cruise ship buffet in style.
Before the recession, Flaphappy founder and designer Laurie Snyder said retailers wanted swimwear in their stores by November, however once the economy tanked in 2009, stores began to request March deliveries. Snyder said, “Now [retailers] are getting more comfortable and are asking for earlier deliveries again.”
Likewise, Joanne Post Wexler, account executive for Flapdoodles, said requests for December deliveries are growing, especially as retailers want to stock up on one-of-a-kind resort items to compete for holiday shoppers’ dollars. “Styles with tutus and metallic sell great. For boys, we sell a lot of embroidered swim trunks with nautical motifs during resort,” she added.
Girls’ line Isobella & Chloe has had solid business with its highly embellished swimwear. While president Emily Fong said the styles are driven more by fashion than function, the brand’s assortment of ruffles, mixed media, feminine prints and retro styles bode well for Instagramming parents on vacation. “Swimwear is such a broad category and is sold to so many different types of retailers. We’ve really found success by making a line that speaks to a boutique customer,” she said.
Tide of Change
For 27-year-old Los Angeles-made brand, Flaphappy, the key to longevity has been to adjust to consumers’ changing needs—even when that means altering the brand’s fabrication entirely. When sales slowed, Snyder said the company shifted from using cotton/spandex blends in its swimwear to mostly polyester/spandex. It changed the way Flaphappy sourced, produced and priced its garments, however, the new fabrication has offered Snyder more print and color variety that can better compete with competitors’ use of brights and fluorescents.
And the company could be on the verge of another transition. Snyder said rising minimum wages and workers’ compensation costs in Los Angeles are forcing her to look into moving production out of the United States. With these increases, she estimated that it costs approximately $2 more to produce each garment. She asked, “How can I expect to pass on that cost to the customer?”
While Snyder is finding it difficult to justify the extra costs of a “Made in USA” label to her mid-tier retailers (Flaphappy swimwear typically retails between $20 to $33), on the East Coast, Juan Pablo Jaramillo, founder and creative director of Retro Marine, is finding value in producing a portion of his high-end men’s and boys’ line in New York City’s garment district, even if it means the cost is slightly higher.
Jaramillo said, “It is definitely a trend now and there are plenty of vendors in the city and tri-state area that can provide the same quality as manufacturers as overseas.” He added, “Plus, there’s less stress and headaches.” Typically, Jaramillo sources and produces in his native Colombia.
Barneys New York picked up Retro Marine’s Made in New York City styles, a selection of Hampton-esque Italian chambray swim trunks and solid tees in navy, white and gray. The subtle styles break away from the brand’s signature vintage themes, like Volkswagen campers and surfboard prints, but as Jaramillo noted, they can be worn from beach to street with ease.
Since Snapper Rock launched in 2003, brand rep and Showroom a la Mode co-owner Sandra Gorecke said the popularity of rash guards and sun protective swimwear has been a slow build in the United States, but she added, “You see a lot more kids at the beach completely covered nowadays compared to a few year ago.” And what was once considered an infant and toddler item, rash guards are now ‘It’ items with older kids who like the top for its surfer and sport qualities. Gorecke noted, “Kids—no matter what age—are active at the beach, so the line is designed with practicality in mind. Even one shoulder styles have extra support.”
Swimwear with an athletic edge was a natural next step for Canadian activewear label, Limeapple. The line, geared toward sporty tween girls, is know for colorblock tanks, racer stripe accents and hoodies with thumb loops—style details brand rep Jo Ann Farese said are incorporated into the brand’s swimwear for spring. “Who would have thought long-sleeve rash guards with thumb loops would make sense for swim, but girls love them,” she added. For next season, the company complemented its fashion-driven styles, like rosette-embellished bikinis, with a broad range of tankinis, scuba-inspired zip-up tops, board short bottoms and one-pieces, all of which Farese said Nordstrom ordered.
Still, rash guards are a mystery item in the kids’ swim category. Amerex Group, manufacturer of Carter’s and Jessica Simpson branded swimwear, added the garment to both collections, but has found that short-sleeve rash guards perform better at retail. It has since adjusted its Spring ’15 offerings to suit consumers’ preferences for the shorter style. And Synder has incorporated more protective rash guard suits to Flaphappy’s line, but she pointed out that a lot more work needs to be done to education parents about UV protection. She said, “UV protection swimwear and rash guards are definitely catching on, but mainly in urban areas. I have buyers in areas like Kansas who tell me that their shoppers still don’t get it.”
Fringe, tropical motifs and traditional nautical themes, on the other hand, speak to consumers across the country and brands are banking on these favorites for Spring ’15.
Like may companies, Helene Cohen, sales rep for Chrissie D. Swimwear, said the brand took style cues from its women’s line and reinterpreted elements, like fringe and ruffles, for its newly launched kids’ business. The line for girls, size 2-16, is chock-full of swimsuits with movement. Similarly, shredded fringe is a top seller for Hawaiian swimwear company Coral & Reef, while To the 9’s summery shades of yellow and coral fringe shimmy on cutout one-piece swimsuits.
Pineapple prints permeate girls’ swimwear in tangy hues of yellow and lime green, and in unexpected twists like Snapper Rocks’ pink and gray version. To the 9’s’ Ikat patterns adds a sophisticated look to the exotic theme, as well as Chrissie D.’s fish scale-inspired overlays. Coral & Reef builds on the jungle vibe with suits featuring a mash-up of leopard prints, hibiscus flowers and jolts of hot pink.
Nautical themes are a mainstay in collections. Chrissie D. adds playful polka dots to girls’ suits. Isobella & Chloe’s retro-inspired teal and red dots and gingham designs add a pop of pattern to the brand’s ruffled suits. Snapper Rock dives into the look head first with boys’ rash guards and trunks with sea blue stripes, fish bone prints, oars and more. On the girls’ end, the brand builds out the Cape Cod-inspired ensembles with sea horse prints and navy and white striped long-sleeve tops. Synder reported that navy has been a best-selling color for Flaphappy in both boys and girls for a number of seasons now.
Accessories—from protective sun hats by the likes of Flaphappy and Snapper Rock to waterproof light up flip flops from new brand Flik Flops—are adding to the anticipation for summer shopping. Fashion is even infiltrating sunscreen. Last year, Glitter Tots launched a range of natural sunscreen blended with pink or gold glitter. It has become a beach and summer camp must-have overnight.
As Gorecke put it, “Companies are becoming a lot more creative with kids’ swimwear. I think brands are realizing that there is a real opportunity to make kid-specific sun safe products, and if there is an element of fun or fashion, kids will actually want to wear it.”