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Online Boutique Enlists Digital Mannequin to Sell Swimwear

Coming off the tail-end of one of the coldest Februaries on record — In New York City, temperatures averaged 24 degrees — it can sometimes seem as though winter will never end. And while many American cities received a respite this week that saw souls venture outdoors wearing less than five layers for the first time in months, warm summer days feel a long time away.

Call it wishful thinking, but according to market research firm NPD Group, 40 percent of women purchase swimsuits in the spring. And while the swimwear market in the United States is worth an estimated $4.4 billion, a recent Lands’ End survey found that only 51 percent of women buy bathing suits online. However, 72 percent would be more likely to surf for suits if there was a tool that helped them select the perfect style, size and silhouette.

Enter boutique e-tailer Swim Swim, whose owner Janine Lipman understands the difficulty of shopping for a suit — especially online — that simultaneously fits a woman’s top and bottom. “With swimwear, the stakes are high when it comes to the perfect fit,” Lipman said. “A gape in the wrong place and everyone is staring awkwardly at a nip slip.”

While fit problems are rampant throughout the apparel industry, some would argue the swimwear category is especially so. Not only can too much spandex or elastane cause problems, but perception of sizing varies wildly. “A small bikini bottom in Brazil’s Copacabana is very different to a small bikini bottom in the Upper East Side of Manhattan,” Lipman noted.

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And given that Swim Swim carries a mix of labels sourced from all over the world (about half come from Australia alone), there’s no such thing as standard sizing on the site.

Knowing there had to be an easier way for women to shop, she sought out New York City-based interactive agency Human IG to help her create a digital mannequin that would take the guesswork out of buying online. “It allows us to describe size information to our customers in a comparable, concise way,” she said, explaining that the technology is based on a sizing algorithm. “It’s accurate based on the measurements suggested by the brands and manufacturers so consumers can enter their measurements and find the perfect fit without having to enter a fitting room.”

It’s just another way the Australian-born Lipman is setting Swim Swim apart from the pool of swimwear sellers. “The Aussie swimwear market is curated, merchandised and retailed as a fashion purchase with women excitedly buying into new bikini trends each summer,” she said, noting that when she first moved to the states she was constantly asked where she bought her bikinis.

Since opening for business late last year, she’s been pleasantly surprised to see that her bestsellers are small, high-end brands such as Marysia, N.L.P. and Skye & Staghorn. “The U.S. market is catching up,” she said, adding that neoprene is topping the trend chart.

Now she’s working on updating the digital mannequin to include additional metrics and size points that will increase its accuracy. As she put it, “Having a customer looking and feeling pristine is the best marketing a retailer can get.”