By  on February 13, 2007

STODGY SWIMSUITS JUST WON’T CUT IT ANYMORE.
With the industry in a period of flux, swim manufacturers at WWDMAGIC and ISAM don’t need long memories to recall what happens to labels that don’t keep their mix fresh.

Last year, swim perennial Beach Patrol bit the dust, and its licenses were picked up by various players, including Perry Ellis, Manhattan Beachwear and Sunsets Inc. Early this year, Roger Williams stepped down as swimwear group president of Warnaco, the largest swimsuit maker in the world. Although he cited personal reasons for the resignation, the swim division has been lagging and posted an operating loss of nearly $14 million in the three months ended Sept. 30, 2006.

Younger brands are among those nimbly picking up the slack. Designer labels Red Carter and Trina Turk, a relatively recent addition to the license portfolio at Blue Water Design Group, a division of Gardena, Calif.-based Apparel Ventures, are forging ahead. In the surf segment, Volcom has launched swimwear to step up to the plate against heavy hitters Roxy, Billabong and O’Neill.

Most swim vendors attending WWDMAGIC and ISAM said they are hopeful about the state of the market. Women’s swimsuit sales are rising steadily, with 2006 up more than 4 percent, to nearly $2.67 billion, from $2.56 billion the previous year, according to industry-tracking firm The NPD Group.

Manufacturers jumping into the swimwear market beware: Adjusting to rapid fashion trends that have kept contemporary apparel whirling has become critical for success in swimwear as well. Spoton merchandise, for example, can win floor space at Everything But Water, where contemporary and designer labels such as Trina Turk, Vix, Red Carter and Shan have been welcomed.

“It is really important to be out in front,” said Bridget Quinn Stickline, vice president of merchandising for Everything But Water, which has grown to around 60 stores after the integration of Water Water Everywhere. “We feel like this larger company is going to give [the customer] a chance to understand that [swim and resortwear] is a fashion purchase. She doesn’t have to put on a big flower tunic at age 35.”

Fashionable swimsuits have been a consistent performer for designer Kara Janx, who has sold swim pieces to Ravinstyle.com and Girlshop, among other outlets. She thought swimwear might overtake her New York-based line before her appearance on “Project Runway” changed her business’ course.

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