By  on July 21, 2005

MIAMI BEACH — Combine the sheer volume of almost round-the-clock swimwear shows and parties with the usual excess of the South Beach scene, and it’s hard to tell that the swim category has had a tough year.

“The city screamed swimwear,” said Judy Stein, executive director of SwimShow 2006, sponsored by the Swimwear Association of Florida, which moved to the Miami Beach Convention Center for the first time this year after outgrowing its former venue at the Radisson International Mart Centre.

The new venue added space, and exhibitors grew to 350 from 300, with a 15 percent gain in buyers compared with last year, Stein said. The show ran July 16-20.

Adding to the buzz, IMG, producers of New York’s 7th on Sixth shows, imported the concept to Miami with the Sunglass Hut Swim Shows Miami presented by Lycra. It featured 12 individual fashion swimwear shows from lines such as Speedo, Becca, Inca, Sais by Rosa Chá, Cosabella, Red Carter, Carmen Marc Valvo and Gideon Oberson, and a multiline event sponsored by Lycra.

The shows drew 1,000 people a day, including media such as Sports Illustrated, Marie Claire and WE network’s “Full Frontal Fashion.” With the pulsing music and lighting, the shows attracted a handful of celebrities, including Damon Dash, owner of Rocawear, and producer Pharrell Williams, who were both at the Inca show Saturday night. For Inca, the event, plus the trade show, was a $100,000 investment, said Stacy Deutsch, Inca’s co-owner along with designer Stephanie Hirsch.

“We decided, if we did it, we were going to do it right,” Deutsch said.

For Cosabella, the 25-year-old lingerie company that launched a swimwear collection last year, the fashion show represented a commitment to grow swimwear, especially for the U.S. market, after a strong first-year reception in Italy, according to Ugo Campello, vice president. 

Nonetheless, some retailers, while acknowledging the excitement of the tent shows, questioned how the buzz would translate into sales.

“The party line is that it’s good for the industry, but it’s overkill,” said Coni Sutter, owner of The Beach House of Naples, which has two stores in Naples, Fla. “Even with all the media there, when will the consumer see it, and how will it help sales at this time of year?”This spring was a dismal one for swimwear at retail, with many retailers not seeing sales until late June, when the weather finally turned hot in the Northeast after cooler-than-usual temperatures for much of the season. Women’s swimwear sales were $2.2 billion from May 2004 to April 2005, the same as the year before, according to NPD Group, a research firm based in Port Washington, N.Y.

Fern Mallis, executive director and vice president of IMG, said she was pleased with the synergy of Miami Beach, swimwear and fashion, adding that the event would continue next year with more designers participating, though there will be tweaking of details.

At the larger trade show, manufacturers and retailers were bullish, despite a tough year and increased competition from specialty chains such as H&M and Old Navy.

Alluding to further acquisitions, big companies continue to build brand portfolios that let them hone in on hot categories or niche markets. Future investments range from licensing deals that add brand prestige, to developing house brands that are cheaper and allowing more flexibility in production and design. Many are extending brands to include accessories, shoes or fitness equipment, and are offering more deliveries. Swimwear marketing and advertising budgets continue to grow.

Speedo, which is distributed in North America by Warnaco Swim Group, had a big presence in Miami. In addition to 1,500 square feet of exhibit space at the convention center. Speedo held a multimedia show Saturday night at poolside at the Raleigh Hotel that included a fashion show, a performance by the Olympic synchronized swim team and an appearance by Olympic gold medalist Amanda Beard.

At the show, specialty swim retailers concentrated on the high-end looks, leaving the basics and commodity-driven product to department stores, discounters and chains that have jumped on swimwear in recent years.

Retailers applauded manufacturers for offering more variety and less repetition than usual. Still, trends fell into three basic themes that reflect current ready-to-wear and sportswear influences.

  • Bohemian/ethnic: African, Indian, Indonesian cultures combine with hippie influences such as tunics and caftans.
  • Glitz/bling: Jeweled accents, from crystals to rhinestones and sequins, as necklines or belts, on gold or white bikinis or one-piece suits with deep plunging necklines. The return of the monokini and other one-piece silhouettes with center cutouts.
  • Bathing beauties: Ultrafeminine, soft and whimsical, includes polkadots, ruffles and shirring. Sheer chiffon cover-ups including pareos, skirts and ponchos.
Bridget Quinn Stickline, general merchandise manager of Water Water Everywhere, an Owings Mills, Md., swimwear chain with 20 stores, shopped for cruise with an aggressive sales plan, despite flat sales this year. “We’re committed to staying ahead, seeing product early and pushing for first deliveries,” she said.Concentrating on contemporary, her best category, she bought the new Michael Kors line, as well as La Blanca, Anne Cole and Ralph Lauren.

While she bought brown, the dominant color in the market, she pursued color, concerned that brown would make departments too dark and turn off consumers. She noted missed opportunities in good plus-size swimwear.

“Nobody’s doing it right,” she said. “We need more good product that is an extension of the regular brands. We never have enough to test data and see how it works.

Stacey Siegel, owner of Everything But Water in Orlando, with 40 stores nationwide, liked the variety of the show, which allowed buyers to mix separates from individual vendors. She bought African- and Indian-inspired looks from Becca, and similar themes from Rampage and W, in chocolate brown. She also bought glitzy jeweled and crystal embellished suits from Luli Fama and open jeweled caftans and tunics by Inca.

She also bought more monokinis, a top seller this year, from Vix.

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