By  on August 17, 2009

Swimwear Makers are responding to retailers’ calls for standout swimwear that looks pricy, but is affordable enough to tempt tight-fisted shoppers. They are also filling the gaps in the market for customers with specific swimwear desires that haven’t been fully addressed by the current assortments.

“The consumer is buying what they love as opposed to just buying,” said Natalie Wierzba, national sales manager and merchandiser at Beach Rays, a division of Southern California swimwear manufacturer J.Y. Rays. “If something is OK, I don’t think it is good enough.”

Color is one way to grab customers’ attention — and there will be plenty of it on the swimwear racks next year. Carlos Cortes, West Coast sales representative at Bell, Calif.-based Malibu Dream Girl, marketer of the Gossip, Gossip Girl, Gossip Collection, Ocean Dream Collection, Smoothies and Hula Star swimwear lines, noted that an Eighties influence continues to reverberate in Malibu Dream Girls’ collections for the upcoming season.

“People are ready for color,” he said. “Brights have an intensity. They are not quite neon, but they are alive.” He cited teal, coral and pink as key colors. For spring-summer 2010, Susan Trinh, marketing coordinator for Toronto-based Phantom Industries, producer of Endless Sun, Martini Sol, California Waves and It Figures swimwear, seconded the importance of a bold palette and highlighted lime and blue as vital hues.

Purple remains a top color choice. Dani Kates, designer of a new namesake line and three-seasons-old KanDi Swim, noted she has gotten a big response from retailers when she works purple into suits. “It is strong enough that it makes a statement, but it is not so in-your-face. It works well with a lot of different skin tones,” she said.

In prints, animal has retained its strong position in the swimwear heap. New York-based Winki Swim LLC is combining animal print with flowers in its Winki Island swimsuits. “It is very hot and trendy for next season still, but you have to mix it with something else,” said brand manager Marcella Garcia.

With consumers searching for value, reversible swimwear styles are picking up steam. Beach Rays offers reversible girls’ boardshorts with prints on one side and solids on the other priced at roughly $19 to $23 wholesale. Malibu Dream Girl integrated reversibility into its solid line called Smoothies, wholesaling from around $7 to $12. “She [the swimwear shopper] can get four looks out of one set,” said Cortes.

Adjustability is a crucial selling point as well. Kates pointed out two adjustable silhouettes — a KanDi Swim bandeau that can be modified on the sides and at the center and a Dani Kates fold-over bottom in Dani Kates that can be pulled up or down to change coverage — that are gaining momentum. KanDi Swim is priced at $20 to $24 wholesale per swimwear item, and Dani Kates is $29 to $41.

“It is really about catering to different body types,” she said. “I think that is what helps swim sell well.”

Swimwear gets a boost as well when it satisfies a particular consumer demand. For example, Kates incorporated DD sizes into her Dani Kates line because she was fielding requests for chic swimwear for DD wearers. “There are a lot of customers out there right now looking for DDs, and they want something that is fashion forward,” she said.

For juniors customers with large bustlines, Malibu Dream Girl brands Gossip and Gossip Girl, which combined average at about $13.50 to $16.50 wholesale per piece, added underwire in halter and over-the-shoulder tops. At the moment, shoppers looking for these styles would “have to buy an old-lady underwire or an underwire in a print that they don’t care for,” Cortes said. “They want to have it in a print that is cool and age appropriate.”

No matter the swimwear style or market segment, price is a major factor in retailers’ merchandising decisions as well as shoppers’ purchases. The recession has ended the days of makers unveiling suits with more bells and whistles that bump up prices. In the rocky economic environment, most stay well within a competitive range, and exceeding $100 is reserved for unique pieces aimed at a select clientele.

Swimwear, Cortes emphasized, “has to be special” and “salable at the same time.”

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