Activewear references, updated styles and a sea of bright colors and patterns have sparked strong sales in swimwear.
This story first appeared in the December 13, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
With men’s lengths shortening and the women’s market embracing sporty fashion, consumers are stocking up on new suits, a trend that manufacturers believe will continue into 2013.
According to market research firm The NPD Group, sales of adult swimwear for the 12 months ended Sept. 30, 2012, rose 8.5 percent to $3.5 billion from $3.2 billion the prior year. Men’s sales were on fire, jumping 23.2 percent in the period, while women’s growth was more moderate, rising 5.8 percent.
Jim Gerson, president of Speedo USA, whose brand ranked fourth in brand awareness this year, said his company’s point of differentiation is its “functional aspect. We’re a performance brand, we just happen to do it in water,” he said.
So while the brand will embrace colorblocking, mesh inserts and heathers for women and bright pop colors and shorter lengths for men in 2013, the suits also offer anti-chafe fabrics and straps, zone compression and bonded seams. “It’s a marriage of function and design,” he said. “And we’re hitting a nice cycle, since athletic is in and we always take an athletic bent.”
The brand’s overarching goal is to get consumers into the water, whether they’re racing, seeking to improve their fitness or just recreating. Toward that end, Speedo includes a Pace Club app on its Web site, offering coaching tips, videos and social networking for consumers. “There are 2 million performance swimmers and 21 million fitness swimmers,” he said, “and—no pun intended—as the leading brand in fitness and aquatics, we think we can raise the water level.”
Gerson said the “customer rewards us when we stay true to trend,” and Speedo’s sales at its core retailers, which include sporting-goods and department stores, are running up double digits over last year. Next year, the brand will be rolling out an initiative to add “aquatic zones” at these stores to lure consumers into the water. Aquatic zones offer swimsuits and related fitness products, such as flotation belts and aquatic barbells. “We’ve had a great reaction to this initiative,” he added. “We see results when we tell a story.”
Nautica, ranking ninth, is also enjoying solid results at retail. Men’s swimwear is produced in-house while women’s was recently licensed to Raj Manufacturing. “Our roots are nautical, and that’s one of spring’s most dominant statements,” said Maria Vicari, president of licensing. In women’s, key trends include sporty and rope details, nautical stripes, colorblocking and color accents. Tankinis and one-piece silhouettes with zip fronts are popular, and bikinis are having a resurgence.
In men’s, bright colors and colorblocking, along with shorter lengths in boardshort silhouettes, are driving sales. Prints have also continued to dominate. Nautica produces three men’s and four women’s collections a year, and the styles and color palette always relate to the main sportswear collection, Vicari said. “From what we see from our retail partners, we feel the momentum will continue,” she said. “And our international business is really growing, which didn’t exist for us before.”
At Calvin Klein, in third place this year, after Nike and Victoria’s Secret, the swimwear business is “currently very promising,” the company said, “with more consumers buying multiple swimsuits online today.” Among the best-selling styles are one-piece swimsuits for women. “Styles range from sultry to demure, sexy to sporty, and are diverse enough so anyone can find the perfect one to fit their personal style. Low back cuts are especially selling well.”
Shorter lengths in swim trunks are driving men’s sales. The magic length hits midthigh and has a four-to five-inch inseam, and are offered in solids and prints with drawstrings and a rigid waist. Four-way stretch woven fabrics that move with the body and quick-dry materials are also part of the package.
For spring, botanical prints will rule the women’s market, while skin prints are expected to stay hot. Scuba influences are seen in one-piece and bikini silhouettes, along with one-piece models with a low back. Bright colors range from fire-engine red and bright blue to stark white. Improved fit that enhances a woman’s figure will also be important.
Kevin Carrigan, global creative director for ck Calvin Klein and Calvin Klein White Label, said the key men’s silhouette will be clean, in a shorter length, with an elastic waistband and a technical stretch fabric. “It’s very Hollywood,” he said. In women’s, more athletic styles are among key trends and include a modern one-piece with a racer back and a tank silhouette with a zipper and a shot of electric blue.
At fifth-ranked Tommy Hilfiger, spring is inspired “by the spirit of a nautical journey,” according to the company. “From sea to sand, deck to harbor, the look is quintessentially American, but at home anywhere in the world.
“Swimwear is a great category for us because it speaks to the classic, cool, all-American lifestyle that people around the world love about the brand,” said Anne Marino, president of licensing for Tommy Hilfiger. “The spring swim collection gives a new twist to the nautical inspirations at the heart of the brand’s heritage. Swimwear Anywhere is a category leader in the swim market, and we are pleased to partner with them as we further develop our swimwear business.”
Stripes are reinvented with playful patterns and nautical motifs, and bold color combinations capture a preppy and playful vibe.”
The collection, which is licensed to Swimwear Anywhere, features anchor prints on bikinis and one-pieces, color-blocked oxfords in a tennis-dress style, lots of belts on suits and cover-ups, and patchwork prints in the brand’s signature red, white and blue color palette.
Rounding out the top 10 are perpetual direct-mail competitors Lands’ End and L.L. Bean, in sixth and seventh places, respectively, and Liz Claiborne, now an exclusive J.C. Penney brand, in eighth place.
The Top 10
2. Victoria’s Secret
3. Calvin Klein
5. Tommy Hilfiger
6. Lands’ End
7. L.L. Bean
8. Liz Claiborne