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The Top 10 Swim: Staying Afloat

A mix of fashion and function has kept swim brands cruising.

Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD 100 issue 07/23/2008
1. Speedo
2. Nautica
3. Ocean Pacific/Op
4. Jantzen
5. Mossimo
6. Catalina
7. Anne Klein
8. Billabong
9. Roxy
10. Body Glove
 
Swimwear has exhibited resilience in a turbulent economy that’s thwarted even some of fashion’s hardiest players. Although the relatively small swimwear industry isn’t blowing its sportswear counterpart out of the water any time soon, its steadiness speaks to swim vendors’ ability to offer viable product for a variety of consumers. According to research firm The NPD Group, sales of women’s swimwear in the U.S. rose 1.2 percent to $2.67 billion in the May 2007-April 2008 period from the same period a year earlier.

This year’s top 10 shows the range of swimwear’s portfolio — from sporty to stylish — that has made swimsuit assortments alluring despite retail buyers’ cautious approach to building inventory, given fi nancial reservations. And these leading brands have kept chugging along in the face of license shuffling, store consolidation and, of course, the unpredictability of the weather.

The Warnaco Group Inc., which at one time boasted a full basket of swimwear labels, this year whittled its lines down to Speedo and Calvin Klein. Still, Warnaco remains a formidable force in the swim category, as evidenced by Speedo’s top ranking on the list and its $1.3 billion in annual sales for men’s, women’s and kids’ wear, swim accessories and footwear.

This year is shaping up to be another stellar one for Speedo. The brand is celebrating is 80th anniversary and will be showcasing its latest technology at next month’s Summer Olympics in China. The linchpin of that technology is the Fastskin LZR Racer, which has been involved in breaking 38 world records since it was unveiled in February. The Olympics inspired Speedo to promote a patriotic Team Speedo limited edition collection available at SpeedoUSA.com and select retailers. It features jerseys and T-shirts with the names of Speedo-sponsored Olympic athletes, including swimmers Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte and Natalie Coughlin, and beach volleyball gold medalist Kerri Walsh.

Nautica has ascended two places on the list to second, even with behind-the-scenes changes. VF Sportswear, a subsidiary of VF Corp., signed a licensing agreement last year with New York-based Mainstream Swimsuits Inc. to manufacture and distribute Nautica swimwear and cover-ups starting with the cruise 2009 season in the U.S., U.K., France, Spain, Mexico and Canada. Previously, Warnaco had produced Nautica.

Nautica’s fortitude is the result of a consistent design aesthetic and a loyal swimwear customer base that has continued to propel the brand for 25 years. Going forward, Mainstream has stayed true to the navy and logo trims that have been the brand’s pedigree, but it is adding gray-silver tones and solid brights to spice up the selection.

Op maintained its position in the third slot. The 36-year-old surf lifestyle junior brand is a healthy performer for Iconix Brand Group Inc., the New York-based company that purchased it in 2006 for $53 million from Warnaco. Industry estimates peg Op’s worldwide wholesale sales at roughly $250 million.

Last August, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. inked a deal with Iconix to exclusively carry Ocean Pacific and Op merchandise that began hitting shelves in May. To support the launch, a marketing campaign with seven young celebrities — fi lm and TV stars Wilmer Valderrama, Rumer Willis, Kristin Cavallari, Josie Maran and Corbin Bleu; rocker Pete Wentz, and singer Christina Milian — broke this summer on the radio and in publications such as Teen Vogue, Seventeen and Lucky.

Jantzen’s “diving girl” dipped to fourth place from second. Still, the nearly-100-year-old brand, bought in 2002 by Perry Ellis International from VF Corp., is a constant on the swimwear scene. Its extensive advertising, centered on model Carolyn Murphy, has helped the brand keep a high profile.

Mossimo climbed to fifth from eighth. The brand has flourished in Target stores, generating what industry sources approximate at $2 billion-plus in sales across all categories, including swimwear. Like its surf brethren Op, Mossimo is owned by Iconix, which acquired the brand in 2006 for about $119 million.

Under an agreement with Iconix, New York-based In Mocean Group LLC produces Op and Mossimo swimwear. In Mocean also bought classic brand Catalina, ranked sixth on the swim list, along with Anne Cole and Cole of California, from Warnaco in a transaction valued at $26 million this year. In Mocean is in the process of putting its stamp on the 2009 collection aimed at Wal-Mart customers.

Anne Klein swimwear has held on to the seventh spot though it hasn’t been produced for more than a year. Anne Klein’s parent Jones Apparel Group Inc. has not arranged for manufacturing of the brand’s swimwear — either in-house or via a licensing agreement — after its relationship with swimsuit maker Apparel Ventures Inc. ended. However, Anne Klein’s persistent grip on the swim list demonstrates that its classic look has lasting appeal.

Billabong, absent from last year’s list, comes in at number eight this year. A prominent swimwear option on beaches worldwide, the brand has been supplementing its sporty core offerings with fashionable pieces. This year, it partnered with hip Los Angeles retailer Lisa Kline and Los Angeles designer Jenny Han on suits to push Billabong’s boundaries outside of its usual surf distribution channels.

Billabong has ingratiated specialty retailers as well this year by moving into separates that allow shoppers to mix tops and bottoms of different sizes and prints. The brand had been one of the separates holdouts in the surf-swimwear field.

Roxy, already a separates stalwart, is one of Billabong’s chief rivals for junior surf dominance. It is hard to walk on the sand or sit poolside without seeing a girl wearing a bikini with the word Roxy emblazoned across it. In fiscal year 2007, Roxy accounted for 31 percent of Huntington Beach, Calif.-based Quiksilver Inc.’s almost $2.43 billion in revenues.

But Roxy isn’t taking its foot off the accelerator. The brand is working to increase its advertising and marketing presence, and recently finished its first stand-alone swim shoot in Tahiti.

Rounding out the swim list is Body Glove, another staple of swim’s surf sector. SGS Sports, based in Montreal, has held the license for the brand’s swimsuits since the mid-Nineties, according to SGS marketing and sales director Noah Gellis. With SGS’ input, the brand has increased its ad buy recently in surf-specific magazine titles, notably Foam and Surfer.

In the past year, Gellis reported that Body Glove swimwear, often called the sku king for its ample supply of stockkeeping units, has experienced double-digit sales growth. “People are beginning to realize that Body Glove isn’t just a thing that happened in the Eighties and Nineties,” he said.