British intimates brand Wolf & Whistle also has a full swimwear collection.

Shoppers are hot for swimwear right now.

And it’s not just because summer is coming. Or, because lingerie giant Victoria’s Secret recently started selling swimsuits again. Thanks to platforms like Instagram, swimwear has become a year-round business.  

Sales in the global swimwear category totaled $21.7 billion last year, according to market research firm Euromonitor International.

And more lingerie brands are now trying to get a piece of that market, invading swimwear with their own collections of bikinis and one-piece bathing suits.

The transition might seem natural for the two categories that share many characteristics. 

But Cora Harrington, founder of the blog The Lingerie Addict, said it would be easier for companies to sell swimwear than lingerie.

“It’s hard to convince people that they should be spending more than $25 or $30 on a bra,” said Harrington, author of “In Intimate Detail: How to Choose, Wear and Love Lingerie.” “There doesn’t seem to be that same challenge when it comes to swimwear. People are more willing to spend $50 or $100, or even $200 on a swimsuit.” 

She added that in the U.S. it’s also hard to tempt shoppers to drop large amounts of cash on something they can’t see, while swimsuits are readily posted online.

That could be why a number of smaller start-ups in the lingerie space — and activewear brands, too — are hoping to capitalize off of the current bathing suit obsession.

In the case of Victoria’s Secret, the reentrance into the category could add roughly $525 million to the company’s sales. But for a company that sold $7.4 billion in its core intimates category last year, those numbers are still small, although swimwear could help draw in more buyers. 

“Victoria’s Secret exited the category because they weren’t making money, and then also realized that it was impeding their traffic,” said Simeon Siegel, senior retail analyst at Nomura Instinet. “It makes more sense to offer the category than not if it’s an adjacent category and you’re looking for incremental growth.”

He pointed out, though, that when a high-profile company like Victoria’s Secret returns to swim, it creates more competition for smaller start-up brands.

But Victoria’s Secret is selling a long list of third-party swimwear brands on its site, including Kenneth Cole, Banana Moon and Maaji.

“Perhaps it becomes an opportunity [for smaller brands] to sell alongside rather than anything else,” Siegel said.

Here, a look at brands looking to swim to expand. 

1. Victoria’s Secret

Victoria’s Secret recently started selling swimwear again online, as seen here on the company’s web site.  Courtesy Web Site

The lingerie giant’s much-awaited return to swim was unveiled online in March. The selection is slim, filled with third-party retailers. Some speculated that the company exited the category three years ago to focus on its core lingerie brand. But as both sales and store traffic have declined in the last two years, the return to swim is seen as part of company’s strategy to revive the brand. 

2. Knix

Intimates apparel start-up Knix launched its first swimwear collection.  Courtesy

The Toronto-based start-up, founded in 2013, launched its first collection of bathing suits on Friday. Swimwear, it turned out, was the most requested category on customer feedback surveys and Joanna Griffiths, founder and chief executive officer, saw opportunity. “For decades now, I’ve always spent way too much money on bathing suits,” she said. All of Knix’s bathing suits retail for less than $100.

3. Playful Promises

A look from Wolf & Whistle’s collection of sustainable bathing suits.  Courtesy

The British brand launched in 2004 as a lingerie company. It wasn’t until 2010 that the brand, available online and through multiple wholesale partners, started selling swim. The collection was so successful that the company launched sister brand Wolf & Whistle in 2015, which also sells both lingerie and swimwear. 

Both brands offer core and plus sizes. But founder and ceo Emma Parker pointed out that while many other lingerie and swimwear brands offer plus sizes, the selection is often limited to basic colors and styles, focusing on function rather than style. Playful Promises’ swimwear is oozing with the sexy pin-up girl vibe across all sizes. While Wolf & Whistle focuses on sustainable swimwear. 

4. Outdoor Voices

A tankini from Outdoor Voices’ second swimwear collection.  Courtesy

Outdoor Voices started as an activewear apparel company in 2014, making athlete-inspired apparel for recreation, before branching out into swimwear last year. Much like Knix, Outdoor Voices’ shoppers were requesting swimwear. The company had a waitlist of roughly 10,000 people prior to 2018’s launch of the swimwear line “H20V.” This month the company released its second swim collection, also called H20V, in new styles like tankinis and cross-back, one-piece suits.


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