A few years ago, a new influx of independent swimwear labels like Lisa Marie Fernandez, Zimmermann and We Are Handsome injected a much-needed dose of cool into the swim market. Now that those brands have become household names, a new wave of under-the-radar swim lines have caught our attention.
And while these up-and-coming swim labels might all be new to the scene, that's where the similarities end. Whether they're based in Africa, California, or Australia; whether they're all about the no-frills one piece, or the overtly sexy slashed-to-here bikini, each brand has got its own distinct point of view.
"I can definitely pick out three trends going on right now," says Krystle Kemp, women's buyer for Need Supply, our go-to for up-and-coming labels. "They are: Sport-influenced (surf) suits, '70s and '80s beach babe vibes with high-cuts, low rises, Brazilian bottoms, and the sexy (rather than vintage) one-piece with cut-outs, straps and mesh."
She added: "Our girl is still buying high-waisted bandeaux bikinis and sweet vintage prints/styles... and [she's] not into the fierce, sexier, sportier stuff that’s trending overall yet--maybe next year."
Whereas the last crop of up-and-coming swim labels moved away from anything overtly "sexy", a handful of this new batch of brands is embracing swimwear's inherent titillating qualities--but in a way that's not cliché or expected. As a direct counterbalance, other new labels are sticking to unsexy classics--like a basic black one-piece, or a sturdy (read: no strings attached) two-piece--that feel fresh right now. In fact, out of all the brands we looked at, not one did a classic string bikini--even for the new sexy brands, string bikinis are too guache.
Read on for the under-the-radar labels that should be on your radar right now.
N.L.P Ideal for: The fashion-forward surfer chick The 411: Formerly known as A.T.G., this brand is already huge in Australia. And as you can imagine, those Aussies really know their suits. Made from neoprene, the brand favors neons, tiny bottoms and surprisingly supportive cups. Price range: $125-$180
Base Range Ideal for: The minimalist The 411: This brand's deceptively simple silhouettes, high quality organic material and dedication to sustainability have already won over the lingerie industry (Rihanna wore their body suit in her February Rolling Stone spread) and now they've set their sights on swimwear. It's the perfect palette cleanser to all that neon going on elsewhere in the market. Price range: $120-$160
Filles a Papa Ideal for: The irreverent tomboy The 411: Begun by two sisters (the name means 'daughters to papa'), this two-year old Belgian brand definitely has a unique point of view when it comes to their just-launched swimwear line. Best of all, all their swimsuits come in these amazing matching neoprene pouches, which we think could totally double as clutches. Price range: $237 - $257
Minnow Bathers Ideal for: The nostalgia-hound The 411: Nostalgia for childhood summers--and the full coverage swimsuits that populated them--is what informs Toronto-based design duo Karen Donaldsen and Vanessa Warrack. They specialize in sturdy suits--either high-waisted two-pieces or un-skimpy one-pieces--in pretty yet offbeat prints. The homegrown vibe is not just good marketing. Donaldsen and Warrack are the real deal: They still make each swimsuit by hand and sell their wares on Etsy. Price range: $80-$145
Minimale Animale Ideal for: Unappologetically sexy beach babe The 411: Thongs, fishnets, sheer panels, palm-tree shaped nipple coverings...these are just a handful of Minimale Animale's signatures. You know that mesh one-piece Miley Cyrus (and her matching Barbie) are wearing in her Can't Stop video? Yep, that's Minimale Animale. Take note now--this Cali-based label is about to blow up. It doesn't hurt that designer Cassandra Kellogg is a serious babe either. Price range: $205-$280
Bantu Ideal for: The ethically-minded globetrotter The 411: Made in Africa, by Africans in an ethical way, Bantu takes the African-print trend to whole new (more socially responsible!) levels. Price range: $160-$185
Blackmilk Ideal for: Twenty-somethings new ravers The 411: This Aussie based label is continuing where We Are Handsome left off. It's definitely an acquired taste--designs include one-pieces printed with gameboys, Darth Vadar, and marijuana leaves--but sure to find a loyal following among a certain sector of young twenty-somethings. Price range: $80-$90
Prism Ideal for: The Sophisticate The 411: This UK-based label is another brand putting their own unique spin on classic not-too-sexy silhouettes. Price range: $285-$400
Made by Dawn Ideal for: The modern-day bohemian The 411: Hawaiian designer Dawn Peterson's mission is to create a " unique and artistic collection of bikinis that are made to look and feel great on." The logo for the brand is a cute hand-drawn happy face, and the item description on her site reads: "Consider this bikini an accessory for your natural self. Be free, be happy, share the joy, love yourself and others." Unsurprisingly, the drippy feel-good label, which is sewn in California, has already caught the eye of a few Hollywood trendsetters: Nicole Richie was just seen wearing the label while on vacation. Price range: $170 - $200