The global swimwear market is expected to exceed $28 billion by 2019, and it's starting to feel like there are new brands popping up every other week hoping to snatch up a chunk of that revenue. With travel becoming accessible to more people, millennials choosing to spend on experiences (like travel) over material things and Instagram "inspiring" us to look our best on vacation, desire for cute swimwear year-round is growing and trends (like the one-piece) are emerging more quickly.
That said, there are lots of swimwear options out there right now — and not every brand is going to survive. Those that are poised to succeed need to have the right mix of innovation, a reasonable price point, strong marketing (hello, swimfluencers), a good retail strategy and some sort of unique concept or cool-girl appeal. Read on for seven up-and-coming labels that we think have what it takes — and are shopping ourselves ahead of summer.
New York-based Leora Elituv started Kisuii, which means "covering" in Hebrew, late last year as a resortwear brand meant to straddle the line between beachwear and ready-to-wear. "People are going to the beach with the mindset of continuing their day," she explained of changing consumer habits that have influenced the brand. "Maybe they'll change before dinner or going out, but during the day they’re just adding another layer." Buyers quickly implored her to make swimsuits, which have since become the backbone of her line.
Coming from a brand marketing background, Elituv's initial goal was to create a more wearable sarong, the design elements of which — like ties, smocking and slits — can be seen throughout her girlie-yet-understated collection. Barneys picked up her first season as an exclusive; she's fielded interest from a number of top retailers but opted to grow slowly and strategically. Quality is key, here: Every suit is made with Italian fabrics and manufactured in Hong Kong and elsewhere (through The Gottex Group, in which Elituv's father is heavily involved). While her team is encouraging retailers to "double-expose" her line (carry it in both beachwear and ready-to-wear sections), she has no intention of going into full ready-to-wear and wants to keep things niche, remaining in the travel category for the foreseeable future.
Launched just last month, Andie is the latest online-only, direct-to-consumer swimwear brand, and it's starting very niche with just three one-piece styles. Much like Elituv, co-founder and CEO Melanie Travis came to swimwear from a branding and marketing background, inspired by the lack of good-quality, affordable, minimalist one pieces that matched her shopping habits. Along with co-founder and CMO Tess De Paula, previously chief of staff to the president of Lancôme USA, she set out to create a company that filled that niche, starting by surveying over 1,000 women about their needs and frustrations when it came to swimwear.
"Ninety-nine percent of women we surveyed would rather go to the dentist than go swim shopping," notes De Paula. Customers put down a $19 deposit and are sent a box with three styles to try on in the comfort of their own homes and simply send back what they don't want. Shipping and returns are free, and the $19 either goes towards the price of what they keep or gets refunded if they return everything. So far, Travis and Elituv, who are based in New York but produce everything in Los Angeles, say the return rate is pretty low, so the suits must be decent.
Prices: $125 for one suit, $115 each for two, and $105 each for all three.
Sisters Ilona Hamer and Peta Heinsen launched luxury swimwear line Matteau for Resort 2016 and design it between New York and Sydney, Australia. The brand melds Hamer's experience as a fashion stylist and Heinsen's in marketing, with the goal of providing simple, timeless designs that transcend trends while still having a recognizable appearance. When it comes to minimalist swimwear — which is definitely having a moment — we haven't found many options chicer than this brand. "The Matteau woman isn't really concerned with trends or what's 'in,' says Hamer. "She is concerned with style, details and acquiring pieces that help her tell her story and make her feel confident." As an added bonus, fit is a top priority, and every style is meant to accommodate women of all bust sizes.
Following prominent design gigs at Zimmermann and Saint Laurent, Nicole Banning launched Ephemera in 2014 in Paris before relocating to Australia (where a lot of swimwear brands are based, as you've probably noticed). Similarly to Elituv, Banning approaches swimwear with a ready-to-wear point of view and executes her minimalist designs to the same standards as high-end clothing. The resulting suits feel like the sorts of items one can wear — and look fresh and stylish in — for years.
Los Angeles-based Parsons grad Roxana Salehoun launched her line with Moda Operandi in 2014 after a stint at Gap. She produces everything locally and has gained momentum recently with new stockists and an expanded offering. Her suits are inspired by classic, feminine silhouettes but have cheeky, playful elements that still feel elevated thanks to her use of imported European textiles
Los Angeles is starting to catch up with Australia as a swimwear hub. One of the latest brands to launch here is Sidway, which started this past February with a small range of bikinis and one pieces inspired by those worn by '90s supermodels. The silhouettes, designed by Sarah Sidway Godshaw, are sexy but sleek; they mold to the body thanks to high spandex content, while hems are filled with rubber to prevent the drooping that can happen over time with swimsuits. Previously, Godshaw designed swimwear for Puma, Nanette Lepore, Bikini Lab, Rampage, more, so her resume should speak for itself.
Most recently, she helped Nasty Gal launch its in-house swim line. "I learned so much about direct-to-consumer swimwear that it made me feel really ready to go out on my own," she says. Everything is manufactured in a factory in Shanghai that she had a relationship with through previous employers. "It's really special relationship that allows us to have custom colors, fits, prints and fabrics for my small quantities," she says. With some help from her photographer husband, she runs the line alone while also consulting for other swim brands, and has no outside funding.
Prices: $88 for tops, $78 for bottoms, $138 for one pieces.
Brazilian designer Bruna Malucelli just popped onto our radar with her new size-inclusive line and marketing campaign featuring the sweetest lemon and daisy prints on minimalist silhouettes. The brand has also made headlines for its customizable, '90s-inspired one pieces on which you can have any nine letters printed.
Prices: $230-$260 for one pieces and bikini sets.
Available: Bruna Malucelli