The swimwear industry in the midst of a one-piece revival.
In a spot poll carried out by Lingerie Insight, 59 industry professionals (88%) agreed with this statement and, in a more in-depth survey, luxury and mid-market brands and retailers confirmed that they had witnessed a surge in swimsuit sales this year.
One example is Coco Bay, an online retailer specialising in premium swimwear, which reported a 100% increase in swimsuit sales in spring 2017 compared to a year ago.
Meanwhile at Figleaves, swimsuits have been growing in popularity over the last few seasons.
“Within own-brand, swimsuits remain our biggest cash driver accounting for 55% of the sales, a growth of 31% on the year. Within branded swimsuits, sales have lifted 15% on last year,” says Figleaves acting buyer for swimwear, socks and hosiery, Samantha Winyard.
Heidi Klein, a one-stop holiday shop, with stores in London’s Chelsea and Notting Hill, has also seen a increase in one-piece sales, so much so that it has expanded this area of the business, with the launch of new collections.
“We’ve definitely seen growth in this area,” says co-founder Penny Klein. “The increase has been significant enough for us to increase our swimsuit range by close to 30%.”
For independent swimwear brand Pistol Panties, swimsuits have always featured heavily in its collections, but it’s only now that retailers are beginning to take stock of them in significant numbers.
“Going back 12 years, about 30% of our collection consisted of swimsuits,” explains founder and designer Deborah Fleming. “At first, department stores were hesitant to buy into them and we found we had a lot of swimsuits left over back then. But we persevered and, funnily enough, swimsuits now make up 50 to 60% of their orders.”
A pool of choice
There appears to be a number of factors that are driving the surge in one-piece sales, the main one being choice.
In recent months, there has been a influx in fashion-forward, elegant swimsuits designed to flatter all body shapes.
New brand Alexandra Miro, for example, has launched a sexy and sculpting swimsuit collection featuring neoprene fabric, moulded cups, plunging necklines and cut-outs.
“There are so many different swimsuit shapes available now that didn’t exist before,” says Bravissimo product manager Clare Harris.
“The one-piece used to be a pull-on style with two thick straps and now you have the bandeau, cut-out, one-shoulder, cross-back, low-back, low-front. There is so much variation and excitement going on.”
Coco Bay founder Belinda Robinson seconds that argument and adds: “Designers are no longer seeing the one-piece as having to be practical or offering coverage for the body-conscious.”
Dawn Barber, managing director of UK Swimwear, whose best-selling brand is Gottex, agrees that brands are flexing their creative muscles when it comes to swimsuits.
“Ladies of all ages are going for a full suit as the cut is much more flattering and there are some fabulous prints and embellishments around now.”
Robinson believes that this image re-positioning has been fuelled by high-profile celebrities, such as Taylor Swift and Kim Kardashian, choosing sexy one-pieces over the bikini. And Rebecca Torres, founder of her namesake swimwear brand, agrees.
“With the rise of social media channels like Instagram, consumers have greater access to holiday snaps taken by celebrities wearing that ‘must-have’ one-piece,” Torres comments.
Swimwear as outerwear
Fashion-forward swimsuits, just like on-trend bodysuits, also lend themselves to outerwear.
New brands like Arabella London are reinventing the one-piece as a multi-functional garment worn beyond the beach, while high street retailers such as Topshop are merchandising this category with clothing items like denim shorts and evening dresses.
“One-pieces are great for layering with holiday ready-to-wear,” says Klein. “Luxury customers are savvier than ever about maximising their purchases.”
The rise in popularity of beach-based sports activities, such as paddle boarding and yoga, has also contributed to the swimsuit revival, as have sun-smart campaigns.
“People are less concerned about tanning these days and are more aware of the dangers of sun damage,” explains Fleming. “So they are not as keen on revealing as much skin as they used to.”
So with the swimsuit in the midst of a revival, does this garment have the potential to overtake the bikini in terms of sales? The answer is open to debate.
Robinson says: “No, I think the bikini will always win out, purely because people like to feel the sun on their tummy.”
At Figleaves, own-brand swimsuit sales are beating bikini sales, although bikini sales grew 20% last year, but branded sells tell another story.
“Within branded, bikinis outperform swimsuits with a 64% sales mix,” says Winyard.
Rebecca Torres is seeing the gap close between bikini and swimsuit sales on its website and believes the one-piece does have the potential to overtake the bikini.
“One piece swimsuits are so versatile, with the ability to mix and match with other items,” Torres explains. “It’s great to see such a vast choice of styles in the market.”
Heidi Klein, meanwhile, believes it’s impossible to predict whether swimsuits will become more popular than the two-piece.
“Trends are fickle. One reason we’ve seen such a growth in swimsuit sales is that we’ve improved our offering,” says co-founder Penny Klein.
“Clients have suggested that one-pieces often make them feel flattened around the bust area, so we have taken this on board and have tried and tested and developed the perfect cut. We have hidden wiring, padding and power mesh to make sure the swimsuit is working hard behind the scenes, and we’ve seen growth from this.”