Who can forget the controversial introduction of Bollywood actor John Abraham in Dostana? Clad in yellow shorts, the actor left little to the imagination while dancing at South Beach, Miami. Kim Kardashian's curves grabbed as many eyeballs when she posted a picture of herself wearing a gold sequined bikini. Swimwear, which was part of western culture, is gradually seeping across the world. There are many customers who do not mind showing off their toned bodies. The inhibitions concerning swimwear are drying out fast. Moreover, brands and designers are also paying attention to the plus-size customer base along with fabrics, performance and style.

Designs and innovation

From high tenacity multi-coloured yarns to UV-protection swimwear, companies have raised the innovation bar in the last decade. It is not only the design that matters, but fabric and performance are also a priority. Speedo's compression suit that enhances a swimmer's performance, paved the way for similar advancements. Fabrics offering resistance to chlorine, sand and sun bleaching are finding takers all over the world. Swimwear with quick drying properties, breathability and shape retention, have become a popular choice among customers.

The only concern for manufacturers is the cost of fabric. The materials used in high-tech swimwear can cost anything between US$ 300 to US$ 600 for a full suit, thus making the final product expensive. The cost factor has limited the use of these materials to professional sports. But, with the constant evolution of technology, some swimwear brands designed with high-tech material are also available at US$ 100.

Several popular brands are also emphasising on the comfort factor, focusing on getting rid of conventional wires and seams. The spotlight remains on material and fabrics as brands like Billabong, Ani Bikinis and Mikoh use neoprene raw material for swimwear. In addition to these brands, others like Roxy and Odina use recycled fabric.

Asian market boosts growth

With growing demand of high-performance swimwear, there has been a drastic improvement in the overall swimwear market. According to the Global Market Review of Swimwear and Beach Wear, the global swimwear market stands at around US$ 13 billion. The market is further expected to grow to US$ 19.3 billion by 2018. While Europe and the United States lead swimwear markets, the unprecedented growth in the Asia Pacific region is driving the boom in the swimwear industry.

Though the swimwear market in the United States of America registered a 6 per cent rise and stood at US$ 4.4 billion between June 2013 and May 2014, the major growth in the segment has come from Asia. Most of the developing countries in Asia are going through a shift in demand for consumer goods. Customers of these countries are willing to buy luxury brands in swimwear, too. The growth of the swimwear market is backed by South East Asia and China. Trade pundits also predict that by 2019, the swimwear market in Asia will experience strong growth in both volume and revenue. Currently, European markets are also faring well with France, Italy, Spain, Germany and the United Kingdom accounting for approximately 70 per cent of the sales in the region.


The swimwear market in India is also opening up to social challenges. As India's working class expands, foreign travel is common now. According to the Flip Flop Report 2013 by Expedia.com, India ranked third at 71 per cent in the beach vacation survey. Malaysia secured the top spot with 77 per cent Malaysians going on a beach vacation, followed by Brazil at 73 per cent. The rising figures show an inverse growth in Indian swimwear.

The swimwear market is also experiencing rise in the men's section, even while women's swimwear continues to represent 70 per cent of the total market. In the United States of America, while women's swimwear sales registered a six per cent increase, men's swimwear sales were up by 13 per cent. Currently, almost 34.88 per cent brands cater to men's the swimwear segment whereas 41.86 per cent of the brands have expanded in the children's swimwear section.

Sporting luxury

Brands like H&M, Zara, Uniqlo, Ralph Lauren, Gap, Levi's, Forever 21, Tommy Hilfiger and Hugo Boss are doing exceptionally well in the business of swimwear, but luxury brands like Valentino, Armani Prive, Victoria Beckham, Tom Tailor and Michael Kors are among the fastest growing brands in the same bandwidth. Despite the fact that these luxury brands are attracting customers from all over the world, the plus size segment in swimwear is yet to realise its full potential.

Recently, plus size model Ashley Graham was in the news for posing in a bikini for Sports Illustrated's annual swimsuit issue. With such endeavours, swimsuits for larger women are getting much-needed attention. According to Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst for NPD Group, a consumer market research company, "Plus size swimwear is an exceptionally big trend and a continually growing market that saw a 22 per cent jump in industry sales froms 2012 over 2011."

However, most of the luxury brands in the swimwear business are yet to launch plus size options. This poses a challenge for customers even as it squeezes the growth of the swimwear market.

Swimming against the tide

Swimwear owes its growing popularity to increasing interest in fitness. In developed countries, the health-conscious population is eager to slip on swimwear for medical reasons. The beauty and spa industry is also encouraging the swimwear culture in some countries. Apart from this, developing countries are seeing the beach culture pick up with rising number of tourists, which helps in boosting the swimwear business.

With changes in consumer demographic, teenagers, who have a say in what they want to wear, are pushing the sale of swimwear. Thus, swimwear is attracting old and young alike, and brands are happy to widen their reach. According to Surfside's Peterson, "Swim is becoming increasingly important to younger girls. I see 13-year-old girls choosing some of our most expensive pieces on the floor."


The brands that are adopting fresh market strategies are the ones that are surviving the competition. Brands like L*Space and O'Neill are working on dishing out gifts with purchases to attract customers. Other brands that are improving the designs and working on performance of swimwear are also in a win-win situation.

Amid the growth, one of the biggest impediments for the inclusive swimwear market is the timing of sale. In the swimwear business, brands launch new merchandise just before summer. Stores often run out of swimwear by the time summer arrives. Certain other factors pulling down the sale of swimwear includes an ageing population in countries like Japan. On the other hand, the rising level of poverty in some parts of the world and social factors are also not allowing the swimwear industry grow as it could have. In developing nations like India, the majority of the population is still bound by cultural, social and religious barriers that restrain the growth of swimwear and beachwear market.

Nevertheless, a positive scenario in Asia, especially China, and sustained growth in developed nations augurs high tide for the swimwear industry.


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