How to Start a Swimwear Line: Best Guide
Want to design your own swimsuit, but having trouble? This interview is the good stuff that most brands keep close to the vest, and never share. It’s understandable why brands are so top secret. Because after all that work, who wouldn't feel like if I had to do ALL OF THIS, you should too. Thankfully this interviewee is a lot more generous than most brands, and wants to help the next generation of startup fashion founders find their identity. In the video interview, and this article, we end up sharing high-level information, the things you typically only learn when you are in the fashion trenches. It’s information on how to start a swimwear line that some brands end up losing thousands of dollars on while making mistakes trying to learn as they go.
BUT BEFORE WE GET STARTED
Have you heard about the super secret document that everyone in the fashion industry uses, but no one is talking about? Probably not. That is because you can't find it on Google or Instagram (believe me, I've tried).
It's a form I have used for over 13 years at every job I have ever had. Literally everyone from brands to fabric suppliers, use it, but you can't find it anywhere publicly.
The best part? It can cut your sourcing time in half, and save you tons of money in product development! This is the kind of info consultants charge the big bucks for. And, I'm giving it away for free until the end of the month.
So, get ready to make fashion startup life a whole lot easier, and GRAB YOUR FREE DOWNLOAD OF THE NOT SO SECRET SOURCING DOC HERE
WHAT YOU WILL EARN IN THIS ARTICLE
- Who you will be learning from today
- Choosing the best fabrics to use for swimwear
- Trends and design research
- A fast fashion bikini vs a luxury bikini
- The best quotes from the interview
- Additional resources
WHAT MAKES ELISABETTA SO QUALIFIED TO TEACH YOU ABOUT HOW TO START A SWIMWEAR LINE?
Born into a family of expert knitters in Milan, Elisabetta Bianco has followed in her grandparent’s footsteps. In 2021, Elisabetta decided to start a luxury swimwear brand to create luxury Itlaian made swimwear at an affordable price. Together with her life partner, a textile consultant, and her brother, an economist, Elisabetta has created a swim brand dedicated to quality materials, full product traceability, as well as social and environmental sustainability.
Elisabetta’s family works with some of the best-known brands across Europe. Stretchy knit fabrics and garments are her family’s life, and she seriously knows the latest trends.
YOU CAN GET TO KNOW ELIZABETTA BETTER IN THIS LIVE INTERVIEW WE DID IN ITALY
CHOOSING THE BEST SWIMWEAR FABRICS
First, admit to yourself the things you don’t know. Do you know the marketplace, how well do you understand swimsuit designs, who's your target market?
Always conduct market research and factory research, of course.
If you can't answer these questions, then rely on experts to help you.
When learning how to start a swimwear line, it’s ok to admit to yourself you don’t know everything. You might not know what your brand identity is or have a plan for growth and that's ok.
Many times, designers are great at sketching and create designs that look incredible on paper. But their brands fail because the product does not translate to a IRL garment sample. The brands end up stuck in the sampling stage, trying out different measurements and swimsuit fabric, trims, fixing their logo, and ultimately blowing through all of their money before even getting a chance to launch.
One of the reasons for this is that while designers’ can draw, they lack technical experience.
To prevent designs from getting lost in translation during the sampling process, it’s important to have a good relationship with your supplier. Your supplier will know the best production materials to use for your line and suggest which will fit your brand's needs.
And while it’s totally ok to rely on them for their expertise. You shouldn’t go into your swimwear manufacturing meeting totally uneducated, there are a few things you need to know about…
Bottom line, when you design your own swimsuit, it's ok to admit you don't know everything and lean on other experts for support.
Fabric fastness is the most important thing to consider when you design your own bathing suit. Fastness is a technical term that measures how quickly color will fade from a fabric because of things like washing, the sun, or even chlorine water. As a brand you want good color fastness so peoples swimsuits don’t fade and look wornout, then end up in the trash.
Think about it. Bikinis are often worn on the beach or the pool. Sun, sand, sweat, and lots of other elements can break them down, and wear them out quickly. Sunlight, salt, and chlorine also ramp up the color-fading process. Suits can lose noticeable color as quickly as 3 or 4 wears in some cases.
And, the effects of these environmental factors don’t just affect the fabric’s color and aesthetics, but their strength and integrity.
But, get this - all fabrics in Italy must meet a certain dye standard. It is against the law to produce something that does not meet a certain level of quality. So, if you know that a fabric was made in Italy, then you are almost 100% guaranteed that it will have good colorfastness.
DON’T FALL FOR THIS FABRIC QUALTIY LOOP HOLE
But, just be careful. This is where it gets confusing. A made in Italy tag on a garment, does not always mean the fabric is good quality. That is because, the “made in” on a label is where the garment is made, not the fabric.
Some shady brands buy fabrics from lower price countries (think, China), and ship them to Italy. Garments are then sewn with the lower quality fabrics, and technically the tags can still say “Made in Italy”.
This is why transparency is so important in the fashion industry, and why consumers should be pushing for laws that require brands not only to list where they are sewing, but where the fabrics are coming from.
With swim specifically, there is only so much that a brand and supplier can do to prevent the color from fading and breaking down. An,d customers need to help out too by taking care of their garments properly. Meaning, as soon as they wear a swimsuit, they should take it off, wash it, and get that salt and chlorine off immediately. Don’t give it time to degrade the fabric.
ELASTICITY AND FABRIC CONTENT
When making a swimsuit there are two different types of stretch you need, in the fabric, and in the garment construction. And, it’s crucial you get both correct when learning how to start a swimwear line. Let’s start with fabric.
When choosing a fabric with good elasticity and performance, many brands think the answers are on the care labels in their closet. Again, just like made in, these labels are not telling the whole truth. For example, all 97% recycled polyester and 3% spandex fabrics are not equal. The quality of the fabric will not only be determined by the quality of the yarns in the fabric, but also by how the supplier combines them to engineer the best fabric possible. This is where the expertise of your supplier becomes super important.
Think of if this way. Craft singles is not the same as an imported gourmet bree. Yea, they are both cheese, yea you can put them booth on crackers, but they are not equal quality. The same goes for the fibers (ingredients) in your garment. They are not all the same.
Other important things to consider when you design your own swimsuit, are fabric weights and compression. Heavier and stronger isn’t always better. It is important to think about the customer while making this decision. A younger customer tends to like lighter fabric, whereas older customers tend to like heavier fabrics, with a bit more compression (stretch).
Garment stretch is what will make or break your product. Elastic is almost always used in the seams of the swimsuit. And, you need to make sure to use a nice stretchy, comfy elastic. When a cheaper stiffer elastic is substituted to cut costs, it will also cut into the wearer's skin, and feel very uncomfortable.
Also, different qualities of elastic might be needed for different parts of the garment. For example, the elastic in the tie strings around the neck of a custom bikini will need to be different from the elastic in the leg hole of the bottoms. This is because strings in the top require a lot more strength to hold the swimsuit on, whereas the leg holes need more stretch for comfort.
Remember that swimsuits are worn both dry and wet. The customer needs to be comfortable, and the elasticity needs to work for both conditions. Elastic/spandex is considered a comfort fiber because it allows for movement and flexibility.
But, again, not all elastics are equal.
What is more important than the stretching is actually the recovery. Recovery is how well the fabric snaps back to its original form after being stretched out. Recovery is important, because you don’t want a swimsuit to remain stretched out and get saggy over time, you wan’t it to hold it’s shape.
It you take anything away from this article when you design your own swimsuit - please let it be this. Stretch can make or break your brand.
Bikinis are small pieces of clothing, but they still have a big impact on the planet. So, if you can choose a sustainable yarn instead of a conventional one, why wouldn't you? Yes, it may cost a bit more. And, while it is definitely more expensive, it is not so expensive that it’s not possible for new startup brands to use. It is a realtivly small investment to make for a big environmental impact.
But, while sustainability is important when you design your own swimsuit, it should never be the main focus.
It is the job of the designer to make something nice, and then make it sustainable. Because, when consumers shop, they buy things because they like them, not because they are sustainable. That is just the cold hard truth. Backed with data.
If your idea for a brand is “this random brand I like” but I’ll make it sustainable, that is not a brand. The key is to create a swim brand that people love, that also just so happens to be sustainable. Again, (because no one ever wants to believe me when I say this) it’s worth repeating that no one buys ugly clothes they don’t like just because they are earth conscious. We all buy things because we like them or need them. So, always, always, always focus on design first.
Back in the day, sustainable fabrics were of lower quality. But, today, some recycled fabrics feel even nicer than the virgin poly ones - check out this article to learn more about high quality recycled polyester.
4 TIPS ON HOW TO DESIGN SWIMWEAR
Is it just me, or does everything kind of look the same, especially on social media? Every influencer has a custom swimsuits line these days. So, how do you stand out from everyone else, but still be on trend? Here are some tips:
DESIGN SOMETHING THAT YOU LIKE
It’s that simple.
When you design your own swimsuit, you don’t necessarily have to wear it yourself, but you need to like it. It is so hard (impossible) to sell a product you don’t like and don’t believe in.
BE COHESIVE WITH YOUR LOOK
This is something that often gets forgotten in discussions about how to start a swimwear line. Don’t bounce around from style to style, year to year. If you make neon micro bikinis in one collection, it will confuse your customer if you start making earth-tone modest one pieces.
When you design your own swimsuit, this can be easier said than done. Especially, when as individuals, we tend to like so many different things. We usually don’t buy our entire wardrobe from one brand. So, to design well, you need to be able to separate all the different styles you have in your own closet from what will create a cohesive brand image.
STAYING AHEAD OF THE TRENDS
Once it's on Instagram, the trend is over.
Now, you could go to garment trade shows, where buyers go to buy new styles. And with this you can see what is new about 3-6 months before it shows up on your feed. But, even then, you are still too late. Instead, use your fabric and garment suppliers.
Garment and fabric suppliers know what the trends are a year before they end up in stores, because brands are doing their developments that far in advance. And, if you lean on your suppliers for trend info, you can easily get ahead of the trends.
Now suppliers are not just going to come out and tell you what everyone else is doing. So, try asking your supplier, I really like this fabric, do a lot of people use it? Or try asking, what is your best seller?
TRUST YOUR GUT WHEN YOU DESIGN YOUR OWN SWIMSUIT
If you think something is going to do well, go for it. Don’t listen to everyone else saying no. For example, there have been a few times when brands I worked with gave me a design, and I would think, omg this is so ugly it is never going to sell. Then it becomes their top seller for 3 years.
The lesson is, it doesn’t matter what other people think as long as the product hits with your target customer and they like it. Fashion is so personal. The perfect garment to one person, might be the ugliest thing ever to someone else. Remember that.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A FAST FASHION BIKINI AND A LUXURY ONE
Don’t cut corners when making your own swimwear designs. It’s all these little details that create a quality bikini. Here are some tools to consider throughout the production process:
MAKE A LIST OF DESIGN PROS AND CONS
Your first sample should never be your final sample. No one, even the best swimwear industry factories, get it 100% right on the first try. So, to cust down on the cost of sampling, I like to do this.
When working with your sewing partner, play the ‘what if’ game. What if we do this, what if we try that, what will happen if this is the design instead of this? Ask all of these questions, before you even start sewing. By asking all of these questions you are going to get educated and be able to make better design decisions. And develop the pros and cons of each.
PAY ATTENTION TO FINISHING DETAILS
Remember those old school tights, the ones that used to just dig into your waist like you were wearing a rubber band around your stomach? That's the effect binding can give on a swimsuit.
Seam binding involves wrapping another piece of fabric over the edge of the garment to prevent the fabric from fraying and holding it all together. It’s the cheapest way to finish the seams on a bikini.
The problem is, with binding, it adds a lot of strength and reduces stretch. Which in turn, reduces comfort.
A clean finish or invisible seam is a lot more expensive than a bound seam. That is because the entire garment needs to be sewn inside out and then finished by hand. But, it’s worth it because it’s so much more comfortable. So, if you can, always opt for clean finishes to create a better, more comfortable product.
SAMPLE, SAMPLE, SAMPLE
Sampling costs a lot of money, that’s why I told you about the What If Game. But, some what ifs we just need to see in person with a physical sample that can be tried on and evaluated by a real person.
Sampling makes the product better.
So, make sure to budget for at least 2 samples in your business model, maybe even more. Some brands (like Isabetta) do as many as 10 samples to get their product perfect.
People always ask me how many pieces in a swimwear collection? And, there is no right answer. I would rather you make one absolutely perfect design (if that is what your budget allows for), then 10 crappy ones.
It’s important to know right from the start; the first sample will never be perfect. You can’t start a brand in 2 months; it takes at least 6 months to do it right (from ideas to launch day) doing all the proper research and product development work.
Bottom line, make time for all the sampling.
It can feel like groundhogs day, making your samples over and over again until they are perfect. But, there is so much product out there in the world right now, including bad products. Don’t make more of that! Take the time to do it right, and do it well.
And, remember. Working with the best factory in the world isn’t the magic pill to becoming a successful swimwear label. Taking the time to tweak your idea through many ideations until it really is perfect is what will create a great swimwear brand. This is the secret to a luxury swim product. Even Isabetta with a a ton experience and a team of experts makes multiple samples.
A FEW GREAT QUOTES FROM THE VIDEO INTERVIEW
- Maybe you will receive 1,000 no’s, but all you need is 1 yes.
- When you design your own swimsuit, don’t fake it till you make it, don’t pretend you know what you’re doing, listen to experts.
- Keep an eye on trends, when designing a clothing line, but don’t be a slave to them – otherwise you are just making more of the same.
- If it’s not comfortable, people won’t wear it, and they won’t want to tell their friends about it.
- There is a difference between a customer buying your bikinis and actually wearing your custom bathing suits.
- Good brands that “sell out,” probably took them at least 2 years to develop the product before that success happened – but they never talk about that.
- It seems so hard to me and so easy for everyone else; you’re not a failure, it takes longer and is harder than anyone will let you know.
HOW TO START A SWIMWEAR LINE - ADDITIONAL RESOURCES
- Check out Isabetta’s online store to shop her womens swimsuits - Edelvissa.it
- Is swimwear a good business? You get, so to get you started here’s how to find the perfect swimwear manufacturer
- 6 tip for working with a swimwear factory
- Everything you could ever want to know about recycled polyester fabrics
- And, if you are an established brand, here are some tips for starting your fashion marketing plan
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Did you enjoy Isabetta’s story? Now that you have a good understanding of how to start a swimwear line, what is the next step you are going to take in your fashion startup business?