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Back with a splash. The return of swimwear

A deep dive into the swimwear market and why retailers should be backing swim products for post-pandemic assortments and promotions.
Back with a splash. The return of swimwear | EDITED

At the height of COVID last year, swimwear was the problem child category amongst retailers' assortments. With lockdowns in full force and vacation plans on hold, arrivals lapsed and discounting increased. 

As vaccinations roll out and the world reopens, the market is rebounding as retailers feed consumers' desire for escapism by introducing fresh product drops ahead of an optimistic summer reset. 

To make the most of this shift, we've compiled data-backed insights into why this category is poised for success to support your decision-making.

Swimwear not your area? Get in touch to see a demo on how EDITED data can transform your processes to help your category compete in the current state of the market.

Key Takeaways

  • The swimwear market is experiencing a revival with arrivals and sell outs up 7% and 34%, respectively, while discounting has lessened. With the world reopening to tourism and Euromonitor forecasting this category's sales to return to pre-pandemic levels by 2022, the time is ripe for investment. 
  • After being travel-deprived for a year, American consumers are willing to spend 61% more on their vacations in 2021, according to Expedia. Retailers can consider realigning their prices for this in-demand category to improve on last year's margins. Products that can fetch a higher advertised price include swimwear with on-trend details such as cut-outs and more eco-friendly materials. 
  • Size-inclusivity is helping retailers unlock success in this market. Both Good American and Everlane reported strong sales for their swimwear ranges. In an interview with Vogue Business, Everlane said its fit prioritized swim launch, “exceeded expectations by almost 90%.”
Back with a splash. The return of swimwear | EDITED
Good American Women Email US - May 9, 2021

Arrivals are up and so are sell outs

Initially, 2020 arrivals were poised to outpace 2019. Then COVID hit, resulting in retailers pulling back on their swimwear assortments. While they are yet to return to post-pandemic levels (new arrivals since January are down 14%), there is a 7% increase YoY. Brands like boohoo, Free People, Madewell and Nasty Gal are throwing their weight behind this category, expanding their swim ranges compared to 2019.

Back with a splash. The return of swimwear | EDITED

Consumers are responding well to this shift. From the start of the year until May 10th, sell outs are also up 34% YoY. 

Looking to regions that enjoyed a relatively COVID-free summer can help understand this category's potential. In Australia, new swimwear sell outs grew 113% throughout its December to February summer season, piquing hopes for a continuous upwards sales trajectory with high summer drops in the Northern Hemisphere. And it's only going upwards from here - Euromonitor predicts pre-pandemic levels of sales will return by 2022, making it all the more important to nail this category now.

So what does this new market look like? We’ve used EDITED data to answer retailers’ pressing questions on what their competitors are landing and what's working.

Printed or plain?

New arrivals across both the US and UK are mainly solid colors rather than patterns - only 31% of new swim styles have a print applied. Those that are patterned are predominantly floral, animal print or striped, which all translated to top moving styles. PrettyLittleThing and Motel have landed psychedelic swirls, catering to the in-demand 70s print trend.  

Bold or muted hues?

Black and white are the most dominant and best performing shades across both markets, equaling 20% and 10% of new arrivals and 16% and 13% of sell outs, respectively. Blues, greens and pinks all saw success with consumers favoring bright tones in line with the dopamine dressing trend.

Back with a splash. The return of swimwear | EDITED

Bikinis or one-pieces?

Bikinis are the most-invested and top-selling swimwear category across both regions, equating to 74% of arrivals and 70% of sell outs. Separating the data regionally helps provide insight into other silhouette opportunities. For example, the US is more invested in swimsuits and tankinis than the UK. Corresponding with the demand for comfort lingerie, bralette bikini tops currently stocked are up 31% YoY.

The hottest details

Not just for tops and dresses, ruching across swimwear has been outlined as a trend Gen Z consumers want now. Additionally, sexy dressing has transcended categories with cut-outs a hero detail on SS21 swimwear. It also helps ASOS command a higher price point for the category and increase basket spend. The average advertised price of swimwear featuring the detail on its site is $45.06 compared to the lower cost of $33.68 across all swimwear.

Discounts have contracted

With vacations paused and unsold stock piling up around this time last year, swimwear was a category attracting hefty markdowns. Now, with fewer and shallower discounts on new products arriving since the start of 2021, retailers' margins will be looking a lot healthier than a year ago. In the UK, 28% of swimwear assortments are reduced vs. last year’s 38%. These new products also have a lower discount depth at an average of 27% compared to 32% in 2020. This trend is also noted at US retailers, with new styles reduced on average at 49% compared to 55% in 2020. 

Holidays are back on

A key driver in swimwear’s rebound has been consumer optimism around a return to normal as travel resumes and borders reopen. Foreign travel in the UK will reopen in summer under a traffic light system, with countries ranked green, amber or red depending on their COVID risk. Those returning from amber countries, which include popular summer destinations such as Spain, Italy and Greece, must quarantine at home for 10 days upon their return to the UK. Self-isolation isn’t required for green countries such as Portugal, which saw a 600% surge in bookings by sun-chasing Brits since the traffic light system was announced. In the US, travel-deprived consumers plan to take longer vacations and 61% are willing to spend more on their trips, according to an Expedia study. This indicates a greater prioritization around vacation products such as swimwear, allowing retailers to adjust prices accordingly to make up for last year’s sluggish results. 

Back with a splash. The return of swimwear | EDITED
For Love & Lemons Email - Mar 15, 2021

It’s getting a sustainable overhaul

There has been an emphasis on more environmentally-friendly material alternatives in swimwear over the past few years. Recycled and repurposed materials are a key call out here with a particular spotlight on ECONYL®, nylon made from post-consumer waste products, and REPREVE®, a fiber made from recycled plastic bottles. Activewear brand Girlfriend Collective is the latest to join this space, releasing eight swim styles made from recycled fishing nets in sizes XXS-6X. Due to its contact with water, retailers are also educating their consumers on caring for their swimsuits to avoid microplastic shedding. 

Products described containing these materials or as recyclable and sustainable are far more commonplace in the mass market, combined are up 307% YoY, despite COVID causing swimwear to dip in newness. These items commanded a 63% higher price point on average compared to the swimwear styles not including these keywords. While retailers need to prioritize sustainability, they also need to factor in the expense of eco materials, fair wages and proper working conditions for suppliers and factory workers before classifying its products as sustainable.

Back with a splash. The return of swimwear | EDITED
Sweaty Betty Email UK - May 9, 2021

Inclusivity is prioritized

As a category synonymous with body image, retailers' swimwear assortments and campaigns can no longer cater strictly to sizes and shapes once dictated as “ideal” without repercussions. As the Gen Z consumers’ voice and purchasing power grows stronger, they will want to align themselves with brands that underscore inclusivity, embrace flaws and champion acceptance. Brands that don’t evolve now could risk alienating and excluding current and future consumers that don’t want to fit into an outdated image standard.

While there is still work to be done on making body-diverse products the norm, retailers are recognizing the opportunity and expanding their ranges with fit front of mind. New arrivals advertised as plus size swimwear have increased 169% since 2019, proving there is still space for growth in this sector. J.Crew is serving the tall market and promoting swimwear for those with long torsos struggling to find one-pieces that fit. Everlane’s first foray into swimwear this year (which was 82% ECONYL®) is available across XXS-XXL and was fit-tested on 112 various body shapes and sizes. 

Despite launching amid a pandemic, Good American’s size-inclusive swimwear line has reported strong sales, which indicates catering to this underserved market pays off.

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