How have a boom in fitness, soaring levels of international travel and increased body positivity impacted the swimwear market?
We're living in an age when the notion of 'beach body' is fading. In fact, companies will get lambasted for suggesting that any body is less than beach-ready.
That's a great thing for a more inclusive swimwear market - a market that has been growing at a moderate pace since 2010 and is set to be worth 20 billion dollars globally by next year.
What's changing the swimwear market?
Many factors have driven that growth, for instance, Coachella. Have you seen what they're wearing to that these days? More influential perhaps is the increased participation in exercise and the growing emerging markets like China and India and a boom in air travel.
In the next 20 years the passenger count globally will double, to 8 billion passengers. APAC will be the biggest driver, contributing half of those passengers. In fact, by 2022 China will overtake the US as the largest aviation market, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
That's important because these are markets which the swim category hasn't fully penetrated yet and that could have different swimwear needs. According to EDITED data, India saw the biggest growth in its swim category between Q1 2016 and Q1 2018 than other regions.
The chart below, showing data from IATA, shows how aviation markets will change in the next 20 years.
Of course, not all of those passengers are heading off on a jolly requiring swimwear.
But looking at data on holiday types shows that many are - 35% of vacationing Americans intend to travel internationally this year, up 9% on 2016. Their key destinations are swim-savvy Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica.
In the UK the average holidaymaker took 1.7 overseas holidays last year. And for British holidaymakers, beach holidays accounted for 41% of trips - a growth of 3% in just two years.
Assessing the figures behind swimwear
So how does all that consumer shift affect the market? And the really big question: is it one-piece swimsuit or two-piece bikini this year?
Thankfully, our data answers both. First up, go grab yourself a one-piece. This item which was red hot last year, growing 9% in Q1 compared to 2016, may only have climbed a further 1% this year but new bikini arrivals fell by nearly 7% in Q1 2018.
Get covered: new arrivals of one-piece swimsuits continue to grow, while bikinis have fallen back.
Swimsuit growth is very noticeable in the chart below, with arrivals kicking into gear earlier in the season over the last two years.
But don't cast the humble bikini aside - it still represents the bulk of the global market, accounting for 68% compared to 28% for swimsuits.
Luxury swim gets deeper
In the first quarter of 2016, luxury accounted for just 9% of the women's swim market. This year that has climbed to 16%, with Solid & Striped, Eres and Melissa Obadash the most-stocked brands.
Farfetch has increased its women's swim offering by 349% and Matches by 288%. It's the global luxury e-commerce retailers who are able to expand the swim category most. Their customers really span the planet - including loyal Chinese markets - and travel frequently.
The broadening of the luxury segment sees the average price fall a little, with a swimsuit costing on average $304.59, down 4.7% from Q1 2017. Affordable luxury price points and trend will remain absolutely key to this segment.
Seasonality of swimwear
One major impact of the rise in air travel is a shift in the seasonality of swim. Increasingly consumers are travelling further afield, and to climates that are out of sync with their home territory. The impact of that is seen below, with emphasis shifting out of April and into Q1.
Now swimwear is dropped earlier in the year and becomes a focus again in the late fall months.
And that is echoed in retailer email comms of swim, shown below, which have formerly peaked in May. It's looking on-track to peak in April this year, with a longer season running through to July.
Also take note of the big increase in communicating swim in December last year. When are you planning to discuss your swim assortment? And what newness do you have in Q4 that you could be communicating to holiday travellers?
Summer 2018's biggest swim trends
So what makes it into this year's hottest swimwear?
1. Red swimsuits - they rocketed in 2017, thanks to the Baywatch movie, and are back even stronger this season, with a further 84% YoY growth in Q1 in the UK and 63% in the US.
2. Scoop-back - stemming from the 90s homage happening across fashion now, scoop-back swimsuits have climbed 88% in the US and 48% in the UK in Q1 this year. Double down on trends and make your scoop back in bold stripes.
3. High waist bikini briefs - this retro look is still climbing in the UK, up by 45% in Q1 (it's less loved in the US, up by only 10%). This style is seeing increased adoption by the plus size market too.
4. Tie front swimsuits - this is a new trend, that's not yet been fully explored, but is already making its way onto Instagram influencers. In the UK, these tie front or "under boob" styles have risen 90% and 63% in the US.
5. Brace yourself. Thong swimwear is back. In the US it's risen(!) 544% in Q1 and in the UK 500%. It's interesting to see that as increased options around modesty grow, so too do options for those wishing to be more daring - this is thanks to socially-driven body positivity campaigns.
What next for the category?
Assess your expectations, this market is not an enormous one - it's about half the size of the underwear market globally (which given how often the most of us wear underwear versus swim, isn't too bad!). Therefore retailers will need to keep pushing new trends to encourage shoppers to purchase anew each holiday.
Those emerging markets are a big opportunity for modest swimwear - swimwear garments with longer cuts or apparel that you can bathe in.
There's also under-explored opportunity in cross-seasonal swim. Beachwear focuses on cotton dresses and sarongs, but what about those swimmers and surfers that are year-round hobbyists? What are their options post-dip?
There's one segment retailers may be overlooking: new arrivals in women's performance swimwear were down by 22% in Q1 2018 compared to Q1 2016. That runs counter to uptake stats in water sports.
However you approach this category, make sure to do it with data.