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A Study Of The Swimwear Industry In North America Essay, Research Paper

Table of Contents


? Introduction

q Mission 2

q Briefing 2

? Historical Timeline of the Bathing Suit

? Secondary Data Search

q The North American Swimwear Market 4

q Influential Factors of Demand 5

q Swimwear Industry 9

q Brands 10

q Manufacturing 13

q Distribution 13

q Retailing and Advertising 16

q External Factors 17

? Strategic Assessment

q Changes in the Past Five Years 18

? Future

q Increasing Obesity 20

q Increasing R&D 20

q Sunbathing-Related Health Concerns 21

? Primary Research

q Interview 22

q Independent Local Market Study 23

? Recommendations 25

? Limitations 26

? Conclusions 26

? Appendix 27



The intent of this study is to become well informed of the North American swimwear industry, to discover opportunities that have not been exploited, and even try to determine where the industry is heading. This information is very beneficial to one of our group members, Andree-Anne, who presently designs her own swimsuits and is very interested in opening a new type of retail store. She sees a potential in creating swimwear that blends element of fashion and competition to extend its utility, durability, and comfort. The new retail concept would also have a made-to-fit order policy to provide the best fit for every woman?s body type. This industry study will hopefully give her greater insights and help bring these ideas to reality.


We begin with the history of the swimsuit industry, followed by an extensive secondary data search. This section contains the bulk of the factual findings, such as sales, demand factors, and channel conditions. It includes a detailed analysis of the major competitors, how swimwear is branded, distribution channels, and promotional efforts. This section gives an overview of all the internal and external factors and how they translate to the industry?s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

A strategic analysis examines the past and current trends in the swimsuit industry, while the Future section examines research and development, obesity and the potential harm of UV exposure.

We then include all primary research, such as interviews with Yves Lepine, and an independent local market study.

Finally, we conclude with recommendations and limitations of this study.

Historical Timeline of the Bathing Suit

? 300 B.C: First recorded use of bathing apparel was in Greece. Togas were worn when swimming and bathing reached the height of its popularity in the ancient world.

? During the 18th century men and women began to engage in public bathing in French and English spas, though a typical swim was very brief. Suits were cut to preserve modesty and resembled a “bathing gown.” Theses first suits were far from practical or comfortable; ladies went as far as sewing lead weights into the hem of the “bathing gown” to prevent the dress from floating up and exposing her legs.

? The first swimsuits consisted of bloomers and black stockings. Around 1855, drawers were added to prevent the problem of exposure. Women still refrained from swimming too much, as it was not generally accepted until the end of the 19th century, when swimming had become an intercollegiate and Olympic sport.

? The beginning of the twentieth century marked a new daring era in swimwear for women. In 1907, Australian Annette Kellerman caused quite a stir, when she was arrested in the United States for wearing a loose, one piece suit that became the generally accepted swimsuit for women by 1910. After that swimsuits began the trend of becoming lighter, briefer and more stylish. During the “Roaring 20’s” an appreciation for recreation and leisure time was increasing dramatically. In May of 1916, the first annual “Bathing Suit Day” was held at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Swimwear was now becoming skimpier, slimmer, sexier, and very athletic.

? The 20th Century began the swimwear revolution, brought about by the major increase in recreational sports oriented activities and the influence of the exotic cuts of French swimwear.

? The 1930’s lead to swimwear garments that were functional, sleek, and streamlined. The 1934 swimsuit hugged the body and was constructed to allow shoulder straps to be lowered for tanning. By the end of the decade, molded-fit suits were introduced, featuring the “nude look.” The “panel suit” was also popular, retaining a small skirt.

? The 1940’s had bathing beauties, pin-up girls, glamour girls wearing high heels, and jewelry to accessorize their bathing attire. The most exciting was on July 5, 1946, designer Louis Reard introduced a 2-piece creation called the “bikini” at a fashion show in Paris. The suit was named after a few small South Pacific islands called Bikini Atoll. It was proclaimed to be the smallest suit ever and helped comply with the war fabric rations.

? In 1951, bikinis, perhaps seen as an unfair advantage to the wearer, are banned from beauty pageants after the Miss World Contest. The tasteful one-piece reigns supreme. As late as 1959, a woman caught wearing a bikini on New York’s Rockaway Beach could be fined $5.

? The 1960’s were a daring time. Rudi Gernrich came out with his monokini (the topless swimsuit). In 1960, Brian Hyland sings “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini,” triggering a bikini-buying spree among American teens.

? In the 1970?s in Europe, Rio and St. Tropez produce the Tanga suit– also called the Thong, the string bikini or “dental floss.”

? In 1983 Carrie Fisher, as Princess Leia, wears an ornate version of the bikini in “Return of the Jedi.? When Reard, the bikini creator, died in 1984, the bikini made up almost 20% of all swimwear sales in the United States and Canada.

Due to side effects of plastic surgery and implants, many women in the 1990’s have returned to suits with intricately engineered wires, silicone inserts and other fiberfill push up devices. In 1993: the “sports bikini? in the form of a hugging halter-top design becomes the rage, thanks to Volleyball queen Gabrielle Reece and MTV. In 1997, designer John Galliano created a maillot made of satin and jewels, priced at $25,000.

Secondary Data Search

The North American Swimwear Market

General Sales Characteristics

The total North American swimwear market has experienced significant growth during the past decade, and as of 1999 the American swimwear market was approximately $2.2 Billion. Between 1993 and 1999, the total market had the following characteristics:

? The total market grew 37% in terms of sales.

? During the same time, it experienced an 18.1% growth in the number of units sold.

? This translates to an increase of 15.9% in the average unit price: from $16.65 to $19.3. (refer to Appendix, Exhibit 1).

The total market can be divided into swimwear for sports apparel and logo (brand name). Between 1993 and 1999, the swimwear for sports apparel market had the following characteristics:

? A growth of 59.8% in terms of sales.

? An increase of 37% in the number of units sold.

? This translates to an increase of 16.2% in the average unit price: from $16.87 to $19.61.

While the logo market had the following characteristics:

? A growth of 164.6% in terms of sales, and almost doubling as a percentage of total sales: from 16.2% to 31.3%.

? An increase of 111.7% in the number of units sold.

? This translates to the greatest increase of 26.7% in the average unit price: from $15.22 to $19.29.

Gender Differences

There is a large disparity between the market size for men and women. Women spend much more on swimwear than men due their higher participation in water activities, greater quality requirements, but most importantly because of the hope of looking sexy and the fear of looking saggy.

? Women outsell men 2 to 1 on a unit basis.

? In 1999, swimwear expenditures by women accounted for 78.1 % of total sales.

Although the women?s market is much larger than the men?s, and growing more quickly in absolute terms, it is becoming smaller in term of percentages.

? The total market grew by 37% between 1993 and 1999, yet women?s expenditures decreased as a percentage of the whole, from 80.3% to 78.1%.

? During the same time, the women?s market grew by $444 million, and the men?s by $166 million (refer to Appendix, Exhibit 2).

Household Income

Since swimwear is purchased for leisure activities that are related to disposable income, swimwear expenditures vary greatly by household income.

? Between 1993 and 1999, swimwear purchases by all households earning under $70,000 decreased as a whole from 83.1% to 58.2% of total sales (see Appendix, Exhibit 1).

? This segment not only experienced a decrease as a percentage of total sales, but also an actual decrease in absolute terms of $54 million.

? During the same time, only the spending by households earning over $70,000 increased, from 16.9% to 41.8% of total sales.


As would be expected, swimwear sales increase as one goes further south in North America (for our purpose this is only Canada and the US). However, swimsuit expenditures appear to be quite uniform throughout all of North America.

? Between 1993 and 1999, only the North Central US experienced an increase of 4% as a percentage of total sales, yet this gain was offset evenly by the other 4 regions.

? All regions account for 19% to 32% of total swimwear sales.

Influential Factors of Demand

The market for swimwear within North America is influenced by such factors as tourism to warm beach destinations, water sports and other water related activities.

Swimming and Other Related Activities

North American participation in water sports, such as swimming, water polo and diving, is being increasingly adopted by individuals of all ages. In fact, as of 1998, swimming was the fourth most popular sport in Canada.

? Approximately, 1,120,000 people over the age of 15 participated in swimming events in 1998.

? 61% of these individuals (approximately 688,000) are female.

Figures for North America also show the growing popularity of swimming as both a leisure sport and a frequent means of exercise.

? In 1999, 57,900,00 North American participated in swimming activities.

? 3,800,000 were frequent participants of water sports, swimming at least 100 days out of the year.

The increasing popularity of swimming can be seen in the rise of many leagues throughout North America. The official Canadian league, Swimming/Natation Canada, is the governing body of competitive swimming.

? The league is comprised of 50,000 competitive swimmers, in more than 350 clubs.

? It also has over 75,000 recreational swimmers as members.

Gender and Age Considerations

As females represent a larger proportion of participation in water sports; swimsuit manufacturers have provided them with a wider selection of suits than those available to their male counterparts.

Throughout North America, female participation in swimming activities varies greatly according to age.

? In 1999, women between the ages of 35 and 44 represented the largest percentage of swimmers

? Girls between the ages of 7 and 11 followed this group closely.


The tourism industry has been experiencing rapid changes throughout the past two decades. Vacationers have more destinations to choose from and are planning vacations with more frequency and variation.

? As of 1998, only 11% of adults preferred to relax at home while on vacation.

? 27% wanted to relax away from home

? 44% wanted to get away and do many things.

These vacationers increasingly prefer to take 2 or 3 shorter vacations to different destinations rather than one long vacation. Instead of choosing between a weekend in the mountains or one at the beach, they will do both. This translates into higher expenditures on accessories for each trip experience; swimwear for beaches, skis for mountain regions, camera lenses for eco-tourism, etc.

Since travel is closely related to people?s disposable income, a prolonged downturn in the economy could cause North Americans to take fewer, shorter trips, and spend less. However, according to new projections from the Travel Industry Association of America, travel expenditures should continue to grow for at least the next two years. Expenditures will not approach the 63% growth experienced between 1991 and 2000, but an annual growth of rate of 5.5% will still keep destinations and travelers moving at a brisk pace.


As of 1994, beaches were the most popular summer vacation destination for Americans, according to the Travel Industry Association. It was the most common destination among those aged between 25 to 34, and the second most popular for those over 65 years of age.

Total 18 to 24 25 to 34 35 to 44 45 to 54 55 to 64 Over 65

Ocean or Beach 31.1% 31.5% 38.1% 28.2% 29.0% 34.2% 23.1%

Mountain area 10.3% 12.7% 7.3% 12.5% 7.6% 8.6% 12.3%

Lake area 7.3% 3.8% 6.9% 10.6% 8.5% 6.8% 5.7%

City 16.3% 25.8% 14.9% 10.8% 13.4% 26.1% 15.9%

State or National Park 7.9% 5.7% 7.9% 10.1% 10.3% 3.2% 5.1%

Small town 15.3% 16.3% 13.6% 13.8% 14.9% 10.9% 25.6%

Amusement Park 6.8% 4.2% 9.1% 9.8% 6.1% 4.1% 4.0%

Due to Canada?s geography and weather (and lack of data) it is difficult to approximate the nature of trips made by Canadians within Canada. However, Canadians did make 17.6 million trips to the top 15 country destinations, 80% of them to the US. Categorizing these 15 countries, and the top 15 US states, as beach or non-beach destinations provides an approximation of the number of such trips (refer to Appendix, Exhibit 4, 5).

? Approximately 25% of all trips by Canadians were made to beach destinations

? 48% of all nights spent were at beach destinations.

Senior Tourism

According to a recently published research paper, 64% of adults over 50 consider themselves to still be in good health and more than 75% of them equate tourism with physical well being. Although seniors? top destinations are small rural towns, beaches are a very close second. But seniors have been re-defining retirement and how they want to live it. The southern US has seen a boom in retirement communities, particularly those near beaches in Florida. So while seniors don?t travel as much to the beach as do other age groups, it is because so many of them live near or on the beach. This is encouraging considering that seniors will represent the largest age group within North America in 10 years.

The Cruise Industry

The cruise industry may be an indicator of changing vacation preferences. It competes with other vacation destinations, such as traditional beach resorts, eco-tourism, lake resorts, mountain regions, large cities and small rural areas. Cruises, especially those to the Caribbean, do divert tourists away from traditional beach destinations, but their increasing affordability is also drawing more tourists from other vacation destinations who previously could not have afforded warm-weather destinations. Cruise is the fastest growing major sector in the worldwide tourism industry.

? It has experienced an 8% annual growth since 1980, almost twice the overall growth of tourism.

? The North American market, including the Caribbean, is the largest one. In 1997 it had a growth rate of 8.6% for a total of 5.05 million North American cruise passengers.

? The cruise industry is expected to increase its capacity by at least 50% by the year 2002, surpassing the number of land hotel rooms in the Caribbean.

The growth of this industry is in part due to its expansion out of the traditional upper and upper-middle class customer base and into the middle class.

? Presently, the mass-market, contemporary and budget categories account for about 53% of passenger capacity.

? The upscale premium category accounts for another 36%.

? Over the past decade, the average age, from 56 to 44, and average income of cruise passengers have fallen steadily, particularly as baby boomers have taken up cruising.

? Top managers of cruise companies agree that with the popularization of cruises within younger tourists, the market for cruising is just beginning to develop.

These figures show that both Canadians and Americans have a strong attraction to the beach and other warm-weather destinations. Beaches are already the favorite vacation destination and with the rapid growth of the cruise industry they are becoming even more affordable and popular. Although beaches are the second favorite vacation destination of those 65 and over, their popularity will not decline dramatically as they start to become the largest demographic group. They will prefer to travel to small country-inns rather than beach destination, but many of them will need swimwear year round as they move to warm, sunny, coastal Florida and other Sunbelt States. All this equates to a very good outlook for swimwear demand through all age groups, whether it is high or low end, tailored or mass-market.

The Swimwear Industry

The following section outlines the four segments that brands are categorized into. These are just brand segments and therefore do not dictate the manufacturing, design or ownership of the brands.

1) Designer Swimwear

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