Launching a Successful Swimwear Label With Aimee From The Swimwear Startup
From market research to design development and manufacturing, there are so many things to consider when it comes to launching a swimwear label! I asked Aimee Kewn, Garment Technologist and founder of The Swimwear Startup, all of the BIG questions surrounding;
Manufacturing and working with suppliers
Developing your first collection
How to stand out in a competitive industry
With her long time experience working in the swimwear industry and having had her own label, Aimee offers us her expert advice to help set you up for a successful launch!
Tell us a bit about your design background and The Swimwear Startup?
I’ve been designing and selling swimwear for as long as I can remember now. As someone that loved life drawing and fine art at college it seemed like a natural progression to start creating garments that fit the contours of the female form. After years of working in the industry as a garment technologist and then running my own label, I decided to start The Swimwear Startup. Taking an idea from a sketch into a finished product is really what I love to do!
Can you talk us through your process when working with a client to develop their collection?
I’m a big fan of creating a genuine relationship with a client. It’s much easier to see their vision when you understand their purpose and intentions for creating their brand.
I firstly review the client’s inspirational imagery or rough sketches and work to develop these into well rounded concepts, ready for production.
I offer practical solutions surrounding manufacturing and construction. You might have a design in mind but does it work technically? Maybe not. For startup labels, manufacturing swimwear is something they’ve never done before. It can be a daunting process and part of my job is to make sure they’re asking the right questions to their manufacturer. The production stage for a start up involves a lot of vetting and an amount of trust. I make sure that I only recommend and work with accountable and ethical suppliers.
Is there anything a client would need to have or need to know before coming to you? How should they communicate their ideas to you?
I love it when clients come to me already knowing their strengths and weaknesses. I’d always recommend that a client creates a Pinterest board or a mood board to communicate their vision for the collection and their brand.
Something I think startups need to consider and often underestimate in terms of production, is sizes and options. Think about how many sizes you want to cater for? Do you want to offer cup sizes or dress sizes? These kinds of details will have a big impact on your final numbers when approaching factories. Too little and you might not be able to meet requirements, but too many and you might blow your budget! You don’t have to have it all worked out but it’s important to be mindful of that kind of detail in the early stages.
For a swimwear label just starting out, is it best to stick to producing a small range? Can you offer advice on how to coordinate an initial collection?
Big isn’t always best ! I’d recommend to start small and grow. Establish some key shapes and test the market. I think people are often surprised with what they think will sell and what actually sells. My best advice for coordinating a concise collection would be to have a small detail that runs throughout. It could be a tie, doubling the straps or even a neckline from a swimsuit being mirrored in a bikini top. Having elements that are repeated across styles make for a collection that looks like a complete collection. It’s important to have a variety of shapes but if you have too many, you risk looking like a wholesaler rather than a brand with a distinctive handwriting.
Is there a sizing standard for swimwear or should brand’s develop their own sizing as per their ideal customer?
I love this question and it’s actually an issue I think the clothing industry as a whole has. There is no standard in my opinion. It’s important to develop your own sizing during the fitting process. Of course you need to stick within the realms of dress sizing BUT as we all know you might be a size 8 in one shop and a 10 in the other. You can make statements like “ Our size 10 girl is slightly more full in the hip in comparison to the high street” etc. In my experience people often don’t read the sizing information anyway and rely on what they know. It’s a great idea to know where your customer shops so you can get an idea of what she’s comparing your “version” of a size 8 to.
Swimwear is a very competitive industry! Have you got any tips on how a new label can stand out?
Solve a problem and be super creative! The swimwear industry is full of new brands right now. I don’t often see brands that are doing anything new and its disappointing. Like any industry it’s the brands that are disruptive that are the most successful. Find a gap in the market and cater to it.
It can be a very long and difficult search for a quality manufacturer that will work with a startup… Can you give us some advice on how to find a suitable manufacturer?
Quality is the most important part of that question. The only way you can find quality is by asking the right questions. I also suggest going to visit your chosen factory. Ask factories if they’re audited, ask them if they have things like a broken needle policy. Another thing I would say is to ask for pictures of the factory. Most reputable factories should be able to provide you with a full company profile.
Where is the best place for a startup to manufacture? Is it best to produce locally or overseas?
This really depends on a few of things. For example, do you want to mass produce or do you want a handmade product that comes in lower quantities? You really can manufacture anywhere these days. I am starting to see more manufacturers in places like Bali and Brazil and even Turkey. China is at the centre of swimwear manufacturing and a large percentage of swimwear is still made there. Don’t assume that the “made in China” label means a lower quality product. Factories in China have been producing swimwear for 20+ years.
Benefits of producing close to home include lower shipping costs and being able to visit more regularly. It also includes supporting your local community. Figure out your needs and then approach manufacturing that suits those needs.
Sometimes manufacturers prioritise larger brand’s production runs, pushing smaller brands to the side…What are your tips on communicating with a manufacturer and cultivating a positive working relationship?
Tip 1: Don’t start your conversation with questions like, “What’s the minimum amount of product I can make” and “How cheap can I get this.” You don’t want to start by giving the impression that your company is not serious about growth. You might be small right now but don’t lead with that. Explain that you have hopes to increase numbers in the near future. It is business at the end of the day and you need them just as much as they need you.
Tip 2: Get ahead of schedule! Map out the year ahead and work backwards from your launch date. Don’t leave yourself with a tight deadline. This forces you to put pressure on both yourself and the manufacturer. Especially if this is your first time.
Tip 3: The best advice I can give anyone manufacturing in China is Don’t forget Chinese New Year!! Be aware of the religious holidays in the country you choose to manufacture in.
Tip 4: It’s easy when only communicating via email to forget there’s another living breathing human on the other end. Be nice ! Ask, don’t demand.
When receiving samples for the first time, what do brands need to check and test before going into bulk production?
Fit is the priority! Put samples onto a live model. Make sure you know her measurements and really asses the fit. I’d also recommend checking the components. Especially plastic clasps. Are they durable? Will they snap after 1 use? Also check with white fabrics that they are thick enough. Thin fabrics will leave customers feeling naked when they come out of the waves.
What are some of the biggest mistakes you see startups making when it comes to designing or producing a range and how can it be avoided?
I see a lot of brands that don’t put any focus on how things fit. At the end of the day for most of your customers this is going to be her most vulnerable moment. Standing on the beach or by the pool in a swimsuit or bikini can be very scary for some people. Poor fitting designs will strip customers of confidence and also question the integrity of your brand. Avoid this by focusing on getting the samples right before going to market. You can also start focus groups and get the opinions of your target audience before going to bulk production.
What can brands do to implement sustainability and ethical production into their business model?
It’s everyone’s responsibility to be mindful. You don’t need to label yourself as an eco business in order to make a difference. Plastic pollution is a big problem that directly effects the exact environment that swimwear is worn in. Think about your packaging. Do you need to use 3 plastic bags when sending out your product? Even mail bags are coming in recyclable options now. There is also of course recycled fabrics. Econyl fabric is made with recovered nylon waste like fishing nets. Using recycled fabric is a great way to implement sustainability.
What are your swimwear or fashion trend predictions for 2019?
Expect to see lots of neons this summer. Neon green in particular! I also think we’ll see a zebra print trend thats just started trickling through. Last year we saw leopard prints explode! I don’t think zebra print will be quite as big but it’ll be the animal print of 2019. I would love to see more plus size options on the market this year and I think plus size product has great potential to grow in the swimwear market.
Lastly, what’s your number one piece of advice to anyone wanting to start a swimwear label?
If I could only give one piece of advice to anyone starting a swimwear label it would be not to underestimate this product area. A lot of hard work goes into constructing complicated designs and swimwear is a product that women experience in their most vulnerable moment. This product area comes hand in hand with body positivity/ lack there of. Use it for good not evil! :)
To get in touch with Aimee her email is firstname.lastname@example.org and her instagram is @theswimwearstartup