Flattering Swimwear For All Shapes? Yes It Is Possible.
Ok so with Christmas nearing the thought of putting on a bathing suit might leave you feeling cold. But equally many of us do escape to warmer climates this time of year, and let's not forget how great a form of exercise swimming is. So whilst a swimwear related post this time of year might seem somewhat unexpected, why should it only be reserved for the summer months?
And when I met Rosie, founder of new swimwear label, Deakin & Blue, I knew I had to share her story with you because, like us, she believes in cutting through bias within the fashion industry - in her case, when it comes to size. From their focus on sizing, to their use of women size UK 10-16, and their empowering language, this is a brand I'm fully behind. After all there's more to a swimsuit than how it looks and it's function - it's about how it makes you feel given it's rather revealing nature. But as someone not so keen on swimming (let's just say my skills don't extend much far beyond doggy paddling...) I was particularly interested to learn more about the lack of choices when it comes to swimwear for different shapes. So I recently sat down with Rosie to find out more, as well as seeing more 50+ women in swimwear editorials, and how we can encourage more body confidence, no matter your size or how your shape has changed.
Hi Rosie, thank you very much for meeting with me today! Like me you didn't start off in the Fashion Industry or have a background in design, so what made you decide to 'take the plunge' and start Deakin & Blue?
About eighteen months ago I decided to start swimming for exercise and so went to buy a swimming costume that was suitable for my gym pool. I very quickly realised that the swimwear market was divided into two camps – the first: holiday swimwear suitable for sunbathing but pretty useless the minute you wanted to leap or jump into water, push off of the wall or even run around the pool after little ones. And the second camp – sports swimwear for “serious” swimmers – usually black, typically shapeless and cut from a single piece of thin, unforgiving lycra with an embarrassingly high cut leg and certainly designed with limited consideration of a woman’s body shape.
"I searched high and low... but could not find anything for the female who wants to feel strong, supported and feminine in the water"
I searched high and low, online and offline, in specialist swim, lingerie and sports shops but could not find anything for the female who wants to feel strong, supported and feminine in the water. Research shows that the prospect of putting on a swimming costume deters a lot of women from going for a swim (500,000 women have given up swimming in the last decade because of body image concerns) and, having tried and failed to find anything suitable for a weekly swim, I completely understand this.
And so Deakin and Blue was born. After many conversations, market research and market sizing, I decided to solve the problem and to set out to create a range of swimwear that was designed to empower and inspire the everyday female to swim in style.
Brilliant! I have to admit I'm not someone who really swims much, but even so I can definitely see the gap that you're aiming to fill. And I love how you're doing it in such an empowering way. How did you come up with the name Deakin & Blue?
Given we want to allow women to swim and enjoy water without worrying about what they're wearing, the obvious muse was Roger Deakin - whose writings, including his most famous Waterlog, I read lots of at university. I loved Deakin's uninhibited, almost child-like joy of water and he is a fantastic ambassador for both the mental and the physical benefits of being in water. Deakin often swam naked so worrying about to wear was rarely a concern for him! I've paired his name with Blue, the colour of water, to remind us what it's all about and because it's often the milky blue-yness of water that certainly inspires me to want to leap in. I suppose I thought that if you could combine the prospect of worry free swimming with an inviting pool of water, the rest would be easy.
What great inspiration behind the name. It sounds very liberating. So you launched your first collection in the Summer, and it was instantly a hit. What is the inspiration behind your designs?
When designing our first collection we looked at the way the body and the bust are supported in a range of impact and non-impact sports and non-sports apparel – yoga kit, sports bras, corsetry, lingerie and more. We looked at both the fabrics used as well as the technical components and we explored ways of recreating them in swim-friendly fabrics and structures.
We also took design inspiration from vintage swimwear designs which flatter and celebrate different female body shapes – such as high waists and sweetheart necklines.
I love that. It's exactly what we do too when selecting our designs - recognising different female body shapes. So we all know how sizeist the fashion industry can be. Do you think this is why there is such a lack of swimwear for different shapes and sizes?
Yes, like the rest of the fashion world, swimwear tends to be designed for a single body shape and size. The problem with mass market fashion is that it uses a system called ‘grading’ to develop the different sizes offered by a brand. At 99% of mass market brands, grading involves developing a sample in the smallest size, so usually a UK size 8 or in lingerie an A cup, and then for every additional size, centimetres of fabric are added to the different parts of the product to increase the size of the overall garment for the next size up. You can imagine that by the time the garment is a size 16 it scarcely resembles the original product and certainly hasn’t been designed with a different body shape or size in mind.
"The problem with mass market fashion is that it uses a system called 'grading'... by the time the garment is a size 16 is scarcely resembles the original product"
Clearly this is a very cost effective way for large brands to ‘offer’ a wide range of sizes but it isn’t particularly intelligent and frankly, it just isn’t good enough. Of course, it is much harder and involves much more work and cost to think through the requirements of different size and shape bodies but I really believe that brands who do this (like us) will be rewarded by customers who value the product that has truly been designed for their body.
I couldn't agree more. As you say, the problem is garments can't just be scaled up for them to fit different body shapes. Cuts vary, and it's important to use 'fit' models who aren't just the typical fashion norm. It does make garments more expensive, but it's worth it for feeling your best.
One of the other things I've noticed is how there's a lot more fashion forward active wear available, but still not so much swimwear. Why do you think active wear is becoming more stylish but swimwear is still behind?
Yes this was something that our initial market research highlighted as well. I think it’s partly a result of the rise of influencers and celebrity fitness icons who have significant fashion influence on what individuals wear for their workout. Instagram and Facebook and the behaviour of ‘checking in’ a workout also contributes to this, as the image of the workout becomes as important as the workout itself. The last 5-10 years have also seen a significant rise in activities such as yoga and pilates which have generated demand for different kinds of kit. Swimwear is definitely behind the curve but I’m looking forward to it catching up and we’re glad to be leading the trend!
Indeed, it's becoming almost a status to be able to post gym selfies (something I'm not a fan of!). As you say there's lots of low impact bras for yoga and pilates, but asdancer I've struggled for years to find a good high-impact sports bra that still looks nice! So you have pretty special bra too - what makes it different?
Our Swimbra, like all our swimwear, is designed for active use in water and is dive-proof (we tested it!). It combines all the intelligence of a sports bra into a pretty bikini top that is designed to look fantastic whatever your dress or bust size.
We use fabric panelling, rubber-based binding, under-bust elastic and a strong racer-back to lift and support the bust. The concealed deep-v neckline in soft-to-touch, semi-opaque power mesh flatters bigger busts whilst the high, round neckline provides shape to smaller busts. The Swimbra is low cut under the arms to ensure you have full rotation of chaff-free movement (whether that’s frontcrawling or simply reaching for the cocktail next to your lounger). Our Swimbra in Lily (pictured here) has been one of our best sellers to date – it’s perfect for the weekly gym swim but also a fun piece to take on holiday if you like to dive, windsurf, ride a jetski or do some paddleboarding.
Sounds great! I've certainly had the odd dive (or maybe more of a belly flop!) incident!! And I really like that you can shop your tops and bottoms separately. It's a problem I struggle a lot with as my bust is larger than most of those my size, so tops are always too small on me.
Now, as someone who isn't particularly into swimming, why do you recommend it as such a great form of exercise? I know one of our favourite 50+ models Alex Bruni does it every week too.
Where to start! For me, the best thing about swimming is that it is a fantastic mental and physical workout. I challenge anyone to come out of the pool after even a handful of lengths without feeling refreshed, motivated and calmer than they were upon entering. Breathing is central to swimming and so it forces our busy brains which are constantly on the go to disconnect from the day to day and to focus entirely on the swim and the moment.
"Swimming is a fantastic mental and physical workout"
On the physical side, swimming is a full body workout using your arms, legs and core with every stroke. It’s no impact which means it’s great for anyone recovering from an injury, or using it as a complement to high impact activity (such as running) or for anyone who struggles with weight bearing exercises. After running up stairs (who’d do that?!) swimming is one of the highest calorie burning workouts you can do so it’s a great and healthy way to get into shape or to keep a healthy lifestyle.
I think you've convinced me. And, as you say, it's so good because so many people can do it, even if they have an injury.
Now, onto diversity in fashion generally. We are seeing it increasingly taking place, but do you think there is still room for improvement?
Absolutely. The fashion industry is definitely moving in the right direction with more diverse representation on catwalks and in advertising – across race, age, shape and size. But there is still a long way to go.
"When we launched... we received rave reviews about our choice of models - all size 10-16 with a range of different body shapes"
When we launched in June this year we received rave reviews about our choice of models – all sizes 10-16 with a range of different body shapes. It made me realise how unusual it is to see ‘normal’ looking women in advertising campaigns. I love this about The Bias Cut too and the ‘models’ you use – it tells you a lot about a brand that they don’t need a very young, very slim, very airbrushed model to sell their products. Of course, I’d like to see even more diversity so that seeing ‘normal’ looking women – of all ages, shapes, races and sizes – becomes the norm, not the exception.
I couldn't agree more. So you may have seen a little while ago there was a campaign on social media encouraging 50+ women to wear whatever they want at the beach, whether that's a bikini or a one piece? And of course Nicola Griffin was on the cover of Sports Illustrated last year. That said, do you think there is still a stigma attached to seeing older women in swimsuits, particularly bikinis? What can we do to stop this once and for all?
I think sadly there is still a stigma but that there absolutely shouldn’t be. Shortly after Deakin and Blue launched in June we were exhibiting at a swim show in Henley where swimmers were participating in a mile long swim and then could mill into a tent to meet businesses like ours and browse our products. My best friend and my mum both kindly helped me out on the day and I’d asked them each to wear their swimwear (under shorts if they preferred). At first I think my mum was a bit uncertain (and a little nervous!) but I convinced her that she was a brilliant ambassador for the brand – a gorgeous, healthy woman in her 60s, and I was incredibly proud to have her wearing my products that day.
"My mum was a brilliant ambassador for the brand - a gorgeous, healthy woman in her 60s, and I was incredibly proud to have her wearing my products"
The best way to quash any stigma is to defy and challenge it until it becomes normalised. Nicola Griffin looked absolutely incredible on the cover of Sports Illustrated and I sincerely hope she is the first of many women 50+ to be given the opportunity.
Oh that's so lovely to hear about your mum wearing your pieces! Obviously that resonates a lot with us. And yes, we need to normalise it. Hopefully it wasn't just a token gesture. I think it has a lot to do with our perceptions of what's 'sexy', swayed by the media. There's so much pressure on women to feel they have to look sexy, and we're told that includes wearing revealing swimsuits. What is your advise for women who don't feel comfortable wearing such pieces but still want to look good?
I have a lot of empathy for women who don’t want to look ‘sexy’ in their swimwear. I have a large bust (I wear a 30HH bra) and for a long time I have battled against looking sexy at times when I don’t want to. When I work out is exactly one of those times. I typically wear our Signature Swimsuit in Navy for my weekly swim – it’s fantastic because it is cleavage free and modest but I feel fantastic in it – streamlined and elegant.
"There is absolutely no reason why a swimsuit that isn't 'sexy' can't make you feel wonderful"
My advice for women is to take the time to find a swimsuit that you feel comfortable in and that suits the level of modesty/sexiness that you are after. There’s absolutely no reason why a swimsuit that isn’t ‘sexy’ can’t make you feel wonderful – they exist, I know, we created them!
Yes, and I think it comes down to how you define 'sexy'. To me it's confidence, not to to with how revealing your clothes are. So if you're wearing a suit that makes you feel good, then that's what shines through. That said, there are also a lot of women who don't feel comfortable in swimsuits at all because of their shape and the way their bodies have changed. So they end up wearing lots of cover ups, or avoiding going to the pool or beach altogether. How can we help women feel comfortable in their own skin and be proud of showing off their bodies?
I think more representation of different body shapes in advertising and media is a great way to start because it’s a good reminder to all of us that no body shape or size is perfect and that you can look and feel fantastic whatever your shape or size. We’ve been running a campaign recently called ‘Real Women Wear D&B’ where we talk to different customers each fortnight about their experience of swimwear and swimming and they share photos of themselves in their Deakin and Blue swimwear. It’s been absolutely wonderful to talk to so many fascinating women and to also see women of all sizes and body shapes looking and feeling great in their swimwear.
"Think about your body shape and which parts of your body you would like to cover, enhance or celebrate"
What a great campaign! Really great you're doing that. So finally, what are your top tips for finding the right swimsuit for you?
I would encourage someone to think about their body shape and which parts of their body they would like to cover, enhance or celebrate. This helps to identify the shape and style of swimwear you are looking for. For example if you don’t love your tummy, then a high waisted knicker can be a perfect choice or if you have a large bust then a style that flatters your chest, such as a deep-V neck is a great way to start. Don’t give up if the first thing you try doesn’t work – instead look at what doesn’t work about it, is it the colour or the shape, what it highlights or hides? Working this out will help you to get better at identifying what will work for you.
Thank you so much Rosie!
As a special offer, Rosie is offering all the-Bias-Cut.com followers a special 15% off all orders with code BIASCUT15.