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What makes a swimsuit so expensive?

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There’s a machine in South Brooklyn that looks like a transparent coffin and spins like an industrial fan. Its metallic viscera flakes and slides until within an hour it releases a bathing suit, lost from the abdomen of the machine like an egg.

It’s a high-tech process that seems simple: Click a button, get a very almost finished swimsuit. In a way, it reflects the automated, on-demand, two-day shipping experience that defines shopping for many people in 2022.

Still, dozens of decisions were made before the idea of ​​that swimsuit became a tangible thing – decisions that ultimately led to it being priced around $ 250 and not $ 25, which is about the amount an adult woman spends on a swimsuit in US states, according to market analysts at NPD Group.

But what do those decisions entail? What does a swimsuit do, in this economyso worth it?

Fabric, for one. In this case, a soft yarn sourced from Japan after many years of trial and error by designer Anna Berger This.

Ms. Berger’s specialty is knitted swimwear – imagine if a bikini is paired with a rib knit sweater vest. As such, her yarn needs to be special: quick-drying so the suit retains its shape and resistant to sun and chemical damage, yet just as stretchy and durable as nylon, a much more common swimwear fabric.

Then there are labor and manufacturing costs. Last autumn, after the knitting factory Frk. Berger worked with in Los Angeles abruptly closed, a friend recommended that she bring her designs to Tailored Industry, a company in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn that produces entire pieces of clothing to order on computer-controlled knitting machines – those that lay egg chests .

According to Ms. Berger, getting a swimsuit made at Tailored Industry costs about $ 65, not including the yarn she supplies – comparable to the price she paid for production in Los Angeles.

But compare it with much lower production costs outside the United States. While very few companies reveal their pricing structure, Everlane, the multimillion-dollar staple brand, says it pays $ 3.90 for labor on a single swimsuit in one piece made in Sri Lanka. A small German swimwear company called Wonda says it pays 15 euros (about $ 16) for work and manufacture on a bikini made in Portugal.

Once a garment is made, most designers try to sell pieces in bulk to retailers, such as stores and department stores. To set their wholesale prices, designers typically double (or more) the total cost of making the garment, including, for example, sewing, materials, and transportation, which is the way they earn. But stores then use similar calculations to make their own profit, which means that the final retail price that a shopper sees can be five times the price of actually making the item.

It’s such that a swimsuit that costs $ 65 to produce becomes $ 250 to buy – not even an unusually high price. And that has been the hardest part of getting your business started, Ms said. Berger, whose brand did not make a profit last year, despite some support from magazines and celebrities.

“Price,” she said. “We’m used to everything being really cheap and people do not understand how expensive it is to make.”

A decade ago, Victoria’s Secret was a strong player in the swimwear market. Oh that stopped selling swimwear in 2016 – the category was declining but still accounted for 6.5 percent of the company’s revenue, or about $ 500 million – competitors saw an opportunity.

“It left a big gap,” said Jenna Lyons, then president and chief creative officer of J. Crew. ‘But I think people really longed for something else. It was so restrictive in the way they spoke to the customer. “

Instead of trying to be “the sexiest game on the beach,” J. Crew positioned her swimwear as more classic and simple and sold a more “natural sexiness,” Ms. Lyons, who left the company in 2017 and is now the founder and CEO of LoveSeen, which sells false eyelashes.

Today, the swimwear market is filled with young brands aimed at any type of shopper – athletic,, minimalist,, tropical party girl,, shiny party girl – with prices generally ranging from $ 100 to $ 400. The possibilities can be overwhelmingreinforced by the already emotional nature of swimwear shopping.

“For a woman, the most vulnerable time of the year is the swimsuit season,” Ms. said Lyons, ticking off on a familiar list of uncertainties: body fat, pallor, cellulite, gravity. “You are half-naked and you want everything to be perfect.

“It’s a bit like your wedding day,” she said. “There’s the same kind of anxiety about going out on a pool or beach. Everyone is looking at me! Maybe they are not, but they can be. And because of that, swimwear is a place that women want to spend. “

Some swimwear brands have built their identity around these uncertainties. That Instagram popular the Summersalt brand is dedicated, said its co-founder Lori Coulter, “to enable women to feel the joy we all felt on the beach as children,” and “to make sure they are comfortable in the swimwear they are wearing, and the body they have. “

Summersalt’s most famous suit, a super compressive one-shoulder design which extends to size 24 and was developed using measurements from scans of 10,000 women’s bodies, costs $ 95. This is largely due to the fact that the company sells directly to consumers and avoids wholesale labels.

“The truth is, no matter what income group you are in, no one wants to pay $ 400 for a bathing suit,” Ms. said. said Coulter.

But they can do it anyway. Kristen Classi-Zummo, a clothing analyst for the NPD Group, said that in recent years, quality had become a top priority for shoppers, more than price. “We see consumers shifting their focus to longer-lasting, better-designed clothing,” she said, “swimsuits are one of the main categories where we know fit and construction are very important.”

Once under Ms. Lyon’s employment with J. Crew, the company decided to offer some suits in a light Italian fabric, higher quality than its typical Lycra nylon, which drove the sale price well over $ 100. The leaders were worried; the brand had to place high minimum orders for its swimwear fabric. But there was “no resistance” from the customers, Ms. Lyons said, and the suits became bestsellers.

Smaller brands can not always afford that kind of risk. Riot Swim, founded in 2016 by model and influencer Monti Landers, typically selects fabrics based on what is already offered by its Chinese factory.

“Customizing a fabric is great because you get your perfect color,” Ms. said. Landers said, however, the minimum order requirements can be staggering. “What happens if that color doesn’t do you any good? Then you have all that extra stock.”

Due to the steep climbs in textile and shipping costs related to the pandemic and inflation, Mrs. Landers recently had to raise prices. Her most popular design, the Echo in one piece, with a deep V-neck, high-cut legs and a thick band of wrinkles at the waist that took months to fine-tune samples to perfection, was $ 99 a year ago. Today it costs $ 150.

“We had been eating these costs on our own for so long,” she said.

So far, customers have not revolted. “They know you get what you pay for,” Ms. said. said Landers. “Would you rather go to fast fashion and pay $ 20 for a suit that you only get to wear once? It was me. Before I started my brand, I was always the girl who had to wear a different swimsuit every time. I went to the beach. “

Becca McCharen-Tran is used to getting DMs on Instagram from people who want to collaborate. Usually this means that they offer to write about her brand, Chromatin exchange for a swimsuit from her futuristic, architectural line.

But that’s not what happened when the activist Tourmaline reached; she wanted to collaborate on swimsuits for trans women who do not stick their genitals. The proposal was exciting for Ms. McCharen-Tran, who has long prioritized spaciousness.

But as she began to incorporate Tourmaline’s ideas, new challenges arose. The software her pattern maker used to make templates for the designers had only two options for 3D modeling on avatar bodies: men or women. (Her factory also asked her if the swimwear was for men or women, Ms. McCharen-Tran said.)

It may not cost Chromat more money to produce the collaboration, which included a piece for a price ranging from around $ 150 to $ 200, but it did take time: extra hours of market research, finding solutions and providing explanations. (Chromat is another brand that only sells directly to the consumer online, but it is a recent development. A few years ago, when the brand was sold in stores, its swimwear was priced from $ 250 to $ 400.)

Ms. The Coulter of Summersalt estimated that there were 40 design components in the average one-piece swimsuit: the thread on the straps, the fabric in the lining, the boning or the bowls that give the shape, the hooks that close it, the type of sewn elastic into the legholes . Each component brings several questions: How to make a whole lot in size 8 that can fit both an A and a D cup? How much tension in the stretch is too much? How long is the torso? How wide is the crotch?

“Now it’s a very specific measurement,” said Dana Davis, vice president of sustainability, product and business strategy at Mara Hoffman, a brand for women in New York. “If it’s a little too wide, like a quarter inch, it’s really going to change the fit of that swimsuit.”

At Mara Hoffman, a one-piece swimsuit costs money about $ 300, an award attributed in part to how the brand creates its signature bold prints (digitally designed so that each swimsuit has the same print placement) and adapts its fabrics, which are certified as recycled and free of harmful residues. This year it introduces its first swimsuit made of cellulosic or non-synthetic material. The timing could hardly be better, given that the delivery time for orders of recycled nylon, its main substance, has grown from eight to 10 weeks to 40 to 50 weeks, Ms said. said Davis.

However, for designers with sustainable values, the cost of making swimwear does not actually start to increase significantly before production begins after the design has already been determined.

“If you want to pay your sewer a living wage, that’s where the cost comes from,” said Araks Yeramyan, the creative director of a namesake line of swimwear, lingerie and loungewear. “If you are not going to make in China and you are not going to make a million gazillion pieces, it is the sewing itself that costs the money.”

Ms. Yeramyan produces its brand in factories in New York City, where the minimum wage is $ 15 an hour, and New Jersey, where it is $ 13 an hour – which is roughly equivalent to the price of a one-piece swimsuit sold right now at fixed prices. fashion internet site Shein (before reductions).

But New York is not a popular market for swimwear production, which means there are fewer specialized sewers there who know how to work with fabric that is smaller, stretchy and smoother than e.g. denim.

“My factories always tell me that everything appearance really simple, but it’s so complicated, ”Ms. said Yeramyan. “You pay for people. The better the quality of labor, the higher the quality of swimsuits.”

Still, she understands that not everyone can pay $ 365 for a swimsuit, which is the top row of her one-pieces. But in her experience, making a swimsuit, especially with that kind carving design she prefers, is, she said, “to struggle with the body and the substance.”

To make it ethical? “It’s really hard.”

Sound produced by Tally Abecassis.

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