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Brands Try to Swim Away From Pack

Local swimwear makers’ approach to growth varied as much as the designs they presented at Swim Collective, a biannual trade show held last week at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort and Spa.

Some have revamped product offerings, while others are forming alliances with national media brands or diving into international waters.

Raj Swim

Next weekend should be a big one for Raj Swim in Tustin, which last month added Time Inc.’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit to its roster of licensed brands. The collection is scheduled to debut on Saturday at the Miami Swim Week in front of a crowd of more than 500 invited guests. Company President Brenda West said the swimsuit lineup “is not going to be all super skimpy,” and will run in sizes two to 20.

“We brought the design concepts to M.J. Day, the editor of the Sports Illustrated issue, and she absolutely loves what we did.”

The multiyear collaboration will include swim and active apparel collections. It also opens the door to other collaborations with the New York-based media company, which last year acquired advertising technology firm Viant Inc. in Irvine.

“They have 55 other magazines, and quite a few of them are catering to women and travel,” she said, adding that the deal is a “really neat introduction to a different way of looking at business, to working with them.”

Raj Swim, whose estimated annual revenue is $300 million, makes and markets swimwear for Ella Moss, Splendid, Reef and other brands. It recently decided not to extend a Nautica license in order to focus on Sports Illustrated Swimsuit. Raj also designs and produces its own labels, including LUXE by Lisa Vogel, NEXT, Athena, Basta Surf and VYB.

West, who served in a similar role at Manhattan Beachwear Inc. in Cypress, joined the company in January, becoming the first person outside of the swimwear maker’s founding family to hold the position. Lisa Vogel and her brother Alex Bhathal, who are co-owners and co-chief executives, have “taken a back seat” and are “managing a lot of other businesses they are involved in,” she said without specifying.

Manhattan Beachwear

West’s former colleagues were at a nearby booth, including Chief Executive Kevin Mahoney, who said the company doesn’t plan to fill her old position.

He was fresh from a swim show in Paris in the company’s introduction to the European market. Germany-based distributor F1-Generation GmbH, which also works with Irvine-based P.J. Salvage, will manage the launch and sales in about 23 countries. The initial offering will include Polo and Lauren swimsuits, followed by Manhattan Beachwear proprietary brands La Blanca and Bikini Lab.

The company is also boosting investment in e-commerce and marketing. Julie Ann Guaderrama recently came on board as global director of marketing and direct to consumer, a new position.

Swimwear accounts for about 70% of Manhattan Beachwear’s $700 million in estimated annual revenue, the rest coming from apparel sales. Mahoney said he’d like to see the latter grow in the near future to about 45%. Its Green Dragon brand is now part of a newly formed sportswear division and has been “completely repositioned” at a lower price point and with “more resort wear driven” designs. He’s also considering an acquisition, preferably a swimwear label that can also be a lifestyle brand and that would round out the company’s portfolio.

RVCA

Last week’s show was the first for Jaclyn Schroeder as part of the RVCA team. She joined the Costa Mesa-based apparel brand in November as director of women’s sales after a decade at Boardriders’ Quiksilver label in Huntington Beach.

Schroeder said RVCA is “gearing up to build the women’s business over the next couple of years,” and that it’s “getting a lot more support when it comes to marketing dollars” from Australia-based parent Billabong International Ltd.

The spring collection features tropical prints created by artist Luke Pelletier, and a “sinister, cartoon-like animal” that pops up here and there. The contrast reflects the “love and hate for tourists” sometimes felt by locals in beach communities, Schroeder said. The brand also collaborated with photographer Andrea DoSouto, who shot RVCA’s upcoming marketing campaign in Cuba.

Hurley

Somer Harris, sales manager for Hurley’s women’s division, skipped a couple of recent Swim Collective shows while the Costa Mesa-based brand worked on a “complete relaunch from the ground up.” Hurley, a division of Nike Inc., used to license its swimwear to Raj, and brought it back in-house for the spring and summer 2017 collections.

“It did really well—exceeded our expectations,” Harris said.

The collection features design direction inspired by Nike’s technical advances in the sports bra category.

“We put that through our lens and applied it to our swimwear,” she said. “We wanted to have a point of differentiation and really make a meaningful product. So many brands have really cute swimsuits, and certainly that’s most important, but we wanted to provide function and support.”

Other input came from its athletes, including pro surfer Carissa Moore, prompting the brand to add “little elements like silicone grips at the back of the bottom” that hold the swimsuit in place.

Hurley will be included in Nike’s recent deal to sell products on Amazon.com. It also plans to boost representation of women’s products at its retail stores.

The brand is “male driven, but we see the opportunity around women’s business, which is why we really put the focus on this relaunch for spring ’18,” Harris said.

LSPACE

LSPACE America LLC’s booth was a popular spot at the trade show. The Irvine-based company showcased its newest collection as a mix of complementary swimwear and lifestyle apparel developed under Alissa Bristow, a design director who joined the company in March after a six-year stint at Philadelphia-based Free People. Founder Monica Wise works on the design along with others, but the company didn’t have a “creative head” responsible for the overall effort.

“We are really trying to take the brand to the next level, and this [position] was a key component of that,” said National Sales Manager Debby Martin.

LSPACE doubled the number of apparel and active-wear styles it offered to retailers in the 2017 season, and the expansion effort continued for spring.

“I think we are at 60-40 now,” Martin said, referring to swimwear versus apparel ratio.

Other local brands at the show included Irvine-based Beach Bunny Swimwear; Tutublue in Cypress; BECCA by Rebecca Virtue and Isabella Rose in Anaheim; SEEA in San Clemente; and Beach Riot, Travida and Vitamin A in Costa Mesa. Missing were Boardriders, Cypress-based Speedo USA and Volcom LLC in Costa Mesa.

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