The swimwear industry is doing swimmingly, according to exhibitors surveyed at the world’s largest industry show now taking place at the Miami Beach Convention Center.
Sales have taken off since the recession and are poised for further growth this year, even as the world economy slows, said executives from companies ranging from Miami’s giant Perry Ellis International, maker of Jantzen and Nike swimwear sold at mass retailers, to Palm Beach start-up Strong Boalt, which specializes in preppy men’s trunks sold at resort boutiques.
But competition is stiff. The swimwear industry is consolidating, as many buyers prefer to deal with large suppliers who can offer support with marketing materials, ads and research, said Oscar Feldenkreis, president of Perry Ellis, which rang up about $85 million in swimwear sales last year.
Sales dynamics also are changing, as more business moves to the Internet. Some buyers and media are traveling less often to trade shows to save on expenses and relying more on Internet contacts. And more U.S. consumers are buying online to try on swimwear at home, instead of in stores, exhibitors said.
For small producers, niches are key. Germany’sswimwear and lingerie maker Anita, which runs its U.S. operations from Fort Lauderdale, for example, has made its name on maternity and large-size suits for women. Its post-mastectomy swimwear tops feature a pocket for a silicone prosthesis to fit in.
Anita projects double-digit growth in U.S. sales this year for two reasons. Its new designs appeal more to the U.S. buyer, who prefers a larger swimsuit than European women. And it is increasing U.S. marketing now that Europe’s economy is slow, said Steve Bernstein, general manger for Anita’s U.S. operations.
South Florida used to be a top production site for swimwear in the 1960s and 1970s, but most production has moved overseas. Miami’s Luli Fama, which sells more than $5 million a year in upscale bathing suits, moved its factory to Colombia about three years ago because owners said they could not find enough qualified seamstresses in South Florida to meet its growing production needs.
“The average age of our factory workers in South Florida was 50. Young people here don’t want to work in sewing,” said Augusto Hanimian, an owner with the brand that fetches about $200 per bikini in stores.
Miami shines as a distribution hub, however, as the industry show illustrates. The four-day event that runs through Tuesday features about 400 exhibitors showing 2,500 lines. Roughly 7,500 exhibitors, buyers and media from 60 countries are expected to attend, up from 6,500 to 7,000 last year, organizers said.
“We sold out in record time this year” and still have a waiting list of brands looking to exhibit, said Judy Stein, executive director of the Swimwear Association of Florida, which has been organizing the annual event now in its 30th year and billed as the world’s longest-running swimwear show.
Nationwide, swimwear sales rose 5 percent in the 12 months ending in May to reach nearly $4.2 billion, said retail specialists NPD Group of Port Washington, N.Y.
Worldwide, swimwear sales are expected to reach $17.6 billion in 2015, according to Global Industry Analysts of San Jose, Calif.