Amidst the global uncertainty and new challenges, there is a dire need to take such initiatives that can help to sustain the business and also have scope to support growth in the long run. Adding new products in product baskets is one of the best options in this scenario, especially the products which are not so far focused for Indian companies but have good global demand and enough chances for long-term growth. Beachwear and swimwear are among such product categories. Data strengthens this fact as the market size for both segments in the US alone is around US $ 5.50 billion. Globally this market was valued at US $ 19.80 billion in 2021 and it’s projected to grow to US $ 27.60 billion by 2027 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.10 per cent. This shows how vast are the opportunities in this product category. The factors contributing to the growth include growing thrust on holiday destinations, travel and airlines being almost back to pre-Covid capacity.
Though it is being said that uncertainties at the global level and other factors like inflation are not in the favour of demand but the industry believes that this is a phase which will not have a long-lasting impact. Despite so much potential in market size, India’s export in beachwear and swimwear categories is negligible that is US $ 750 million. Compared to most of the other product categories, India has fewer companies manufacturing swimwear, though many SMEs are offering various products in beachwear segments but swimwear is still a very niche segment.
Beachwear, comparatively an easy product category for the manufacturer and a more fashion-oriented segment, is a growth contributor for many companies. Few of the companies have even reached to the pre-Covid level in the export of beachwear products as they see beachwear becoming a necessity now.
“Along with the cost of imported oil/fuel which is the basis of MMF production, there are environmental issues. Although companies like ours work closely with mills to analyse their water and effluent treatment, we are still far distant from optimal management of environmental discharges,” Harshad Daswani
The majority of exporters are catering to beachwear as a part of their product basket with the prime focus being on women’s dresses. But having a dedicated focus on this category (not just a small part of the entire product basket), working with good brands and having large variety in offerings are some major reasons that are helping companies witness growth in this segment. At the same time, products like kaftans in this category are not limited to use only at the beach and they are also being worn at homes. It is a supporting factor for the demand.
The companies like Quality Apparels (Studio 6G LLP), Noida, having thrust on beachwear are enjoying good growth. “We have crossed the pre-Covid level and don’t see any further challenge in the demand. I feel our plenty of designs and working with buyers of coastal European countries are the main supporting factors for us,” says Onil Sadh, Director of the company. He further adds that there is demand of nearly all products in beachwear rather than one specific product.
Working with prestigious brands and retailers like Next, Laura Ashley and a few more, Shivalik Design is happy with the demand of beachwear. And that too despite that UK is the core market for the company. Avni Jindal Behl, CEO of the company says, “I see more demand for beachwear segment compared to partywear or blouses. Despite economic challenges, there is demand for beachwear as it is now a necessity, and looking at the overall scenario, the same is expected to continue for the long term.”
Clusters like Jaipur and Pushkar are having many beachwear manufacturers and they also agreed that there is a reasonable increase in the demand of this product segment as post-Covid, people want to spend more time on vacations. For a change, they are having a tilt towards this segment.
Companies are also enjoying reasonably good order quantity at affordable price as Noida-based Super House receives an average order of 500 pieces and the price remains normally at US $ 7-12 for digitally printed beachwear in 100 per cent polyester.
Polyester is much in use in beachwear and the majority of Indian companies are using 100 per cent polyester also. High price of cotton is a reason for use of polyester in this product category. Even if availability is there, the cost of imported oil/fuel which is the basis of MMF production is an issue for exporters. Price stability in oil imports helps manufacturers manage input prices, and as always better infrastructure helps time to market to get quicker.
At the same time, as an exceptional case, there is a segment of customers that prefer sustainable cotton in this category. Shivalik Design is using 100 per cent cotton (BCI and organic cotton), viscose for its beachwear segment and enjoying the demand also.
There are a variety of products in beachwear like thongs, beach dresses, sarongs, kaftans, hipsters, etc. In the export space, it’s all evenly balanced as different cultures have different sensitivities to body exposure. In India, greater demand towards cover-ups, sarongs are having an edge.
With the growing demand for swimwear and beachwear, footwear especially flip-flops, slide thong segment are also benefiting. Flip-flops have been predominantly used on beaches for surfing activities. Stratview Research also says that with the change in fashion trends, flip-flops are majorly worn by women on beaches throughout the summer season. This has a significant role in the growing demand for flip flops. Leading global swimwear brand Speedo and nearly all leading footwear brands have their thrust on this segment.
Beachwear segment across various levels in exports as well as in domestic markets is very simply value-driven. Multi-functional beachwear is the key (wear on holiday and also for lunch) and in case of swimwear, the trend is towards more solid colours which can be matched with any clothing. With lots of wavy prints (marble effect prints, tye dye prints), people are willing to spend more for a well-designed print. Solid colours are also very popular with a lot of khaki and blue tones. In swimwear, classic shapes are in trend that can be used again and again.
Indians’ thrust on vacation to places like Goa is also supporting the demand for beachwear. There are recent reports that Goa braces for ‘unprecedented’ numbers in first tourism season after Covid. Prior to the pandemic, the state witnessed close to 90 lakh tourists, including around 9 lakh foreigners. Yogesh Desai, Director, Pankaj Mercantile Company, Mumbai, exporting cover-ups and accessories, supplies some amount of beachwear products for the domestic market and he believes that good tourist visitation in Goa increases the domestic demand of beachwear products.
Swimwear: Strong fabric base required first
Global brands are quite innovative in the use of fabric or raw material like Nike HydraStrong styles are made from chlorine-proof polyester fabric that are both fade and heat-resistant. Canada-based Hoaka Swimwear’s bikinis are made of high-quality neoprene. To cater to the brands known for swimwear, India needs to produce cost-effective, quality and variety of nylon and satin fabrics which is the strength of countries like Taiwan. With the growing focus on MMF, schemes like PLI and thrust of companies on product innovation, in future, India is expected to have these kind of required fabric which can be a big push to have thrust on the manufacturing of swimwear.
There are few exporters which are catering to this niche category but for departmental stores and not for high-end brands and one of them is Fountainhead Exports. Having 30 per cent share of swimwear in its exports, Mumbai-based Fountainhead Exports is mainly catering to supermarkets and departmental stores of EU and Latin America. The company uses polyester fabric which is being sourced from Surat.
Global players known for swimwear
- Speedo, UK
- Yingfa, US
- Dolfin Swimwear and Beachwear, US
- Triumph, UK
- Arena, Italy
Harshad Daswani, Director of the company says, “Yes, there is no new major player which has entered in swimwear in recent times for export but if we easily get the required fabric at the same costing as overseas companies have, I am 100 per cent sure that India can grow very well in swimwear export.”
Harshad is estimating a Y-o-Y growth of 40 per cent in the next two years. As per him, exports will be hit a little due to looming recession news and the current oil-price-driven inflation issues in Europe. Though India still continues to drive value travel and a rapid growth is being seen here. He further adds that in India, the growth is to be seen over the next two fiscals. As per Harshad, they will add production capacity at their existing units to address this demand. The company offers a wide range of swimwear and beachwear products, swim equipment.
Some of the buyers have asked for swimwear from their Indian suppliers doing beachwear, but the comfort zone of exporters in standardised products and challenges with swimwear manufacturing are reasons that Indian suppliers are not having strength in swimwear.
Shivalik Design is enjoying good growth in beachwear but it is not into polyester-based products and has reasonable business in existing product categories. So the company is not willing to add swimwear.
“The only challenge I saw is cost as people still prefer budget-friendly swimwear while being an environment-conscious label, our products are a little costly compared to normal swimwear. There is therefore a need to increase awareness on this front,” Esha Lal
Even though the companies offering beachwear or other polyester-based products are not willing to do swimwear as they remain uncompetitive compared to global swimwear manufacturers, technicalities involved in swimwear manufacturing are also hurdles for Indian players.
In India, the demand of swimwear is increasing for women, men and kids. The products for women are fashion-driven, while for men, it is purpose-driven. So women will tend to spend on more products while men may do so occasionally. In India, swimwear is still at a nascent stage but nevertheless showing great potential for growth. Studies on the swimming market in India by global marketing research firm, AC Nielsen, commissioned by Page Industries, shows a promising and fast evolving market for both swimwear and swim equipment.
Swimwear has much more
- Full body suit
As per the study, 3 per cent of urban population classified based on income levels across both gender groups take to swimming twice a week in summer season. About 24 per cent of the non-swimmers surveyed, have demonstrated the ‘likelihood to swim in the future’ which shows that there is a large potential of non-swimmers who are willing to swim.
With swimming pools becoming an amenity at most high-rise apartment complexes, access to this activity is increasing in urban India. Schools in India also recognise swimming as an important life skill and have included this sports as a necessary co-curricular activity.
On mass manufacturing level for domestic market, India has swimwear-focused manufacturers like Page Industries (exclusive licensee of Speedo International Ltd., for manufacture, distribution and marketing in India) but it has major thrust on Indian domestic market.
Interestingly few new players are entering into this segment, though they have operations at smaller level or limited manufacturing capacity but they are innovative in terms of product offerings, sustainable as they are using sustainable raw material and enthusiastic about good growth. In last 2-3 years, labels like Papaaya Swimwear, Goya Swim Company, Esha Lal Swimwear and few more have emerged and aspire to grow well.
Goya Swim Company by Riya Majumdar, is a conscious luxury brand. All its swimsuits are made with Repreve, fabric made by USA’s fabric manufacturer, UniFi. They collect plastic bottles and waste from fashion landfills and oceans and convert it into fibre.
Similarly, started almost three-and-a-half years ago, Esha Lal Swimwear’s primary fabric for swimsuits is made of fabric from Carvico Italy, that uses ethical production techniques. And its beachwear is made with 100 per cent organic cotton.
“Post-Covid, there is good demand for swimwear and it is an expanding product category for us. I don’t see any challenge, be it in terms of imported fabric as it is easily available with the traders or even manufacturing also as our small set-up is working smoothly,” says Esha.
Few of the established Indian companies that are well known for sportswear are also doing swimwear but it is not their major thrust. Paragon Apparels, having exposure of working with reputed global brands and successfully running its own performance wear brand Alcis, also offers swimwear but as of now it is a small part its overall offerings.
In swimwear segment, Fountainhead Exports is the best example as its domestic focus is also strong. The Beach Company (domestic business) is an initiative of Harshad and it is geared up for good growth. To give a complete experience to Indian customers, looking for swimwear, The Beach Company offers few leading overseas brands as well as Indian brands, labels.
With the thrust of people on travel, more consciousness on health, keenness to explore new things, growing income, Indian middle class’s increasing aspiration for better lifestyle, India’s increasing thrust on MMF, there is no reason why the companies should not start thinking to explore their product portfolio by adding swimwear.
Technology that goes behind making swimwear
There are basically two categories of swimwear which are manufactured in garment industry: one is performance-based swimwear and the other is leisure swimwear. Leisurewear is made to be worn on beaches and swimming pools while performance-based swimwear is worn by swimming professionals. Manufacturing swimwear includes mastering two aspects: use of speciality fabrics; and cutting and sewing of fabrics panels. The making of basic swimwear can be done with very little upgradation of machinery. A typical swimwear may have 22 operations with total SAM value of approximately 12 minutes and usually 80 pieces can be produced in an hour with minimum 26 operators and 22 machines in total. There can be different kinds of production systems to be followed while manufacturing swimwear but it’s advisable to start with progressive bundling system in combination with hourly auditing and then move on to traffic light system followed by statistical process control.
Spreading and cutting
The most crucial stage in the entire production process of swimwear is the spreading and cutting stage, because the fabric has a lot of stretchability, and if not properly handled, it results in high shrinkage and fabric slippage due to high polyamide content. For spreading large volumes, manual spreading table can be used to reduce stretchability, otherwise an alternate method is to relax the fabric for certain duration on the cutting table. Laying height of not more than 4 inches is preferred for spreading this fabric, with maximum of 30-40 plies, otherwise the bottom plies will not be able to shrink properly, as the top part relaxes more while the bottom part will not be able to relax.
For spreading smaller volumes, it’s better to lay not more than 20 panels at a time with a layer height of up to 2 inches, because beyond that the fabric below starts shrinking due to high elasticity and during cutting, the lower layers do not have enough pressure to lie in place. Use of pin tables is also popular for cutting smaller layers and that too manually using band knives to give precise shape and curves.
No specialised machines required, just invest in tape feeding attachments and metering devices! If someone wants to set up a new factory, investment should be mostly in tape feeding attachments and other metering devices which have a significant place in swimwear manufacturing. Other than those, the same machines, as in sewing a T-shirt, can be used for the manufacturing of leisure swimwear like overlock, flatlock and lockstitch machines.
- Top and bottom feed system and gauge change are necessary for handling slinky fabrics
Although the sewing machines can be same, but the spare parts like needle plates, needle, pressure foot, taping devices like puller for light weight fabric are different. When sewing, needle plate and other parts needs to be adjusted with correct tension, finely and precisely so that there is no slippage or pull in garment which might cause puckering, de-shaping or one side pull of the highly elastic garment. There is an elastic attachment for ladies leg opening for which pullers are used along with flat lock machine, where after elastic attaching, the garment is turned and put in the machine to give a round covering to the elastic.
- Flatlock should be used instead of overlock in side seam
When machines are set for manufacturing a particular swimwear, it is necessary that right seam type is identified – whether to use lockstitch which has no stretchability or flatlock with higher stretchability in combination with threads having high stretchability to give durability and strength to the swimwear.
To train a skilled operator who had been previously handling single jersey and pique requires just two days for learning to handle the fabric efficiently, since those operators are already skilled in flatlocking curves like armhole. But the learning curve would be much higher in case a shirt operator who is given the job of stitching a swimwear. Since fabric is very stretchable, there are certain precautions to be undertaken by sewing operators like taking care of matching points and not stretching the fabric too much.