News & Analysis

This swimwear startup thinks it can help reduce body image insecurity, but is this marketing message too far-fetched?

- December 1, 2014 4 MIN READ

A new Melbourne startup Kini Swimwear claims to be on a mission “to change the way women see their bodies in swimwear, one bikini at a time”. How? By allowing women to design their own swimwear “to perfectly match their body shape” via Kini Swimwear’s online store. As someone who has always suffered from body image insecurity, even pre-hippo days, and would not dare walk into a swimwear shop, this mission is admirable. But to market a brand by associating it with a social cause will invite criticism, especially if there are inconsistencies.

Brands like Shoes of Prey and Institchu that allow consumers to customise various pieces of attire have done exceptionally well in the market, so it’s great to see this model be implemented into swimwear. On Kini Swimwear’s website, you can design your bikini, tankini or one-piece from scratch, choosing from over 60 choices in fabric, and seasonal prints and fabrics including mesh and neoprene. Customers can even add accessories like frills, belts and buckles.

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Kini Swimwear – Design

If women are unsure what style of swimwear best suit their bodies, there is another option: select a body shape closest to your own. There are images of women in bikinis in the Shop My Shape section of the site, and the website will choose the swimsuit style for the customer, who can then customise it to their heart’s content.

Before addressing the problem, which is admittedly only ideological, it’s worth noting that Kini Swimwear’s website is sleek and the DIY customisation experience is simple and seamless. Kini Swimwear is a formidable “alternative to the terror of swimwear shopping”, and many Australian women will welcome this alternative with open arms. As Emily Aram, Co-Founder and Creative Director stated, “Standing in a badly lit change room, with mirrors scrutinising you from every angle, while you try to wrestle into yet another swimsuit is never fun.”

 But as I scrolled through the different body shapes on Shop By Shape section, I discovered an alarming lack of presence of bodies that resembled mine, and those of other women whose bodies aren’t considered perfect in this society. I was expecting a little more diversity – perhaps even bodies like that of Big Mama’s.

Big Mama 2, 2005, starring Martin Lawrence as 'Big Mama'

Big Mama 2, 2005, starring Martin Lawrence as ‘Big Mama’

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Kini Swimwear, Shop My Shape

But most of the bodies featured on Kini Swimwear has an uncanny resemblance to those you’d see on the runway, which contradicts with what is stated in a recently distributed media release:

Kini Swimwear is breaking with conventional definitions of size, shape and how women can should look in swimwear, by shifting the focus back on to the consumer, and asking customers to tell them what they want through their website. “Our philosophy has always been about working with your body” says Emily. In removing limitations and providing the tools for women to create their own identity without the hang ups of sizing and refusing to accept that there are rules for how one should look into a bikini, the girls at Kini have created a new way of swimwear shopping that recognised all bodies are different and empowers women to embrace their natural figures by giving them the tools to create swimwear that is perfect for them.

This isn’t an issue in-and-of itself, as all businesses have a target market. Many designer fashion brands specifically target women of a particular figure or size, and they have every right to. It becomes a problem, though, when the business claims to address (not perpetuate) a common social problem. In the aforementioned media release, it states that the launch of Kini Swimwear “presents a pivotal shift in how women think about their bodies in swimwear”. That’s a bold claim.

Historically, the nature of mass produced clothing has meant that swimwear was only available in limited sets, styles and sizes. These limitations to some extent have dictated that women think their bodies in reference to how well they fit their clothing.

Many women hang their self-esteem against a fit of a garment, and use clothing size as a guide for how a “normal” woman’s should be proportioned. Which lends itself to women thinking that parts of their body are abnormal, when the fact of the matter suggests that a garment designed on the statistical average of the masses is likely to fit very few people perfectly.

The media release also stated that the result of the shopping experience is “a piece of swimwear that celebrates uniqueness and enhances body confidence by taking its genesis from the wearer’s individual shape”. The company even goes so far as to reference a study conducted by Flinders University which found that “bikini shopping causes anxiety and depression”. Although the brand does celebrate uniqueness, but only in that it encourages customers to put their creativity to good use, it cannot guarantee a boost in body confidence, nor does the business cater to EVERY body shape.

What the business does do, however, is offer diverse swimwear styles and also allow women to buy bikini tops and bottoms that are different in size. Swimwear typically come in sets, which means that a customer can’t choose a size 10 bikini top and a size 12 bikini bottom even if the same size combination is ill-fitting. If it’s true that 86 percent of women have different top and bottom size, then this is one point-of-differentiation that Kini Swimwear could work with in its marketing efforts.

Rather than claiming to forever change a long-standing social problem, the focus of the marketing should be the technology and what it enables because that’s where the value lies. Kini Swimwear is a promising new player in the customisation movement that’s being warmly welcomed by fashion consumers, The story doesn’t need spinning.

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