Corissa Enneking is a size 26, and for her, shopping for a plus-size bikini has been a difficult task, something she’s often written about on her fashion blog, Fat Girl Flow. After years of frustration, though, Enneking has noticed that brands are finally starting to get it: to comprehend that not all curvy women want to cover up in a full-coverage one-piece or a dated-feeling swim dress, a shift she feels is largely due to the increasingly strong body-diverse movement that’s permeating both fashion and social media.
“The fat-positive and body-positive messages out there and seeing plus-size women happy in bikinis is what’s to thank for it,” she told Glamour. “There are so much more options for us than there used to be, even two years ago.”
And because of that increase, brands are pointing to the plus-size bikini as a bright spot for sales.
Many retailers speculate that Ashley Graham appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue in a string bikini in 2016 as a sign that real change was happening, while others single out trailblazing blogger Gabi Gregg of Gabi Fresh, who first posted a photo of herself in a bikini on Instagram in 2011 and is credited with coining the term fatkini after encouraging women of all sizes to share bikini photos of themselves online. Others say the demand has simply been too big for brands to ignore, as the average American woman is a size 16.
Retailers taking the lead include Forever 21 and ASOS, both of which have debuted fashion-forward plus-size swim collections prominently featuring bikinis. And Target’s latest swim campaign features women of all sizes—and in two-pieces, a big break from a traditional swimsuit ad campaigns.
All wise moves. According to market research firm Technavio’s latest report, sales of swimwear in the U.S. will reach 10 billion by 2020, led in large part by the growth of the plus-size category. According to Brijesh Kumar Choubey, lead analyst for apparel and textile research at Technavio, “More vendors are realizing the potential of plus-size apparel and swimwear and have been making successful in-roads into this segment in the last three years.”
While the plus-size category has grown over the past five years by 2.3 percent, straight-sized clothing has declined by one percent. And that’s a point backed up by the brands themselves.
Swimsuits for All, which has been a leader in the plus-size bikini market, carrying sizes ranging from 4 to 34, is just one brand attesting that the bikini is its fastest-growing category.
“In 2013 we started [producing] bikinis with a small collection, wondering, Is there a market for this?” Sara Mitzner, the brand’s VP of creative and branding said. “We never thought it would turn into the runaway freight train for our business that it has.” After starting with just 10 bikinis on its site, Swimsuits for All now has more than 100 for sale.
The demand for two-piece swimsuits that fit a range of sizes was all too apparent when Swimsuits for All launched its collaboration with Gabi Fresh in sizes ranging from 10 to 24 in 2015.
“Our first collection with [her] prominently featured bikinis,” Mitzner said. “We didn’t have a press strategy, we didn’t do advertising, we just had a small photo shoot, and we sold out a few styles in 24 hours, and our website went down briefly…. We [had] never had a viral moment like that [before], and our system actually put through orders for almost 200 people before catching we were sold out. We ordered suits for those 200 people and sent them the suit for free a few weeks later.”
Swimsuits for All now carries everything from triangle bikinis and underwire bikinis to retro high-waisted options. “Bikinis are a style choice,” according to Mitzner. “Anyone who wants to wear one should be able to. We don’t want to limit anyone.”
Online plus-size fashion retailer City Chic, which launched its “curve-kind” in 2013, has seen similar demand according to the label’s head of design for lingerie and swimwear Jonathon Yeomans, who says its sales of bikinis have grown by 10 percent over the last year.
“Swimwear continues to grow in our business each season,” Yeomans said. “Our first two-piece…sold out in a few weeks. The plus-size swim market is still under-catered to. A lot of traditional plus swim brands stick to a dated formula, and it’s not very appealing.”
According to Yeomans, what City Chic has done differently is an appeal to a fashion shopper. “We know plus-size girls want to wear the same trends and styles that their friends wear,” he said. “We design our collections referencing the key fashion trends each season…. The fit, fabric choice, and proportion are really important in plus size. Once you get that right, it’s not a hard sell at all—she wants to wear it.”
Yeomans says the bikini trends selling briskly for summer at City Chic include color blocking, athletic-inspired designs, and floral prints.