The return of the great Australian swimsuit: Seafolly riding the wave

Images of swimsuits have been tied to the Australian dream with the string of taut bikini tops for decades but that surf-resistant double knot recently unravelled.

“We lost our way as an organisation,” says Brendan Santamaria, chief executive of Australian swimsuit label Seafolly. “We were trying to be everything to everybody.”

Tash Galgut models Seafolly swimwear on Bondi Beach. Seafolly is expanding with new direct-to-consumer sites in the UK, plus new sites for the US, Australia and Singapore.Credit:Louie Douvis

In 2020 Seafolly entered voluntary administration, threatening the future of the label that had sold a sun-kissed lifestyle to the world since 1975, with glossy campaigns starring supermodels such as Miranda Kerr, Jess Hart, Gigi Hadid and Cat McNeil. 

Seafolly was sold back to private equity group L Catterton, who acquired it from its founders, the Halas family in 2014. Santamaria was appointed as chief executive to restore Seafolly and the Australian bikini’s global reputation.

“It’s a new team, and it has been a challenge, but having gotten through COVID-19 we are seeing some topline growth and we are now ready for the next chapter.”

With a focus on its core swimsuit collections aimed at women over the age of 25, who prefer a reliable fit to fast fashion, Santamaria is taking the Australian bikini dream back to the world, launching Seafolly’s first dedicated website in the UK, introducing fit technology to US sites and improving deliveries to Canada and New Zealand.

“Seafolly has a strong awareness in the UK. We can see the direct traffic visiting our US and Australian sites, so it’s a strategic move to open a store there,” Santamaria says. “This is not just a sales strategy but will support our relationship with department stores such as John Lewis and Selfridges.”

The UK and revitalised US and Australian websites will feature the same content, with 31-year-old Melbourne model Shanina Shaik returning to Seafolly after making her debut with the brand in 2016. Shaik was photographed for the recent campaign when she was three months pregnant.

“We are really proud to feature an Australian supermodel,” Santamaria says. “For a time we lost a bit our iconic Bondi Beach reputation. We will never lose it as our foundation.”

While Seafolly has been regrouping, other brands have emerged to capitalise on Australia’s association with beach culture. Since launching in 2015, Sydney swimwear brand Bondi Born has made inroads internationally and is now stocked in Harrods, Saks Fifth Avenue and Net-a-Porter.

Australian resort brand Matteau – sounds French – has its block colour swimsuit styles from former Vogue stylist Ilona Hamer, which have gained popularity with front-row regulars and models off-duty, and is stocked internationally by Harrods, Bergdorf Goodman and Moda Operandi.

In October ready-to-wear designer Rebecca Vallance launched her first swimsuit collection with unexpected results.

“Neiman Marcus didn’t stock our clothing but took one look at our swim pieces and loved them,” Vallance says, following meetings with the US department store chain. “Now they’re expanding their orders into clothing.”

“I wish I’d launched swim years ago. It’s our fastest growing category and US customers love it.”

The US is also of importance for Seafolly, which is why their customers, along with UK shoppers will have access to fit adviser technology, which uses a body dataset to recommend size. Australian online shoppers will have to wait.

“In the US we don’t have bricks and mortar stores so we need to build the trust in our fit online. We know that 70 per cent of Australian customers start their journey online but still like to make their purchases in one of our stores. For them, it’s about the look, touch and feel. They trust us.”

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