For years, shoppers here bought swimwear from sport brands Speedo and Arena, or splashed out a cool dollar on more fashionable designs from labels such as Seafolly and Ripcurl, both Australian.
Now, beachgoers in Singapore have more options.
The local swimwear scene is heating up with at least five home- grown labels - K.Blu, August Society, Frolik, Delta and Pinksalt - offering their take on the garment.
The owners of these brands - which opened in the past three years and sell stylish swimwear ranging from bikinis to wetsuits - set up shop after feeling exasperated with the lack of affordable quality swimwear here.
What was available, they say, was cheap swimwear from fast-fashion brands that lasted through only a few washes, expensive maillots from European labels and uninspired designs from sports stores.
Pinksalt is the newest of the bunch, having launched two months ago.
Founded by Ms Belinda Lee, 45, and Ms Ng Su May, 26, the label's designs are modern and a touch more modest than skimpy string bikinis, with one-piece swimsuits and bikini tops offering full-coverage in front, but with bare backs.
Prices start at $109 for a strapless one-piece and go up to $159 for a two-piece halter set.
The business started online (www.pinksaltswim.co) in June and is now stocked at multi-label boutiques What Women Want at Mandarin Gallery in Singapore and Shoes, Shoes, Shoes at Publika Mall in Kuala Lumpur.
Ms Lee says: "Despite being in the tropics, I would still buy my swimwear from European brands and high-street labels. There was a lack of local swimwear labels to choose from. That's why we started Pinksalt".
Delta and K.Blu also offer swimsuits that are cut to fit local customers better. Their designs, for instance, have shorter torsos, hence are more suited to Asians.
K.Blu fan Nobuko Yamao Arvanitis, 51, has five swimsuits from the label, including two bikinis and a coral-pink colour-block Thermal Spring suit. The housewife loves that the swimsuits are "elegant with a hint of otona-kawaii (Japanese for mature-cute)".
The Japanese mother of two, who swims and does stand-up paddle- boarding, says: "I like water sports, but it's sometimes hard to stay stylish while you are in the sea.
"Now, I don't have to look like a seal wearing old black or grey wetsuits at the beach any more."
Modest styles for Asian women
As someone who loves the water and used to sail laser boats and join regattas, Mrs Lyn Rosmarin needed a swimsuit that fitted her well and provided ample coverage.
The mother of two, who started K.Blu in 2014, says: "Like me, most Asian women generally have shorter torsos compared with Caucasian women. Also, my chest is smaller and my hips are not as wide.
"I couldn't find anything that suited me back in those days. I was frustrated and said to myself that when I have a chance, I want to make my own."
Her brand caters to women like her. Most pieces are one-piece styles, with higher necklines and modest cuts, although she also offers halterneck and strapless versions, two-piece sets as well as matching resortwear, including rompers and dresses.
A lover of prints, the 38-year-old works with a team of four out of her boutique at Mandarin Gallery, coming up with designs that are then sent to a factory in China and printed on bales of Italian fabric.
Prices start at $250 for a two-piece and go up to $400 for a kaftan or dress.
Mrs Rosmarin, who worked in the banking industry for 12 years before starting K.Blu, took the plunge when she realised she was "too caught up in the rat race".
"I was working very hard, more than 12 hours a day, monitoring the markets and constantly having to travel and climbing up the corporate ladder. I felt I was always chasing something, like performance benchmarks. I was very fatigued from that," she says.
A swimwear tradeshow in Hong Kong ignited a passion to start K.Blu and she quit her job soon after. So far, $1.35 million have been put into the business. Although it is not profitable yet, Mrs Rosmarin says she is close to breaking even.
The turnaround came in 2014 when she opened a pop-up at luxury beach club Nikki Beach Miami in Florida. The response was good and an offer to be part of a fashion show there followed.
"This opened the door to the American market," she says, adding that she started supplying items to popular multi-label retailers Anthropologie and Calypso St. Barth.
The Mandarin Gallery store opened in June last year as a nine-month pop-up. She signed a two-year lease for the space this June. The brand is also stocked at department stores Isetan and Robinsons here and, in Jakarta, at department stores Central and Galeries Lafayette.
Business, she says, has risen by 15 per cent year-on-year since it launched. She declines to reveal sales figures, but says the brand pulled in a six-figure sum last year.
About 80 per cent of her customers are Asian women who go for one-piece swimsuits, as well as criss-cross bikini tops and kaftans.
She recalls a Singaporean who bought eight swimsuits at a go on her website (www.kblu.com) in 2015. She delivered the purchase to the customer in person as she wanted to thank her for the support.
As for what is in store, she says she has had men express interest in her prints, with several requesting that she explore menswear. But she would rather focus on women for now. "What I want to do now is to make sure I get all my sizing right for all women's body types," she says.
Frolicking, sun-protected good time
Hong Kong-born Andrea Liu sells swimwear to families who love to coordinate their clothes.
Her three-year-old label Frolik has shorts for fathers and sons, as well as swimsuits and rash vests for mothers and daughters. Children can also accessorise with sun hats in matching or clashing prints.
Ms Liu, who has lived in Singapore for six years with her husband and two children, says: "A lot of Asian and local families love to order a matching set for the whole family. Expatriates tend to go for father-son or mother-daughter matching swimwear."
The 43-year-old started Frolik as she found it hard to find good quality swimwear at an affordable price. She also saw a demand for such garments.
"I am in a Facebook group where expat wives and mothers would ask one another what they should bring from home that they can't find in Singapore, and many replied saying, 'swimwear'."
It took her about a year to find the right manufacturer and fabric composition for her swimwear before she launched the label in October 2014. Prices for her items start at $59 for a child's swimsuit or men's shorts and go up to $83 for a woman's rash vest.
Although all her swimwear is sold online (www.frolikbeachstyle.com), she plans to expand the business and distribute in Australia, Europe and the United States in the coming year through independent boutiques.
Frolik was previously carried in Singapore at swimwear store Ocean Paradise, online at Zalora.sg and at the now-closed multi-label store Chillax at Turf City.
As cute as the swimsuits are, they are also practical. Each comes with certified sun protection of up to UPF 50+ by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency - Ms Liu sends swatches of her fabric to the government body for testing.
On why she finds it worth the hassle to do so, she says: "People seek this if they are truly sun-conscious and, if you are a mother with young kids, it's important that swimwear is UPF 50 protected.
"It's also one of my label's unique selling points."
Mix and match stylish tops and bottoms
It was difficult finding a suitable swimsuit and Ms Toni Chan came away thinking that there was simply nothing in Singapore for someone like her.
"There was nothing for the woman who isn't 18 years old any more, but still wants to look fashionable without shelling out $300," says Ms Chan, who started online swimwear store August Society (www.augustsociety.com) in 2015.
The Singaporean's label caters mostly to women in their 30s and 40s and her designs include rash guards, tankinis, bikini tops with thicker straps and one-piece swimsuits, adorned with unique prints she designed.
Prices start at $65 for a bikini top or bottom, while one-piece suits start at $120.
The former management consultant, 35, says the prints are inspired by her travels - the palm leaf, pineapple and hibiscus print in her Tropicana series, for example, were inspired by her honeymoon to French Polynesia in 2014.
The mother of one adds: "We offer more covered options that are quite popular in Asia, such as long- sleeved tops and tankinis that are more modest. The prints are more stylish too, compared with sporty surf brands. We are more feminine and design-focused."
Her items are now also stocked at physical stores - starting with Isetan Scotts in Scotts Road last year, followed by Zhai at Tanglin Mall and FoliAge at United Square Shopping Mall earlier this year. There are plans to sell her designs wholesale overseas and on Amazon next year.
Bestsellers include long-sleeved rash guards and the Miami one-piece swimsuit, which looks like a regular bodysuit from the front but has a deep plunge at the back. All her swim tops have built-in or removable padding and are made with thicker fabric.
Ms Chan says: "We stand out because of our prints and our designs are versatile. You can mix and match our tops and bottoms."
It was started by identical twins Debra and Denise Teoh, 30; the postage and packing of purchases is done by their father, a retired marketing manager in the electronics industry; while their two younger brothers, aged 22 and 19, help spread the word to their girlfriends through word of mouth.
The sisters, who both hold day jobs at a bank and pumped in $30,000 of their savings to kickstart the business, say that theirs is a close-knit family and that their parents are supportive.
Their mother, who works in human resources at a multinational company, is a loyal fan and wears their one-piece swimsuits.
The twins decided to launch a swimwear label as they felt the women's apparel scene here was over-saturated and, as swimmers and beachgoers themselves, they had trouble finding swimwear that fit well or came with padding for more coverage.
Thus, the torso of their one-piece designs are cut shorter to fit Asian frames and each has a waistband to accentuate the waist. Shoulder straps that cross at the back ensure that the garment will not slip off easily and all styles come with removable padding.
The duo also wanted swimwear that was more understated and versatile. Says Denise, the younger twin by six minutes: "The swimwear here is generally very bright and attention-seeking and we wanted something simple and versatile enough to be worn as underwear or as a bodysuit."
That explains why their swimwear, made in China and named after water gods such as Neptune and Poseidon, come in lingerie-inspired bralette bikini styles. There is also a one-piece swimsuit that looks more like a bodysuit.
All styles are priced at $77 each and come in a plastic pouch for easy storage. "It's extra cost to us, but we want to give value to our customers," says Debra, who laughs after sharing that she used to store her wet swimwear in plastic bags from supermarkets.
The sisters, both single, decline to reveal sales figures, but say they have recouped their initial investment.
Moving forward, they plan to design swimwear for children and men as they "see a gap there".
Says Debra: "Our guy friends feel there's a lack of cool options. We're also keen to branch out to other items, such as swimwear accessories and casual clothes.
"We've also always dreamt of opening a cafe-retail store with a modern and minimalist concept. But the biggest consideration is cost."
Maui rash guard in Seafoam, $115, from August Society
Oahu rash guard in Due South, $115, from August Society
Boy's swim shorts in Coral, $59, from Frolik
Girl's swimsuit in Hibiscus, $59, from Frolik
Favola Nautica criss-cross bikini top, $210, and matching print bottom, $130, both with UPF 50+ protection, from K.Blu
Henna Mehndi boat-neck one-piece swimsuit with UPF 50+ protection, $350, from K.Blu
Blossom one-piece swimsuit, $139, from Pinksalt
Poppy one-piece swimsuit, $139, from Pinksalt
Neptune bralette bikini in Garnet, $77, from Delta
Poseidon one-piece swimsuit in Midnight, $77, from Delta
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2017, with the headline 'Making a cool splash'. Print Edition | Subscribe
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