Introducing The High-Tech Swimsuits That Actually Look Good
Defining fashion trends tend to reflect the period from which they sprung. Lung-constricting corsets, for instance, marked a period of nearly-lung-constricting subjugation of women. And years from now, I expect our memories of the past year or so—in which society has become significantly more accepting of the LGBT community—will be dominated by Alessandro Michele’s and Shayne Oliver’s gender fluid designs. Yet amidst this strong, ever-evolving current that runs through the history of fashion, bathing suits have remained conspicuously stagnant. In fact, swimwear is one of the only areas left in fashion that could be considered uncharted territory. It’s something that the profusion of new, up-and-coming designers would do well to capitalize on, but that few have. And among those scant few are Australian designers Alicia Whillas and Rosie Ward of Ward Whillas. Known for their clean, modern, and athletic shapes, as well as durable and innovative designs, Ward Whillas brings you the bathing suits you’ve always needed, but probably never knew you wanted.
Thus far, both Alicia’s and Rosie’s careers could be described as a how-to guide to making it as a designer in the fashion industry. Rather than doing something impulsive like jumping into a hastily organized line, they each harnessed the rarely summoned powers of patience and perseverance. After graduating from the Fashion Institute of Technology, Alicia and Rosie honed their skills at Marc Jacobs and The Row, respectively, eventually gaining the necessary experience that should be a prerequisite for any fledgling designer. “One of the best pieces of advice that I think I got in college was to make mistakes with other people’s money,” Alicia told me. Apprenticeships like these should not be underestimated. It was at these jobs that they learned what works and what doesn’t when making a fashion label—what’s feasible, what’s sustainable, and most importantly, what they ultimately wanted to do.
“If we had done a ready-to-wear collection [it would have been] impossible to compete with what’s already out there.”
“Since we were about 15 we wanted to start a line together, but we wanted to do a ready-to-wear collection,” they told me. Yet after work experiences where they saw firsthand the major hurdles and difficulties of such an endeavor, they learned that jumping straight into a ready-to-wear collection can be irreversibly detrimental—and especially now that the ready-to-wear market is overflowing with so much of the same. “Yeah, there aren’t really many spaces left to go, I think,” Rosie said. “It’s so competitive [and] saturated…If we had done a ready-to-wear collection [it would have been] impossible to compete with what’s already out there.”
Luckily the decision paid off. With Ward Whillas, Alicia and Rosie found the niche they were looking for, and used that as a sort of back door into the industry. That’s not to say they don’t deserve their success, but just that to make it in the industry, one has to be seriously stealth.
Not only do the Ward Whillas bathing suits offer UV protection, they also utilize quick drying Italian fabrications, and are resistant to chlorine and body lotion. They’re seamless and soft, and not at all bulky; rather than stitching the seams together, their manufacturer uses high frequency sound to ultrasonic weld the seams, and a heat sealed tape to hold the seams in place. Though they try to avoid using prints as much as possible, Alicia and Rosie have incorporated a couple that they designed themselves and that mimic their favorite textures and fabrics. And if that weren’t enough, the swimsuits’ durable fabric is produced in the most environmentally friendly way possible, using solar powered machines and as little water as possible.
“With [Ward Whillas] we started small, and really focused, and only created pieces we think we need. Become known for one thing, and then you can grow from there,” they said. And it doesn’t hurt that their line experiments with and explores fabric technology in a way no other bathing suit company has. It sets them apart from the rest, and lets them entertain their inner nerdy design students. “Especially considering our backgrounds, it’s really exciting to start to experiment with using this sort of technology and other complimentary areas,” Alicia said.
Right off the bat, it’s obvious that the Ward Whillas aesthetic is a much needed and refreshing change from the endless expanse of nearly identical bathing suits out there. They’re not skimpy nor thong-y, and the 10-year-old in you will be happy to know that it takes a lot more than a small tug of a dangling string to leave you paralyzed and naked. The Ward Whillas swimsuits are sleek, modern, and incredibly flattering—and for that, you have Alicia and Rosie’s ready-to-wear background to thank. “I think because of our background, which is more high-fashion focused, [we’ve been able to incorporate that into all the styling,” Alicia said. “[The swimsuits] definitely have a ready-to-wear look.” All of their suits are reversible—essentially, two bathing suits in one—and they’re all designed to be mixed and matched. In Alicia and Rosie’s words, they’re swimsuits made for the New York girl, pieces that look stunning whether they’re worn to the beach, or styled with a swanky blazer and skirt. “We just wanted to create something that we felt we would buy,” they told me. “Something that our friends would buy, something that was different to anything else on the market.”
The styles look so simple that it’s easy to forget the time and effort that’s gone into making them. No one had ever really attempted this before, so, especially at the beginning, it was an enormous challenge for Alicia and Rosie. “Most people who go into swimwear don’t have a technical design background, which is why the designs swimwear has to offer have been so stagnant and repetitive,” they told me. Since they didn’t even know where to begin looking, developing the brand from its inception was inevitably very grassroots and hands-on. They went to stores, mostly athletic stores, to test out different fabric technologies. Once they found the right one, they had to hunt down the correct manufacturer, and eventually convince them to start making high-end bathing suits. “There’s only one or two factories in the U.S. that [produce this type of fabric],” they told me.
The wealth of young, recently graduated designers churning out new brands is encouraging and oftentimes inspiring, but that’s not necessarily the best model to follow. Alicia and Rosie said they “would’ve made so many mistakes” and their “concept would’ve been all over the place” if they had tried to start a line immediately after graduating college. While many new, young brands are commendable, helping to dismantle rigid gender norms, they’re notable for their trendy, moment-having designs. As Alicia and Rosie explained, the aim of Ward Whillas is not to make something “that you look at two seasons later and you’re like ‘ehhh,’” but rather something with longevity and staying power—something you’ll have forever. It’s a strong and enviable foundation to any brand, and an enduring infrastructure that will be easy to build upon. “It’s such a strong concept,” they told me. “There are so many places that we can go from here.”
All Ward Whillas swimsuits can be found here.
Photographer: Nick Hudson
Stylist and Creative Director: Paul Bui
Makeup: Kento Utsubo
Hair: Shu Yamaga
Model: Eve at Supreme
Stay tuned to Milk for more features.