Swim designer Anna Kenney has been the designer behind the scenes of Anne Cole, Anne Taylor Loft, Ralph Lauren, Gotcha, Mossimo, Sperry, Tahari, Victoria’s Secret, O.P., Oscar de la Renta and Hot Tuna, and she has worked with others under major swimwear manufacturers Catalina, Warnaco and In Mocean. These days, Kenney consults with brands of all kinds to build a successful collection, sharing her love of swim and resort wear from ideation to sourcing and sales, contributing her overall industry expertise. We caught up with Anna to learn about her vision.
You’ve been designing swimwear since the early days of O.P., Massimo and Hot Tuna. How can a brand create a unique collection and be positioned for success?
Really taking time to design and fit a swimsuit is key for any category, whether it’s kids, juniors, contemporary or plus. A swimsuit needs to make women happy to put on and make her feel confident, comfortable and sexy. I want to fit every woman with sophisticated details and upscale flair.
We don’t design and fit our swimwear off of a techpack. We hand-sketch our designs. We work with an in-house pattern maker, fit on our model, and we fit several times to correct and adjust to make the best-fitting swimsuit before we release it to production. Sourcing textiles from all over the world also makes the product more special, especially using novelty fabrics that the mass-market does not touch because of the price.
Your grandmother taught you how to sew, sparking your passion for design early on. What have you seen over the years?
Design and manufacturing have really changed. We used to buy a lot of beautiful fabric from the United States, Canada, France, Italy, Turkey, Australia, etc. We used to manufacturer swimwear in Portugal, Mexico, the U.S. and the Dominican Republic. There were a lot of options and diversity. We used to spend over a week on fitting one swimsuit on a model, make all prototypes in-house. Focusing on design with attention to detail was key.
Today, a lot of the brands we have designed for are focused on speed-to-market, which has been a challenge for designers to keep up with the calendar and manufacturing window. Perhaps this pandemic has led us to a little reset or pause in time to retool needs going forward. I don’t feel techpacks are swimwear design, and I am always concerned about the lost art, which I would love to see come back.
What advice do you have for designers just starting out?
Being a mentor for the Junior Class of Otis Parsons, I love working with the students and challenging them on creating the best swimsuit. It’s hard to find novelty in the sea of fast-fashion swim, and I think unique design, novelty and great fit are needed. I would love the designers to take time to create, fit and design and make a quality product with a sustainable story behind it.
What makes a brand tip and become a success?
There have been a few million-dollar swimsuit successes over the years, especially with Victoria’s Secret as a retail partner. One of my all-time favorite designs is the American flag bikini on the cover of Victoria’s Secret’s first swimwear catalog on Elle Mac Pherson. We have always done well with tie-dye, American flags, color-block, photographic and novelty swimwear. Any style will do well if it makes the cut for the famous Sports Illustrated Swimwear Issue.
Influencers wearing a specific swimsuit are also super powerful in attracting new customers to your brand. We used to have only retailers, athletes or magazines.
What’s next for you in the swim
We need to be savvy about what’s next and do better. I’m always interested working with a diverse mix of brands, and we are seeing a lot of new brands start up. There’s also our own in-house collection that is all about responsible sourcing, small batch production and sustainable fabrics. We have fabulous fit, [swimwear] made out of high-quality lycra swimwear textiles and a loyal fan base to help every woman. I feel it’s important to be socially responsible for apparel brands today. To do this, you have to find manufacturers who are willing to work on smaller cuts, shorter-term time and small minimums.
How should brands prepare themselves to rise above this pandemic?
We are going through scary but exciting times. The hard part is navigating through. Things are going to be different when we open up for certain. It’s important to keep talking with our retailers to stay connected, along with buyers, sales executives and CEOs, plus factories, artists, webinars – you name it.
According to Pantone Spring Season 2021 Trend Report, I’m preparing my clients for four critical shifts: inventory reduction, seasonless design and longevity, as well as the pressures of fast fashion. A local store in Manhattan Beach shared that the Made in the U.S.A. products are doing extremely well, but the imported goods are not.
We are prepared for stores to want new goods in October and in bright, happy colors. Since travel swim needs are suddenly non-existent, we are catering a lounge/resort collection to be more for home that’s totally cozy, easy and soft. Our suppliers, from textiles to trim, are all closed, along with our manufacturers, so perhaps there will be a flood of momentum to produce once the stay-at-home orders are lifted.
Kenney’s enthusiasm for swimwear design and anything ocean-inspired means she’s paying attention to see what trends will emerge on the other side of the pandemic. Visit abkswim.com to learn more or to schedule a free, 10 minute consultation with Kenney.
Daniella Platt is a business consultant and founder of Looking Good YaYa. To learn more, visit lookinggoodyaya.com.