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The Swimwear Designer’s Guide to Fabrics & Trims

In the vibrant world of swimwear design, picking the right fabric and trims isn’t just a matter of style—it's the secret sauce for achieving that perfect blend of fit, comfort, and durability. With an ocean of materials to choose from, how does one navigate these waters without getting lost at sea? Fear not! I’m here to steer you through the maze of popular swimwear fabrics and trims, exploring their many quirks and qualities. Buckle up, as I provide you with all the insider info you need to pinpoint the perfect choices for your designs.



A collage of swimwear fabrics including embossed tricot, jacquard tricot, and crochet.

Let’s dive headfirst into:


Standard Swim Tricot: The Backbone of Great Fit + Design

Swim tricot is a staple in the swimwear industry and probably the material you are most familiar with. It is renowned for its durability and ability to retain shape. This warp-knit fabric comes in a blend of nylon and spandex, usually featuring somewhere around an 80% nylon / 20% spandex split. This blend gives it a unique mix of strength and comfort, making it ideal for swimwear that needs to withstand the rigors of water, sun, and chlorine. The nylon fibers that make up most tricots are ultra-durable, long-lasting, and resistant to chemicals and abrasion, so they're #1 in swimwear composition and material choices. The technical structure of swimwear tricot has fine ribs on one side and a smoother surface on the other.  


Lately, more and more brands have used recycled materials in their standard swim tricots. A few worth naming and celebrating:

  1. Econyl® is one of the biggest and brightest stars in the recycled swimwear fiber game. Fabric made using 100% regenerated nylon fibers from pre-consumer and post-consumer waste, such as fishing nets, fabric scraps, and industrial plastic waste, is a fantastic option for people who want to create beautiful swimwear with less strain on the planet. A few brands using Econyl worth naming are Mara Hoffman and Nomad Swimwear.

  2. Repreve® is a brand of recycled polyester fiber made from recycled materials, including used plastic bottles, yarns, and fabric scraps. Due to its durability and sustainability credentials, Repreve is widely used in the fashion industry for swimwear and activewear. J.Crew and Reformation are into it—both brands have been using Repreve in their collections for a while. 

  3. Q-NOVA® is an environmentally sustainable nylon fiber created from regenerated raw materials, mainly from the fabric mills' primary production cycle. Roughly half of the fabric's makeup is made with recycled materials, meaning that part of the fabric is made of virgin materials. Still, since those materials might otherwise be discarded, Fulgar, the Italian company that owns Q-Nova, is drastically reducing waste by reincorporating the scraps into this product line. Q-Nova also meets rigorous traceability and environmental standards. 

  4. Newlife™ is a complete range of polyester yarns derived from recycled plastic bottles through a robust process to reduce CO2 emissions. Newlife is known for its sustainability and is used in various fashion applications, including swimwear. Like many other recycled swim fibers, the company and production are based in Italy.

  5. Amni Soul Eco® is a swimwear tricot that prides itself on its biodegradability. Its claim to fame is that this material is the first to be eliminated from the planet via biodegradation in approximately five years, while other fibers take decades to decompose. This material was also created by the Fulgar company and is made in Italy.

  6. Seaqual™: This fiber is made from recycled marine plastics found in the ocean. The Seaqual initiative helps to clean oceans by transforming the recovered plastic into high-quality yarns for fashion and interiors. While few brands currently use Seaqual, we're watching out for it because we believe more new and emerging brands might move into this material.

A collage of swimwear fabrics including jacquard tricot, embossed tricot, crinkle tricot, and textured tricot.

Textured, Embossed, and Crinkle Tricots: A Touch of Elegance and Function

Moving beyond basics, textured or patterned tricot brings a new dimension to swimwear with its varied patterns that enhance the aesthetic appeal and tactile experience. 


  1. Textured Tricot is a broad term covering a variety of tricot options with a textured surface rather than a flat surface like the standard tricot. 

  2. Embossed Tricot can come in various pattern options, from abstract to animals and florals to more specific and regimented designs. Generally, patterns are pressed into the fabric design with a die-cut stamp leveraging heat or a liquid to help create it. This results in one side being slightly raised while the other is flat or created with a subtle indent where the pattern sits.

  3. Jacquard Tricot is similar to the embossed tricot mentioned above. But, instead of the pattern being created post-fabric creation, the patterns are woven into the fabric at the knitting stage. Jacquard fabric may have more of a raised texture than embossing. Depending on your fibers, it might be easier to see a jacquard fabric vs. embossing. 

  4. Crinkle Tricot, known for its distinctive 'scrunched' appearance, adds a dynamic texture that can camouflage imperfections and enhance body contours. These materials are not just about looks; their structured forms help maintain shape and offer a different level of body support. Given its construction methods, crinkle-texture fabrics usually have tremendous stretch, so you should consider that when using this material in your swimwear. 

  5. Ribbed Tricot: Sometimes considered a textured tricot, ribbed tricots come in various options. Ranging from wide flat ribbing to narrow with short repeats, ribbed tricots can dramatically change the appearance of your garment with just a small shift. Ribbing has a bit of a sporty retro look, so it sits right in with today's trends and the 60s—70s '60s vibes going on at the moment.


Glow and Glisten: Adding a Touch of Sparkle

  1. Foil Printing on swimwear creates a shimmering effect that catches the eye, adding a luxurious touch to the garment. When applied to tricot, this printing technique combines visual appeal with the functional benefits of contour zoning and can have a sculpting effect that accentuates the body's natural curves. The bummer of foil printing is that it wears off eventually and starts to lose its luster, so treat it gently and don't throw it in your regular washing unless you want to let the foil leave its glory days behind.

  2. Lurex Tricot is a swim-friendly fabric that brings shine at the fabric level with shiny strands of lurex woven into the fabric at the knitting process. Sometimes lurex fabric can be rough against the skin and more scratchy, so be sure to feel it before deciding on it. Consider how it might feel around sensitive areas like leg openings or armholes before you go all in. Make sure you always use a non-lurex for the lining to ensure the wearer can enjoy their suit while its on the body.

  3. Satin Finish Tricot is another way to add more shimmer into your swimwear line. This is done by using shiny yarns as well as satin weaves to produce a lower shine effect, a little more subtle than adding lurex yarns directly, but still giving that shimmer that normal tricots don’t usually have. This style can be seen on different textures as well as flat fabrics, so its a great option for elevating any kind of look.

  4. Glitter Printing is most often used in childrens swimwear, but still something worth mentioning! This involves layering an adhesive and a glitter layer to create either random or regimented design into the fabric as a top layer and is usually one of the last processes that fabric will undergo before being completed. Glitter printing is less permanent and tends to fade after several wears/washes, so it’s less resilient than some of the other options. 


Helenca Lining: Comfort Meets Durability

  1. Helenca lining is often overshadowed by its outer counterparts, but it is crucial to swimwear's comfort and functionality. This lining material is prized for its soft texture, providing a comfortable layer against the skin. At the same time, its robustness enhances the garment's durability and shape retention. Also, helenca lining can be less expensive than lining your garment in a standard swim tricot. It also typically relies more heavily on mechanical stretch, which can have attractive benefits when shaping and smoothing your torso and bum. 


Contoured Fit: Structured Swimwear Fabrics

A collage of swimwear fabrics including jacquard tricot, embossed tricot, crinkle tricot, and textured tricot.

  1. Neoprene is a less popular fabric choice, but it is often used in surfwear as it is water-resistant and helps hold in body heat better than traditional swim. Neoprene also offers shaping and contouring as it's a much less stretchy option than traditional swimwear tricot while still being flexible. It is important to note that neoprene is also very durable and strong, so it holds up to the intensity that surfing or extreme sports might offer. This material is made with thin rubber layers with a stretch fabric laminated on each side. The way we currently make neoprene is not very ecologically friendly. Still, it definitely serves its purpose in the industry, especially in active watersports.  

  2. Power Mesh is another common material in structured swimwear. It can help enhance your contours and create more shaping. Usually made of a nylon/spandex blend, power mesh might replace a lining material while adding more power to the garment. Power mesh may also be used without the outer facing so you can show off a bit of sheerness through the suit. 

  3. Consider adding Stabilizer Fabric when you need a stretchy swimwear garment to stay rigid in certain areas. Stabilizer fabric is often woven nylon or polyester designed to hold a specific area in place.


Seersucker & Crochet: Classic Textures for Summer 

  1. Seersucker fabric is typically characterized by its puckered surface, achieved through a slack-tension weave. The fabric alternates between smooth and textured stripes that create a visual contrast. Typical seersucker is made of cotton and used on warm-weather gear like loose button-up shirts and shorts, but in swimwear, it is usually used with synthetic materials to ensure that it can hold up to the chlorine and saltwater that it might come in contact with. Seersucker fabric in swimwear often has quite a bit less stretch than traditional swimwear, so you might need to compensate in design aesthetics and lining material for a great fitting seersucker garment. 

  2. Crochet fabric offers a distinctly handcrafted appeal that stands out in the world of swimwear. It blends traditional crochet techniques with modern styles and materials, resulting in swimwear that is not only visually striking but also uniquely textured. Crochet fabric can be made using a series of interlocking loops of yarn, thread, or other materials using a crochet hook. There are also machines that make crochet-like fabric that is more sturdy than traditional crochet so that it can hold up to saltwater and chlorine. In mass-produced swimwear, we often use a lookalike option that includes synthetic yarns and spandex to hold its shape and better recover when it gets wet. Patterns can range from very open, loose, and airy to intricate and dense, like a typical crotchet. 


Rubber, Clasps, and Closures: The Unsung Heroes


A collage of swimwear hardware including rings, sliders, belt buckets, closures, cord ends and beads.
  1. Rubber is our top recommendation for use in swimwear edges where you want elasticity, particularly in straps and edges, to ensure a secure fit and excellent recovery post-stretch. Now and then, brands may use knitted elastic in swimwear. Still, for us, this is a big NO-NO as knitted elastic's construction and makeup will degrade quickly when worn in chlorinated water or salty seawater. Rubber has the most longevity and the best history of staying in shape for as long as possible, so if in doubt -- go with rubber. It can come in various widths and gauges--otherwise known as the thickness. We commonly use 8mm rubber with a .6mm thickness for being supportive without being too bulky.

  2. Rings are typically used at the back straps, where the rubber strap loops through to allow for strap adjustment with the addition of a slider. You might also have larger-scale rings used to create embellishment details, like a bandeau with a center front ring for styling purposes. 

  3. Sliders are shaped like figure 8s, allowing garments to have varying adjustment points. In swimwear, sometimes people use sliders on over-the-shoulder straps. Still, they can also be used at the back closure or on the waist to allow for easy adjustment. Sliders come in various shapes and designs, from super functional and basic to more design-oriented, with logos, rhinestones, or other motifs to incorporate extra fun into the collection. 

  4. Hooks are typically used at the straps in swimwear to make them removable and at the back of a top to close the garment. They can also come in various shapes and be customized to suit your brand with your logo added or to ensure a perfect shape that suits the collection. Hooks typically offer extra adjustability because you can have numerous loops on the back wing to allow for a more custom fit for the wearer. 

  5. Closures in swimwear typically have an interlock mechanism. There is a right side and a left side to a closure, and when put together, they close the garment and secure the fit. These can be made from metal or plastic. However, metal is often superior as plastics can degrade and break more readily. With these kinds of closures, fit adjustability is limited, so keep that in mind if you value the ability to customize your customer's fit experience.

  6. Cord Ends are pieces of hardware added to the ends of drawstrings to add weight and decorative details to the ties. Cord ends come in various shapes, colors, and materials, typically metal, wood, or plastic. Like most other hardware, decorative cord ends can be customized to include your logo or motif so you can make your collection stand out and shine bright!

  7. Underwires are not uncommon in swimwear, but they've gained more traction in recent years. They are U-shaped metal with plastic-tipped ends inserted into a wire channel to give shape along the breast curve. While wires are typically used in bra-sized swimwear, they are better for more supportive swimwear for the fuller chested as they offer better lift and shape than non-wired options.

  8. Foam cookies are another name for the foam pads sometimes included in swimwear to provide gentle shaping and nipple concealment. Foam cookies are often removable, allowing the wearer to decide whether to keep them or take them out. Sometimes, they're permanently integrated into the design, making them non-removable. 

  9. Decorative Hardware: Swim hardware varies wildly based on the trends of the moment, anything from lucite rings to wooden beads, to jewelry-inspired necklines and everything in between.

Metal, Lucite, or Wood for Swim Hardware? Which is Best? 

The choice between metal, lucite, and wooden hardware like clasps, closures, rings, and sliders often depends on the desired balance between aesthetics, functionality, and cost. 


Metal Hardware

Pros:

  • Durability: Metal hardware is typically very durable and long-lasting, capable of withstanding exposure to water and sun without degrading quickly. It's unlikely to break without extreme pressure.

  • Aesthetic Variety: Available in a wide range of finishes and colors (e.g., brushed, polished, antique, gold, silver, gunmetal, etc), metal can add a sophisticated or luxurious touch to swimwear designs.

  • Strength: Metal clasps, rings, and sliders are strong and secure, which is ideal for ensuring that swimwear stays in place during active use.

Cons:

  • Corrosion: Some metals can corrode or tarnish when exposed to chlorinated or salt water unless properly treated or coated.

  • Weight: Metal hardware tends to be heavier, which could affect the comfort and fit of swimwear. It could also affect your shipping costs.

  • Temperature Sensitivity: Metal can heat up under the sun, potentially causing discomfort to the wearer.

  • Allergies: Some people are sensitive to certain metals, especially nickel, so you might have customers who can't buy your line if you use metal hardware.

Lucite Hardware

Pros:

  • Aesthetic Appeal: Lucite (a type of acrylic resin, aka plastic) offers a sleek, modern look and can be transparent or colored, allowing for creative design expressions and customization.

  • Lightweight: Compared to metal, lucite is lighter, which can improve the overall comfort of the swimwear and reduce shipping expenditures.

  • Water Resistance: Lucite is naturally resistant to water damage, making it a good choice for swimwear.

Cons:

  • Durability Concerns: While water-resistant, lucite can be more prone to scratching and breaking than metal, mainly when used on closures or high-stress areas.

  • Limited Styles: Lucite might not offer the same traditional or luxurious feel that some metals convey, possibly limiting design options.

  • Sustainability: Lucite is still plastic and uses various chemicals during the creation process. So, you might have less of a convincing sustainability story if you go this route. 

Wooden Hardware

Pros:

  • Natural Aesthetics: Wood adds a unique, organic look to swimwear, which can be very appealing in designs aiming for an earthy, natural vibe.

  • Lightweight: Wood is generally lightweight, comfortable for the wearer, and suitable for swimwear and low-cost shipping.

  • Eco-friendly: Wood can be a more sustainable option, especially if sourced from responsibly managed forests.

Cons:

  • Water Damage: Wood can absorb water and swell or warp over time if not properly treated.

  • Maintenance: Wooden hardware may require sealing or an additional treatment to maintain its appearance and durability.

  • Variability: As a natural material, wood can vary in appearance and strength, which might lead to inconsistencies in production.

Final Considerations for Your Brand

At the end of the day, you need to consider your brand's positioning and values. If your brand is centered on sustainable and ethically made swimwear, then the choice of materials and hardware needs to reflect these values. For instance, opting for sustainably sourced wood trims or recycled metal could resonate well with your brand ethos. On the other hand, lucite offers a modern, fashion-forward appeal, but consider and check the environmental impact of its production. Always remember to stay true to your brand.


Every material in swimwear offers distinct aesthetic and functional qualities, so your choice may ultimately depend on the specific design goals and brand identity you aim to achieve. The options are limitless and yours to make, so have fun and enjoy the sourcing journey!

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