A group of refugee women have produced designs for Islamic bathing costumes to help Muslim women in New Zealand learn to swim.

The sewing group, NZ Somalian Inc, presented their idea at the Auckland Cultural Festival at Wesley War Memorial Park yesterday. "Many Muslim women don't learn to swim because the strict rules of Islam forbid them from wearing the swimming costumes sold in New Zealand shops," said Fadumo Ahmed, chairwoman of the group.

"We are surrounded by water in New Zealand, so it is important that they too learn how to swim and we think that having these bathing suits will just encourage more to do so."

Most swimming pools ban swimmers from wearing track pants and long sleeved T-shirts, but the group says it will be consulting pool operators to ensure its swimsuit is permitted. The cover-all swimming costume drew its inspiration from the two piece "burkini", which is popular in the Middle East and introduced to Australia two years ago.

The swimming costumes, like the recycled bags, will be sold as part of an effort to create an income-generating business for the refugee women, and lift them out of long-term benefits, Ms Ahmed said. "It gives the women a great sense of self worth and a huge amount of excitement to see something that they have created being sold," said Susan Barter, who teaches the group sewing.

"The idea is to teach them a skill that can be income generating to transform their lives, and the swimming costume was something they felt the community needs."

The group has already been turning recycled billboard materials into bags.

Ethnic Affairs Minister Pansy Wong said she supported the idea of having swimming costumes for Muslim women, and thought it was a "sensible" way to encourage them to learn swimming.

Mrs Wong said she was impressed by the attitude of refugee communities in New Zealand, many of whom will be represented at Sunday's festival. "I am particularly impressed by the attitude shown by many refugees who don't see their traumatic uprooting as an ending, but rather as a new beginning where they can rise above negative experiences and the mentality of being victims and work hard to contribute to their new community and new country on the whole," Mrs Wong said. "They deserve our admiration and respect."