Viva’s Guide To Swimwear For All Bodies And Budgets

By Dan Ahwa
The colourful range of Unde swimwear from the Kapiti Coast brand. Photo / Supplied

Fashion director Dan Ahwa explores the latest in beach-side, pool-side excellence.

One pleasurable aspect of summer is the freedom the season ushers in as we shed those winter layers and feel comfortable wearing less clothing. Embracing the great outdoors with clothes that support this feeling is essential.

However, making the

As with the general state of fashion right now, anything goes, and there’s similar thinking from several swimwear designers, whose offerings focus on inclusive and conscious swimwear to last the distance.

Today we’re faced with options from designers making swimwear from recycled bottles, and sizes that truly reflect a diverse range of bodies. Adaptive swimwear options have also come a long way, as are options for non-binary and trans people to enjoy.

The old-fashioned idea of finding garments that are ‘flattering’ is also on the way out, as the word belies the belief that looking streamlined and slim is the ideal body type and that bodies need to be contained to fit society’s ideals. In an era where body inclusivity has become an important part of fashion’s progress, a category like swimwear requires not only attention to detail, but a complete mind shift.

“We want anyone who wears our swimwear to feel that they can finally enjoy a swim at the beach, a dip at the river or play with their friends and family at the pool,” explains Antoinette Keenan of Kapiti Coast-based label Unde. Created alongside her partner James Shewring, the range of Unde’s swimwear and intimates was designed in response to Antoinette’s debilitating morning sickness during her pregnancy with her son Louis, which led to her seeking swimwear and underwear made with natural fibres, supporting her through her recovery.

“So many of us are scared to get in our swimwear because most swimwear is designed by big brands who cater to teenagers and a certain body type which 99 per cent of New Zealanders are not — so we made our swimwear to suit,” Keenan explains.

“The thought of wearing my old low-cut brief and triangle swimwear just isn’t even an option with my tum, bum and boobs that have changed a lot since I last wore my favourite two-pieces and I was desperate to have the same support and comfort of my high-waist underwear and bras, but to wear swimming.”

Fashion designer and owner of pattern-cutting business The Pattern Table Rachel Mills has created a brand focusing on slower runs. Her line of underwear and swimwear has proven particularly popular for its diverse size range and use of quality fabrics.

“We are all guilty of putting our swimsuits through the wringer during the carefree summer months — sunscreen, salt water, chlorine, sitting on concrete, not rinsing them out immediately, so it is imperative to find something that will withstand as much of this as possible,” says Mills.

“Be sure to purchase from reputable brands who know what they are doing when it comes to manufacturing and sourcing. It is also a good idea to think about whether the shape and style of the swimsuit will get you through the current and future stages of your life. Our bodies change over time and what we look for when feeling at our most exposed may change.”

Swimwear for everyone

“We should reject the idea that you have to look a certain way to wear a certain style,” explains Nisa brand manager Emily Partridge. The brand, founded by Elisha Watson in 2017, has grown into an ethical fashion business made with sustainable materials and lean manufacturing practices, producing fun swimwear, loungewear, activewear and socks in Wellington.

“Instead, you should think about your favourite thing about your body, and what style shows off that feature. If you want to emphasise your chest, halter necks are great. If you love the curves of your waist, a high-waisted style would look gorgeous. Never be intimidated to try different styles, as your confidence makes a real difference in how you appear to others and at the end of the day it should be about you feeling comfortable and beautiful.”

Papamoa-based zero-waste swimwear brand Emroce, designed by Emma La Rocca, is one of the few swimwear brands that cater to the trans and non-binary communities with its range of fresh and stylish swimwear options, including brightly coloured rash tops, bikinis and one-piece suits.

“The key design element is that the crotch is wider. I want trans women to be able to wear feminine swimwear that makes them feel confident and allows them to play and swim at the beach without any worries,” says La Rocca. “I believe that when you have fun in the water you gain so much more respect for this element. If you don’t have the right swimwear for your body, you’re not going to have as much fun.”


For self-described swimming addict Ruth Clarkson, the Tāmaki Makaurau-based business channelled this passion into her swimwear store Mei Lan, which sells sought-after premium brands like Galamaar, Maryam Nassir Zadeh, Hakea, Araks and Nu Swim.

For a wardrobe item that sits close to the body like lingerie, she believes getting the fit right is the most important part of choosing the right swimwear. “Fit is everything with swim. If you can, avoid shopping for swim if you are in a hurry. You need time to try a variety of sizes and styles to find your best fit,” says Clarkson.

“Your suit should fit you securely without much strain and not dig in too much. It can be hard when you are not in the mood but trying on a range of sizes is really important, even if it’s not the size you normally wear just give it a go.”

“When it fits you right it will last much longer and also be more comfortable. You can have the best quality swimsuit in the world but if the fit is wrong it will not work for you.”

La Rocca agrees. “I highly suggest that you try the swimwear on before you buy it. Have a good wiggle in it to see if it will stay in place. If you prefer not to try on, or it’s not possible please email the company with your measurements so that they can help you to find the perfect fit.”

“Assuming that you want your investment to last and not to only look good for one summer, look at the quality of the fabric. Is the swimwear made of the average, thin polyester which loses its stretch after a summer (or a night in a chlorinated spa pool)? Touch the fabric, feel the thickness, feel the quality. Read the tags and ask the company for information. I’ve found that some of the crinkly jacquard fabric (which seems to be a current trend) easily catches and leaves runs in the swimwear.”

“Do you visit many black sand beaches? If so, choose a dark-coloured swimsuit. If the swimwear is lined, the sand gets stuck between the fabric layers or in the outer fabric itself. This can make a light-coloured swimsuit look mouldy.”

“Construction is the key to good-quality swimwear,” adds Clarkson. “Look out for self-lined pieces, pieces that are two layers of either the same fabric or really good lining material. This will hold the shape much longer and has the added benefit of more support.”

“Other signs of good construction are adjustable straps so you can fit without strain, metal hard wear, bound seams, and a high elastane/lycra percentage in the fabric will all help with the longevity of your swimwear. Look out for anything over 20 per cent here. Lots of good-quality swim fabrics have an SPF sun protection factor in them too, which is an added bonus.

And on the topic of swimsuit styles that suit some bodies over others, Mills believes it’s all about ensuring that shape and fit are a priority.

“I believe that if you get the shape right, and the grading increments right, one style will suit many different body shapes.

“Our customers have definitely been an example of this, where we have seen the same style work on a straight-bodied size six through to a curvaceous size 18. Bodies tend to follow similar trends as they increase in size, but they often do not change proportionately. The secret with our swimwear (and bodysuits) is that we have really concentrated on trialling and development to figure out what our grade rules need to be, for the swimsuits to work just right on each size.”

Brands such as Asos Design Curve have also included a much more inclusive size range, providing swimwear options that go to a size 30, along with bright and colourful options from Cupshe with a size range including 4X.

Asos Curve
Asos Curve


“Feeling confident makes a big difference, so you should go with something you’re instantly drawn to,” says Nisa production manager Pam Lowe. “If you wear a lot of classic black in your day-to-day life, a hot pink swimsuit might throw you off guard. Likewise, our red shade this year is perfect if you want to feel like a bombshell.”

Like red, jewel tones are another great way to explore colour that feels more attuned to our natural seaside surroundings in New Zealand, from vivid purple to deep greens inspired by our landscapes. Unde’s selection of colours is a great starting point for those who want to branch away from classic black.

“This year’s swimwear colour range is seven colours and they were chosen because we love colour and couldn’t choose between them,” says Shewring. “We poll our community on the colours we love so they can choose before we get colours made.”

Earth tones are also a favourite for Clarkson. “Black is always practical and glamorous but not everyone suits black, so a really beautiful neutral or earth tone that suits your colouring will never date.”


Many swimwear brands we spoke to adhere to using fabrics much kinder to the planet, and with technological advancements made in this category in recent years, it’s almost a given now for swimwear to be fashioned by responsible textiles. Textiles like Econyl, created by Italian firm Aquafil, uses synthetic waste such as industrial plastic, waste fabric, and fishing nets from oceans, then recycles and regenerates them into new nylon yarn.

Other brands have started using hemp and Yulex, the latter an innovative and supple plant-based and sustainable alternative to limestone or petroleum neoprene. The result is lightweight and super-stretchy.

For some like La Rocca, it’s a matter of zero waste. On average 15 per cent to 30 per cent of fabric is wasted when making any garment cut from normal patterns, she says.

“My overall aim is to incentivise the fast fashion companies to start using zero-waste patterns. I see my brand Emroce as my laboratory for testing zero-waste patterns and business models that can be scaled up to work in fast fashion companies and I’m happy to say that my years of practice have started to pay off. I’ve recently worked on a project for Decathlon, the world’s largest sporting goods retailer.

“They hired a handful of zero-waste pattern makers from around the world to analyse their patterns and walk them through our design processes. This is the first huge company to be convinced of the benefits of using zero-waste patterns; we now hope that others will see the benefits too and will follow suit.”


“Styles and cuts can be very personal to the wearer,” says Clarkson, “however, if you find one that fits you perfectly and you are happy in, you have found your winner.”

On the back of a 90s/2000s revival in fashion, it’s unsurprising this has filtered into trending swimwear like high-cut thong swimsuits.

High-waist and mid-waist briefs are popular staples for the Rachel Mills’ line of swimwear, made from sustainable regenerated Econyl nylon with SPF 50+ sun protection, providing strength, complete coverage, and high chlorine resistance when out swimming in the pool.

“Our High-Rise French Swim Brief, Easy Mid Swim Brief and Paula One-Piece are our three most popular styles. I think this comes down to the consideration we have taken when developing them. I had a lot of conversations with people of different body shapes to find out what issues they had with swimwear in the past.

“Our High-Rise French Swim brief follows the shape of our signature underwear brief and has been a hit with all body shapes, especially women post-partum. It covers and holds the tummy, while offering a bit of skin at the back, making any backside look great.

“Our Easy Mid Swim Brief is an offshoot of this, with a lower waist at the front and a more pronounced angle at the front. Both have a folded edge along the backside and hip, which means they don’t dig in at the softest parts of our curves. Then our Paula One-Piece ticks a lot of the boxes that many women struggle with. It offers bust support, full backside coverage but with a back cut-out, giving it the perfect balance of skin vs modesty. The back ties up, so the amount of bust support can be adjusted, and the shoulder shape is flattering on even the broadest of shoulders.”

In terms of colour, jewel tones are again, having a moment alongside seasonal bights. “The last few seasons have been all about beautiful bright, vibrant colours and thankfully this is still going strong — I love it,” says Clarkson.

“Bright oranges, lime greens and even neons have featured in many brands’ collections. Swim can be such a good way to play with colour, even if it’s not your normal vibe day to day.

“This year there is a progression to more rich jewel tones, think emerald green, cobalt blue and copper and fabrics with a luxe shimmer and a bit of glitter. These tones can be a more accessible way to introduce bright colours into your swim repertoire and add a lovely touch of poolside glam. Not everyone is feeling themselves in bright orange!

“In terms of styles, I am seeing one-pieces have their moment now more than ever. Nothing more fab than a good one-piece,” says Clarkson.

“The possibilities are endless — from your more traditional leotard-type styles right through to barely there Monokinis, there is a good option for all tastes. Channel your inner Baywatch or 90s supermodel and have a play with a higher-cut leg (way more flattering than people think). It works well for those who prefer more structure and support from their swim.

“One fun mini-trend I have started to see a bit is belted swimsuits. It can be a fun added detail to a simple one-piece or elevate some high-waisted briefs.”

Modest swimwear

Several brands also cater to the significant modest fashion market, and some of our favourites include sporty options from Adidas and Speedo, with water-resistant separates like swim leggings, tunics, and hijabs.

It’s a level of confidence that brands are now offering to modest-dressing people. For something less sporty and with some design flair, we’ve loved getting to know brands such as Lyra swimwear, who create modest swimwear in support of the #ThisGirlCan campaign for active women and to help support increased participation rates in swimming.

Lanuuk is another global ethical modest swimwear option that also ships to New Zealand. The brand is known for its chic and colourful range of modest swimwear that ranges up to a generous size XXL.

Adaptive swimwear

Several local and international swimwear brands have also finally made a better commitment to providing stylish swimwear options for the adaptive market with a focus on easy details like magnetic fastenings and easy-to-slip-on wrap swimsuits.

American brand Tommy Hilfiger was one of the first fashion behemoths to create a unique line of adaptive wear, inspired by his own experience as the father to three children who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. Available in the NZ market via, swimwear options are also at EveryHuman, Australia and New Zealand’s first online adaptive fashion retailer. Other adaptive swimwear brands available include the colourful swimwear styles from Miga, which offers eye-catching prints and colours to help encourage wearers to accept and love their bodies.

Men’s swimwear

From board shorts to the terribly termed ‘budgie smuggler’, menswear options for swimwear depend on what type of activity is taking place on the water. As an update, mid-thigh-length shorts are an easy way to look contemporary and pulled together on the beach.

Local brand Beach Brains, designed by Gareth Hemmings, is one example of easy swim shorts that you can throw on and go in a range of colours.

“We had a design session where we wrote down everything we wanted in a summer short, a hierarchy of characteristics a product needed for beach living,” says Hemmings of his popular swim shorts.

“The shorts needed to dry quickly after a dip so you could get comfy straight after a swim or surf. They had to be UV-protected, salt-proof and chlorine resistant to not fade and hold up against the elements of water activities.

“They had to have fast drainage for all pockets to avoid getting bogged down in the surf but still big enough for your new iPhone or film camera. With all this in mind, we produced a great board short, perfect for our beautiful but harsh summer. Now to perfect a speedo.”

Australian swimwear brand Commas creates languid and chic swimwear for all genders, and for men, its line of ethically created swim shorts are a stylish option for the beach, crafted from an ultra quick-drying Spanish polyamide. The relaxed silhouette has two side slip pockets, ergonomic mesh lining, and a drawstring with an elasticised waistband for a comfortable and secure fit — the cream sundial print is another fun way to add some personality to swim attire this season. The swimming brief is also made from recycled polyester.

For some Scandi flavour, we can’t look past the joyfully trippy prints from Swedish brand Oas for all genders, with its mix of psychedelic retro-inspired prints — the perfect vibe for summer.

Viva Shops

Warm days are ahead, and so is our swimsuit guide. Laze by the pool and wash salt out of a summer staple, from tried-and-true one-pieces to barely there bikinis, protective rash guards and reliable trunks. While we encourage personal style and wearing what makes you happy, here are a few suggestions of swimwear options you can buy now and wear forever.

The High Rise

Sometimes you want a little extra height. These options, complete with matching tankinis, balconettes and bralettes, will take you to the beach or pool in waist-level comfort.

The Barely There

Get the Blue Crush look with a triangle bikini that’s geared for sunny days to come. These tiny separates are perfect for those who want to bare some skin. Have fun layering them with a billowing sundress or simple cover-up.

The Full-Coverage Fave

These designs have you covered. Reach for an ensemble in pastel greens, corals or sage that prove that monochrome doesn’t have to mean boring.

The Sustainably Minded

These thoughtful options are reversible, meaning you only need to buy one and you have two styles to rotate. They’re also made on-demand or fashioned from conscious fabrics like deadstock and recycled plastic.

The Action Suit

Whether you’re catching waves in the surf or can’t sit still on the beach, activate sport mode with these supportive options that don’t skimp on style.

Prints, Prints, Prints

Make a splash with divinely bold prints and playful textures — you won’t be hard to spot.

The One Piece

As classic as they come, and in many ways they do come. Mix things up by trying a one-shoulder style, or opt for a cut-out to show a little more skin.

The Trunk

Shorts are a sturdy option for the water. Don’t stop at neutrals — the rich colourways of these options make them feel like a slice of fun.

The Long Sleeve

Want a rash guard to pull over your togs? Consider a versatile cover-up that’s all about detail.

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