Whether you are looking for a fabric for your swimwear line or next purchase it’s good to know what the options are. This post will cover the common materials, and their uses & characteristics. We also dig into weights, compositions, textures and the sustainability of swimwear fabrics.
Do note that no fabric is better than another, but that the fabrics have different attributes making them more suitable for different uses. On top of this, of course, the quality of your supplier makes a difference.
There are two major fabric options:
1. Nylon Blends
Nylon blends are what you will come across most in the female swimwear fashion world.
It is soft and comfortable. It gives a good stretch, and it hugs your body really well.
A typical blend is around 80% nylon and 20% of the stretchy bit. That bit is called Lycra® if it’s by Invista but can also be called spandex (SP) or elastane (EA), depending on where in the world you are and if it’s branded or not. Same thing. The purpose of this 20% is to provide great elasticity for your bikinis and swimsuits.
Nylon can also go under other names, such as Polyamide (PA) which is essentially the same. Nylon is the group name of some particular Polyamides.
Nylons are not to be printed on, the result is blurry and the print will bleed.
Feel: Very soft
Stretch: Very Good
UV resistance: Sometimes
Chlorine resistance: Rare
Repels water: Yes
Care: Hand-Wash, Hang to Dry
2. Polyester Blends
You’ll find polyester blends mostly amongst competitive swimwear.
It is soft yet very strong, and it is chlorine and UV resistant.
Polyester blends also have the benefit of being able to absorb dye. This means that you can dye and print it with rich and crisp results.
Durability: Very Good
UV resistance: Yes
Chlorine resistance: Yes
Repels water: Yes
Care: Hand-Wash, Hang to Dry
What else look for in swimwear materials
Most fashion swimwear fabrics range in about 180-200 g/m².
A fabric as light as 150 g/m², such as Gemma from Carvico will feel and look more like a lingerie or underwear. Heavier fabrics at 200-220g/m²+ are often more suited for competition or fall into the category of textured & other fabrics – we’ll get into those fabrics later.
When it comes to composition, it will help that you know the properties of the ‘ingredients’. For example, the Lycra/Spandex/Elastane gives most of the stretch.
So therefore – 80% Nylon and 20% Lycra will be more stretchy than 85% Nylon and 15% Lycra – but note that this largely applies to fabric that comes from the same source/manufacturer; so if you’re going to switch between sources, don’t go by numbers alone. Therefore it’s always a good idea to get swatches or feel the fabric yourself if possible. You can also ask the supplier for more details, as the content description might not give you the full story.
Traditionally swimwear has used fabrics that are heavy on environment. However as consumer awareness and demand has evolved – fabric options have with them.
One of the best is ECONYL® – it is regenerated nylon from pre and post-consumer products.
ECONYL® publicises their process in 4 steps:
1. Rescue – Finding waste like fishing nets, fabric scraps, carpet flooring and industrial plastic from landfills and oceans around the world.
2. Regenerate – Regeneration and purification process. Recycled back to original purity, exactly like virgin, or new, nylon.
3. Remake – The nylon is processed into the swimwear yarn
4. Reimagine – The regenerated yarn is used in new swimwear products, until they are no longer useful and can go back into step one: Rescue.
You can read more about them here.
There are other examples of recycled swimwear fabrics, such as REPREVE®, who make theirs from recycled plastic bottles.
Further shifts in consumer demands will put further pressure not only the fabrics suppliers but also manufacturers in their methods. As a manufacturer, this is something that we take seriously.
Related page: Ethical & Eco Swimwear Manufacturing
Other variations of swimwear fabrics
As the swimwear industry further matures and evolves – trends come with it. This results in waves of new types of fabrics being tried and tested on swimwear.
A few years back there was a trend of brands working with neoprene. This followed off the back of the success of brands such as N.L.P. and Triangl. But if you have a peek today (2018) at Triangl for example, they have shifted to using a lot of velvet. However neoprene bonding is still used; at least to us this speaks to their identity whilst giving them the room to work with other textured or newer fabrics.
At the time of this blog post, we see a large demand for textured fabrics – especially ribbed and velvet.
Neoprene is a synthetic rubber that exhibits good stability, remains flexible over varied temperatures and is great for insulation. The benefit of insulation is why it’s commonly used for scuba diving suits. The fabric is thicker and methods of stitching different than a ‘regular’ swimwear fabric. If you seek to use this fabric for your brand or products you might benefit from finding a manufacturer who are already producing scuba/wet suits.
Ribbed textures can be made out of a variety of knitted fabrics. You make a ribbed texture by alternating knit and purl stitches – this creates the ridges. The fabric will lie flat but also stretches more in one direction. The ribbed used for swimwear is frequently nylon, and can be made very compact and tight with less stretch. Different compositions give different looks. For example JL Bristol fabric has a 92%/8% blend and has a more sporty look being so tight. A blend closer to 80/20 will have a more standard fashion look.
Velvet fabrics are super soft. Hence the use in loungewear and robes. The fabric has cut, evenly distributed threads, and this is what gives it a pile and a distinctive velvet/fur-like feel. A good blend of this can work very well for swimwear, giving it a very luxurious look.
Other examples of fabric suitable for swimwear are mesh, corduroy and some even use cotton blends. However when it comes to cotton blends you need to be wary of its durability. Harsh swim environments (sun, salt, sea, chlorine) can have tough effects on it.
That’s a wrap! We have covered the essential things that you need to think about when it comes to choosing swimwear materials. Fabric options, their properties, their characteristics and a good few reasons on why one may be better than the other – for you and your purpose. We hope that it’s been helpful, and assists you in making good choices for your ideal bikinis and swimsuits.
If you have any additional questions about the fabrics mentioned or if you would like to develop your own swimwear line – please feel free to contact us by downloading the guide below. You’ll have our most important information and FAQ’s in hand, and we will be notified to contact you from there
Get and feel fabric swatch books
If you would be interested to see and feel a wide range of the fabrics above we recommend you to get our Starter Kit displayed above. It contains both classic and latest on-trend swim fabrics available. You can get it here.
The Bali Swim Team