LONDON, United Kingdom — Three Graces London launched in 2015 as a luxury sleepwear brand, selling pretty cotton nightdresses designed to be worn to bed. However, founder Catherine Johnson soon learned that shoppers were buying her pieces for an entirely different purpose.
“I would talk to the [Selfridges] sales people and they would say, ‘Actually, a lot of your customers are coming in here looking for beachwear and then buying your cotton dresses,’” Johnson said.
Following consumer demand, the brand pivoted its business model. Today, it does brisk business in holiday wear — bikinis and one-pieces, cotton kaftans and silk dresses — with stockists around the globe. Since launching the new lines last summer, sales have doubled year-on-year.
Three Graces is not alone. Brands that centre their business around vacation dressing — from Loup Charmant and Rhode Resort to Zimmermann and Lisa Marie Fernandez — are thriving. “The economy is doing better and people travel so much more,” said Marysia Dobrzanska Reeves, whose 10-year-old swim and resort-wear brand Marysia has grown 399 percent over the past three years.
Women are planning their looks in advance. They very much shop with Instagram and social media in mind.
Young consumers are spending more on experiences such as travel. But the rise of social media has meant that, even when on vacation, they are still connected to their peers and the wider world. Research from Chase Bank found that 97 percent of millennial travellers post on social networks while vacationing, with three in four posting at least once a day. As a result, consumers are increasingly seeking out things to enhance their travel experience — and how it looks to Instagram followers back home — presenting an opportunity for fashion brands and retailers to capitalise on.
“Women are planning their looks in advance,” said Florencia Cavallo, co-founder of Golden Edit, a new luxury e-tailer that specialises in selling a curated edit of summer essentials throughout the year. “They very much shop with Instagram and social media in mind.”
Once upon a time a department store’s vacation-wear offering was largely limited to swimwear and beach cover-ups. But today the idea of a vacation wardrobe encompasses a head-to-toe look. As the $20.4 billion swimwear market begins to slow — it's expected to grow at a CAGR of 1.9 percent, down from 3.3 percent between 2012 and 2017, according to Euromonitor International — vacation apparel and accessories can provide a new avenue of growth for brands and retailers alike.
Net-a-Porter, which launched its aptly named “Jet-a-Porter” vacation shop this summer, said 60 percent of beachwear category sales come from apparel. The retailer launched 39 new brands this year to cater to increased consumer demand for resort and holiday wear.
She Made Me, which launched as a swimwear label in 2013, expanded into vacation-focused ready-to-wear last November. Clothing is now the brand’s fastest growing category and accounts for 40 percent of total annual sales.
“We design our vacation wear following three underlying notions: can it be worn from beach to bar to dinner; how easy is it to pack; and does this style transcend seasons and can our customer build on this look next season,” said She Made Me founder Chloé Dunlop.
The multi-functional nature of resort-wear clothing makes the category pretty versatile, with many pieces lending themselves well to warm city weather, as well as beach and countryside getaways. Shoppers are taking advantage of this and, as Natalie Kingham, buying director at MatchesFashion, put it, “getting more wear for their investment.”
Plus, the price point of many resort-wear items makes them an attractive purchase. Loup Charmant prices range between £140 ($178) and £690 ($877) at Matchesfahion.com, while a She Made Me cotton mini dress costs £205 ($260) at Net-a-Porter — significantly cheaper than a £1,150 ($1,475) Dolce & Gabbana cotton mini dress.
E-tailers are well placed to capitalise on the vacation wear opportunity. Unlike physical retailers that have to carefully consider how best to optimise valuable shop floor space each season, online players can easily cater to the year-round vacationing customer without having to make a trade-off due to space limitations.
The challenge is to offer her something that is unique, both in specific pieces, but also in the mix.
But consumers also want to shop while they travel, presenting brick-and-mortar stores in resort locations with a captive audience that has plenty of time to browse and buy.
Los Angeles-based group Maris Collective owns a string of brick-and-mortar fashion and lifestyle boutiques in luxury hotels and resorts around the world, each with a different name and carrying a carefully curated product selection tailored to its location.
In addition to big department stores and luxury e-commerce players, stores like these are important retail outlets for a brand like Marysia, which has over 200 stockists worldwide and can be found in luxury hotels and boutiques in locations like Hawaii, Barbados, Saint-Tropez and Mykonos. “You’re always looking for that cute little shop where you can find something special on your holidays — that’s where we try to sell to,” Dobrzanska Reeves said.
However, as more brands flood the space and retailer offerings grow, stores in the business of vacation dressing need to think smart about their approach to curation of brands and product.
“The challenge is to offer her something that is unique, both in specific pieces, but also in the mix,” said Golden Edit co-founder Elise Labau Topaloglu. “There’s a lot out there, but it’s a lot of the same. So [it’s about] how do you make it interesting and how do you provide a point of view.”
Editor's Note: This article was revised on 22 August, 2018. A previous version of this article misstated that Three Graces London sales have doubled season on season since last summer. This is incorrect sales have doubled year on year since last summer.