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The Swimwear Boom Resumes

This week, everyone will be talking about the unofficial start of summer, a potential retail labour shortage and the faltering worker safety Accord in Bangladesh.
Many brands are diving into swimwear as sales of fashion for outdoor activities booms during the pandemic. Getty Images.
Many brands are diving into swimwear as sales of fashion for outdoor activities booms during the pandemic. Getty Images.

EVERYONE BACK IN THE WATER

  • Many brands are expanding into the swimwear category, joining a wave of swimsuit start-ups
  • Swimwear sells well online (in part because few consumers try on swimsuits in store fitting rooms), and has benefitted from the pandemic’s outdoor sports boom
  • Sellouts are up 34 percent year over year through May 10, according to Edited

Temperatures are rising, the beaches are open, and that means another crop of brands are testing the swimwear waters. New entrants include TikTok favourite Girlfriend Collective, plus-size specialists Good American (back for more after being one of the few to debut swimwear in 2020) to basics purveyor Everlane (one-pieces and bikini separates made from recycled plastic). Even Victoria’s Secret, which exited the category in 2016, is back with a new collection. In many ways, the industry is picking up where it left off in 2019, when a wave of new beachwear offerings also flooded the market. Still, swimwear has snapped back with remarkable speed — Edited reports the number of new offerings in the category this spring are nearly on par with 2019, and they’re selling briskly.

The Bottom Line: The surge in swimwear sales isn’t entirely surprising: fashion for golf and other outdoor sports has boomed during the pandemic as well, and swimsuits have the added benefit of being perfect Instagram fodder.

A REPRIEVE FOR THE BANGLADESH ACCORD

  • Unions and brands agreed to extend negotiations on a successor to landmark set of worker safety protections in Bangladesh implemented after the 2013 Rana Plaza disaster
  • The original Accord was set to expire on May 31, but will now run for an additional three months
  • Both sides remain far apart, and hopes that the Accord could serve as a model for other countries are fading

The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh was a landmark achievement for workers’ rights, a legally binding commitment in an industry that frequently falls back on voluntary and self-policed initiatives. But despite a three-month extension agreed to on Friday, unions say they are struggling to reach an agreement that maintains that level of accountability. Unless brands are willing to sign on to a new binding commitment, labour groups are threatening to walk away from the organisation that has taken over the Accord’s work. They worry conditions in Bangladeshi factories will quickly regress, potentially leading to future disasters. The end of the Accord’s framework would also be a major setback for workers’ rights groups hoping to expand its mandate into other countries.

The Bottom Line: Some brands that signed onto the Accord say they’re open to a successor with binding commitments. But for now, the industry may be calculating that looser guidelines can be adopted without consumers noticing the difference.

HELP WANTED

  • Monthly US employment and wage data are due out on June 4
  • Last month showed a slowdown in hiring after several months of rapid gains
  • Many employers say they are struggling to fill open positions

Last month’s US jobs data came with a major surprise: companies had plenty of open positions but few takers, despite high unemployment. The problem is particularly acute in sectors such as retail, with its reputation for low pay, skimpy benefits and, for the unvaccinated, a higher risk of exposure to Covid-19.

There’s one obvious solution: just pay people more. Some brands are, including Under Armour, which recently raised its minimum wage from $10 to $15 an hour. But other pressures are outside the fashion industry’s control; an extra $5 an hour won’t be much use to a single mother whose child is taking virtual classes at home, or an older worker who’s worried about getting sick. Some may prefer to continue receiving topped-up federal unemployment benefits, which run through September, though nearly half of states have already moved to withdraw from this programme.

The Bottom Line: Fashion retailers can blame unemployment benefits or the pandemic for the current labour shortage. But if those jobs are still unfilled in a few months, the industry will be forced to rethink its worker incentives.

The Week Ahead wants to hear from you! Send tips, suggestions, complaints and compliments to brian.baskin@businessoffashion.com.

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