For a brand that built its reputation by shielding young teens from the over-sexualization of the lingerie market, indie upstart Yellowberry faces a delicate challenge in launching its first swimwear collection this week.
After all, it’s one thing to tone down the explicitness when selling bras and underwear that are rarely seen outside the change room, and quite another to accomplish the same goal with bathing suits — a very public costume that self-conscious tweens will wear to swimming pools, water parks, gyms and beaches.
The two-year-old Wyoming-based label, which launched Yellowberry Swim on Tuesday with a Kickstarter campaign, has enjoyed much success (and international acclaim) with its age-appropriate bras, underwear and loungewear for girls aged 11-15. But how will the brand’s appealing mix of modest styling and girl-power messaging fit the swimwear market?
The answer can be seen in Yellowberry‘s debut swim pieces, which bear the brand’s unmistakeable signatures: cute, colorful, high-quality suits that should earn approval from both girls and their watchful parents. Interestingly, Yellowberry has chosen not to offer one-piece swimsuits, instead delivering something akin to starter bikinis that are playful without being provocative — just the thing for girls who are too old for a Finding Dory cartoon print and too young for their first crochet bikini.
The mix-and-match two-piece combos provide respectable coverage while allowing a few subtle hints of grown-up style — but none of the gaudy trappings of adult swimwear. Thus, there’s no glittering hardware here and no plunging necklines or high-cut hips, but you will find a small hip cutout on the bottom and interlacing straps on top in the Sand Dollar line. For more modest girls, the Wave line features a full bustline ruffle on the top that is both stylish and seemingly designed to thwart the prying attentions of poolside gawkers.
From the beginning, Yellowberry was a market-driven brand that almost accidentally connected with growing consumer frustration about the kinds of underwear choices available to tweens. And that frustration extends to the swimwear market too, the company says, noting in a press release that it received “a flood of customer requests” for age-appropriate swimwear that reflected the company’s values.
“It’s time we give our girls a new swimsuit that fits really well and gives them the ability to feel confident and supported throughout all of their summer adventures,” said Yellowberry founder Megan Grassell.
Yellowberry‘s swim pieces are all made from quick-drying performance fabrics, making them a kind of swim-to-gym hybrid — and perhaps a girl’s first introduction to the yawning athleisure market that will begin gobbling up her fashion budget in a few short years. But Grassell said the fabric choice — it’s also antimicrobial, chlorine-resistant and UPF 50+ — wasn’t driven by adult trends, but by the unique characteristics of Yellowberry‘s market.
“Our girls are very active,” she said. “They go from a team practice or exploring outdoors straight to the pool or beach, so it’s important that their swimsuits have built-in benefits for their lifestyles.”
The company has also found a way to address a familiar complaint about adolescents’ swimsuits — the constant fidgeting required to keep everything in place. It uses fortified stretch fabric on waist bands and leg openings to eliminate “worrying about readjusting, falling down or uncomfortable digging into the skin” and its tops provide support without wires.
Despite the attention to detail that has gone into this line, Yellowberry still faces challenges in making a dent in the youth swim market. Its crowdfunding campaign is launching in mid-season and products won’t actually be available until January 2017 — something that customers need to keep in mind when choosing a size that will fit next summer. Prices are also more than you’d pay at Target, with full suits going for about $60 when they reach the market next year.
The wild card in Yellowberry‘s swimwear gamble, though, is its famously supportive fan base: will they follow the principled bra brand into the much trickier realm of swimsuit shopping, where body self-image plays a huge and often decisive role?
Adolescent girls are self-conscious and acutely aware of their changing bodies, and it makes them notoriously fickle shoppers. They are also bombarded by pressure from peers, parents and the media as they develop their emerging identities, and the glittering allure of sexed-up teen fashion beckons relentlessly.
Yellowberry owes much of its success so far to its ability to divert girls away from the discussion about bodies and beauty standards, instead using its brand as a platform to support, celebrate and advocate on behalf of healthy, active youth, respecting the autonomy of its customers without giving girls any more reason to stress about their bodies at all.
“Yellowberry is way more than just a bra company. We’re a community of young girls, moms, grandmas, daughters, sisters, aunts and even dads that believe in supporting, empowering and inspiring girls to feel confident in their own skin,” the company says in its Kickstarter pitch. “Yellowberry Swim is the next step forward to empower our girls to be the amazingly confident, bold and strong young women they are.”
If that helps inspire a new generation of girls who feel comfortable and positive when shopping for bathing suits, Yellowberry will have done a valuable service to women everywhere.