As an Australian native accustomed to the chic coastal towns of Sydney, Fiona Ryn instantly recognised a lack of quality swimwear in the British market when she relocated to London. In 2015, after a decade of working in PR and sales for luxury fashion brands, she co-founded swimwear brand Bower with her partner Rupert Tapper, designing with sustainability in mind.
“We didn’t want to contribute to the fashion industry’s excess waste problem,” Ryn tells ORDRE about their decision to go ethical. “It was actually quite easy to find sustainable fabrics when we started because no one else was using them.” Their luxurious Italian textiles are produced with Econyl, a yarn woven from post-consumer plastic. But Bower’s sustainable ethos goes beyond fabrics - all collections are strictly made to order, ethically ensuring minimal by-product.
After launching the brand with an array of sleek swimwear staples for women – including asymmetric one-pieces, dainty bikinis and flattering high-waisted numbers with vibrant Meditteranean-inspired hues and prints – they introduced ready-to-wear pieces for Resort ‘18.
Now they are tapping the menswear market too - a move that wasn’t always part of the plan. “It wasn’t a natural progression,” explains Ryn. “MatchesFashion reached out to us asking if we could design a menswear line for them, and we knew it was a once in a lifetime opportunity so we couldn’t say no.” In February, the couple kicked off the collaboration with a select line of vintage-inspired swimming trunks in canary yellow, bubblegum pink and navy.
SS’20 will feature men’s shirts in contrasting cuts, from boxy fits to relaxed fluid styles, featuring colourful print collaborations with Liberty London and Leif Podhajsky, a well-known graphic artist and friend. She adds that the fabrics used vary from their womenswear lines but are equally sustainable: “Our men’s collections are produced in Portugal with Seaqual, a recycled yarn made from the microplastics found at the bottom of the Mediterranean sea.”
“It means we don’t have huge amounts of deadstock at the end of each season...We know we are doing the right thing for the environment”
Despite it being key to progression, expanding on a large scale as a made-to-order brand is challenging - Ryn admits that due to limited resources, they often have to decline large wholesale accounts. “It’s just the two of us and we don’t have large financial backing, so we don’t have the money to invest in huge amounts of stock to fulfil immediate orders – obviously this makes scaling hard,” she laments.
Yet she’s optimistic, believing that this business model creates a sense of exclusivity and echoes the brand’s sustainable philosophy: “It means we don’t have huge amounts of deadstock at the end of each season, and that pays off for us in terms of ethics because we know we are doing the right thing for the environment.”
For sustainable online stockist Ethea, this conscious yet exclusive approach to design has had an overwhelming response from customers. “[They] love the luxury ethical ethos that Bower Swimwear represents, and find it incredibly refreshing to see beautiful, sustainable swimwear finding its way into the marketplace,” says co-founder Catherine Almond on her experiences of stocking the brand. “This is exactly what we are trying to bring to our consumers – introducing luxury to the ethical market and bringing a new attitude to sustainability,” she adds.
Bower’s other stockists include Fred Segal in Los Angeles and Koibird in London, but Ryn reveals they are now looking to reach larger retailers such as Barneys or Neiman Marcus. This year they also hope to enter Asia, with hearts set on Lane Crawford. But she is quick to note that they’ve been cautious about Eastern markets until now for good reason: “Asia is a huge new market but it comes with obstacles such as different sizing and style preferences in terms of cut and fit, so we have to be careful with that.”
Ryn concludes by disclosing that one percent of every Bower order goes towards Healthy Seas, a non-profit organisation aimed at protecting the world’s oceans. Thus by default, everyone who purchases contribute to cleaning up the ocean. "It’s a small amount, but hopefully, as we grow that can make a real impact.” With initiatives like this, consumers can indeed hope for real change in the industry.