The world swimwear and beachwear market is expected to grow by nearly 8 per cent in volume terms between now and 2012 according to a new report. But it cautions that the single, short selling season is likely to lead to brand mergers and acquisitions.

In 2003, the retail swimwear and beachwear market was worth $12.65 billion, with averages global prices per garment of $18 for women, $8 for men, $7 for girls and $5 for boys.

Based on population growth and spending power, just-style's latest report - 'Global market review of swimwear and beachwear: forecasts to 2012' - predicts that as certain markets become more affluent, the world swimwear and beachwear market will have a value of $13.3 billion in 2012.

This represents an increase from 1,012 million pieces to 1,090 million pieces.

However, although the US population continues to rise at present, growth is concentrated in poorer regions of both the geographic and ethnic populations. In Western Europe and Japan, population growth is static or decreasing.

This is an undeniable threat to the future of the swimwear market, as the report explores.

Key categories
The swimwear and beachwear market essentially consists of four categories that are covered by brands and, to a lesser extent, private labels the report says. These are fashionable and glamorous swimwear, functional yet fashionable swimwear, sportswear specially designed for performance, and garments aimed at the surf lifestyle.

Swimwear garments themselves also fall into four groupings: women's one-piece swimming costumes, women's two-piece swimming costumes (bikinis), men's swimming trunks, and men's swim/surf/beach shorts.

Three key influences on the swimwear market are wealth, climate and religion.

Looking at wealth, value growth is predicted to be low in the developed world due to the high level of retail competition, as well as the ongoing tendency to shift production to countries with low costs.

Conversely, within the developing world, value growth has the potential to be at least as high as volume, as consumers gain more spending power and are able to buy the brands they have been lusting over in the past.

As for the underdeveloped world, the market's strength rests on shoppers gaining the funds they need to purchase the brands they covet, and the amount of clothing that is sold illegitimately.

However, in the developing world, geography and climate, along with religion, are also key factors.

Whereas a Muslim woman in a country such as Pakistan or Afghanistan is unlikely to find herself in a situation where she is permitted and has the funds to wear a swimsuit, an affluent Saudi woman in a hot region is more likely to wear swimwear, despite the fact that it is banned.

Supply chain
Swimwear's supply chain is one of the more traditional of the apparel product categories. It is disjointed with a disproportionate number of small brands, and yet with brands having a bigger share than they do in most other groups.

The retail market for swimwear is generally a risky one with the sector in North America and, even more so Europe, relying on one short summer season.

Swimwear and beachwear brands fall into three main markets. These are large companies with a range of brands designed to appeal to different segments of the consumer market, companies driven by a single product and lifestyle ethic, and smaller niche players.

Growth prospects
Of all just-style's reports on a variety of product categories, swimwear is one of the less optimistic in terms of volume and value growth. The report predicts that value growth will add just 5.2 per cent to the market over a nine-month period.

For label retailers, swimwear has always been a weaker area due to the single, short selling season. Subsequently, just-style expects some businesses to withdraw from the sector completely to focus on less risky areas.

This is now exacerbated by the tendency for more consumers to purchase swimwear when they are travelling rather than before they set off.

The main problem lies in the West European region, where swimwear is likely to experience what has already happened to other low- or no-growth areas such as men's formal shorts.

Likely trends
Three trends to look out for are brands withdrawing from demographic and price point areas where they lack strength; brands merging with other brands in order to better absorb overheads; and acquisitions which lessen the number of market players.

Despite this, the report points out that demographics could be beaten if shoppers can be persuaded that swimming is not simply an exercise, and that US and European brands would benefit by convincing consumers of the importance of buying swimwear.

However, opportunities do exist elsewhere in the world. In North America, a competitive lower-middle price position and styles aimed at the Hispanic market may prove lucrative.

Although the Japanese market is seeing decline, demand is still high, and consumers there are willing to pay more for upmarket, covetable, brands.

Eastern Europe's swimwear sector is expected to see dynamic growth, with value growth considerably overshadowing volume. An upper-middle market stance, with flamboyant styling and a well-established Eastern European production plant are all factors that will help companies to compete here.

The Indian and South East Asian markets are each predicted to increase in value by approximately 30 per cent. Newly affluent middle-classes and Western styling teamed with a local production base are likely to win consumer favour.

For more information on the 'Global market review of swimwear and beachwear - forecasts to 2012' click here