Miami Swim Week has come and gone—I’ve got the sunburn, the swag bags and the extra-long Instagram Stories to prove it. This was my first time attending Swim Week IRL as StyleCaster’s Fashion Editor, so to say I went in with some reservations would be an understatement. I was fully prepared for a week of extra-skinny models in extra-skimpy suits; and to be clear, I saw a lot of both. But, I also saw some great swimsuit brands offering profound examples of inclusive casting, creative presentation and innovative design, all of which I’ll take with me as I return to New York City’s fashion scene.
Unlike regular Fashion Week, Swim Week has its own unique energy, not to mention its own major issues. If you think designers are hesitant to dress models of all shapes and sizes in trousers and skirts, imagine how they feel about dressing them in swimwear—a category ripe with internalized fatphobia many creatives are not ready to address. In addition to this, many brands have come to lean on one “token” model of color or curve model that they believe excludes them from backlash, instead of making genuine efforts to cast a truly diverse lineup.
Throughout Swim Week, I attended multiple shows in which a slew of skinny white models (accompanied by one token size eight or woman of color, at most) made their way down the runway in uninspired string bikinis. I also stopped by multiple invite-only gifting suites, only to find out that the brands didn’t make my size, or that they simply hadn’t bothered to bring it, assuming that of course no one at Miami Swim Week might have an ass or a back roll.
If I sound bitter, it’s because I am. It can be exhausting to have to be the not-fun one at these events, to constantly ask brands and PR what they’re doing to make fashion a more inclusive space, an industry more representative of its vast and varied customer base. Women need clothes; in the summer, women need swimsuits. Many brands only seem to care about a very specific kind of woman being able to get ones they enjoy.
All this to say that Miami Swim Week was in no way a total bust. Fast fashion brands PrettyLittleThing and boohoo both deserve praise for their especially inclusive casting. At PLT, sizeism and ableism were eliminated from the conversation. Rather than throw in one perfectly-hourglass size eight, they went above and beyond in their commitment to runway shows that reflected their shoppers. Plus-size women drew cheers from the crowd, as did one model in a wheelchair and another with an amputated limb. Over at boohoo, trans influencer Nikita Dragun closed a personality-packed lineup of male and female models of all races and sizes.
In addition to the aforementioned, I left three shows feeling particularly pleased—and in my eyes, that’s three brands worth celebrating. I’d rather acknowledge which designers are making effort than spend days wondering why others simply won’t. That said, all of the below brands could use a serious size expansion, so that even more shoppers can get in on the incredible designs they have to offer.
Below, read on for my top three Paraiso Miami Beach at Swim Week shows, all from brands I didn’t know about until this week.
What do Beyoncé, Iman, Alicia Keys, Taraji P Henson and Jordan Dunn all have in common? They’re all fans of Bfyne, by talented Nigerian American designer Buki Ade. The brand teamed up with Models of Color Matter (MOCM) to cast an all-Black runway show—and damn, did they do it well. Models with body felt celebrated as they strutted their stuff in rich chocolate brown and neon orange bikinis, printed beach pants, flowing caftans and as much gold jewelry as they could manage.
“We are committed to creating a safe space for models of color where they feel, seen, heard and beautiful because they are,” said Nicole Doswell, founder of Models of Color Matter, in a press release about the successful show. To shop Bfyne’s swim and resort-wear offerings for yourself, you can visit the brand’s website now.
Leimakani had one of the most beautiful and uplifting show of the week. Attendees were treated to a monologue about being a wāhine, or a woman, followed by hula dancers to kick things off and a diverse range of models gliding down the runway over a pool of water. The ambiance was playful but powerful, and the models’ joy was apparent.
“Being a wāhine means belonging to something bigger than yourself. It represents where I come from & who I am,” says designer Kalei Mau, who ended the show with a dance of her own, then embracing the models on the runway. To shop Leimakani’s tropical, colorful designs, head over to the brand’s site.
I was already mildly familiar with Honey Birdette‘s seriously sexy lingerie, so when I got word that designer Eloise Monaghan was debuting sustainable swimwear at Swim Week, I knew I had to attend. The suits came in bold neons and leopard print with statement-making cutouts and chunky gold hardware, and all the models that strutted their stuff did so with major BBE (Bad Bitch Energy) radiating.
Standouts included 20-year-old curve model Erin Klay, who returned to the runway sans-heels after falling during her first walk and getting back up to abundant applause, as well as Rupaul’s Drag Race winners Aquaria and Violet Chachki, both of whom attendees couldn’t get enough of.
“The Honey Birdette customer can be an 82-year-old woman, a 17-year-old gay man or a middle-aged transsexual, said Monaghan, a queer designer who strives to celebrate gender within her work. To shop lingerie and swim, visit the brand’s website.