Small craft-based businesses lead the revival of a sun-bleached early ’70s classic – crocheted swimwear. By Alyx Gorman.

Crocheted swimwear makes a return

She Made Me's Gathered Bralette
She Made Me's Gathered Bralette
Credit: Courtesy of Free People

High fashion has become obsessed with the Age of Aquarius. Specifically, the moment the counterculture curdled into decadence. From Valentino’s rainbow “1974” resort 2015 collection, to Gucci’s layered ruffles and fluted sleeves for Spring 2016, it’s a reference designers picked up several seasons ago and have resolutely refused to put down.

Meanwhile, just off the high street, spurred on by image-based social platforms such as Instagram, Tumblr and Pinterest, there’s been a boom in self-styled “bohemian” brands, selling elaborate, hippie-influenced clothes that cost more money than fast fashion chains but are significantly more affordable than designer label items.

One of the biggest summer follies of the Me Decade, crocheted swimwear, has become a flashpoint for both ends of the market. Luxury brands are hooked, while a new generation of handmade-meets-digital entrepreneurs are trailing in their wake.

The titan of Australian high-end swimwear, Zimmermann, has tentatively explored the trend over a couple of seasons. “There’s something sexy and fun about a crochet bikini,” says Nicky Zimmermann. “I think girls like the relaxed styling and casualness of the crochet.”

Zimmermann’s crocheted bikini bras are “more functional” than their 1970s forebears, with Lycra lining and very tight stitching. Their patterns have been carefully calibrated to give a subtle curve, such as a traditional bra cup, rather than sitting flat over the bust. In their resort 2016 collection, crochet is an above-the-waist only offering. The brand suggests pairing their bras with printed Lycra bikini bottoms in complementary colourways, if you want to go into the water.

While Zimmermann has dabbled in crochet, Kiini’s entire business is devoted to it. The New York-based brand, run by Ipek Irgit, has achieved a cult following since it launched in 2012. Working with a small team of makers, Irgit produces triangular Lycra bikinis with colourful crocheted straps. Each set is handmade and subtly distinct. Her bikinis have attracted attention from “fashion famous” bloggers and editors such as Leandra Medine (Man Repeller) and Vogue Japan’s Anna Dello Russo. At $415 a set, they’re far from inexpensive, but that hasn’t dissuaded a coterie of high-end stockists from picking up her styles, and they regularly sell out in bricks-and-mortar stores, and online.

Irgit’s reasons for founding Kiini were personal. “I grew up in Turkey and every woman in my family knows how to crochet. Growing up, my mother would make clothes for me, and grandmother would knit or crochet a lot,” she says. “I always wanted to wear a crochet bikini but the traditional crochet doesn’t give any support. I had 34Ds so it was impossible for me. I decided to make my own.” By using crocheted details only on the bands of her bikini bras and briefs, Irgit has made thick straps, which are often considered uncool in the skimpy world of swimwear, into a design feature. She has also managed to avoid the most obvious drawback of crochet: sodden cotton bottoms, sagging where they’re not supposed to.

While Zimmermann and Kiini won’t go there, it is possible to find a fully crocheted pair of bikini briefs. One just has to look beyond high fashion to do it. A slew of small businesses that specialise in crochet and nothing else have popped up over the past three years. Many of them are Australian, and they all use Instagram to promote their products.

The most famous of these is She Made Me, founded by Gold Coast-raised Chloe Dunlop. She Made Me specialises in pure retro throwbacks. The colourways are simple – cream, black, blush – and the swimsuits, which range from $200 to $250 a set, are finished with tassel cords and cowrie shells. The brand does strong trade online, with 11 major e-commerce stockists including Free People and Net-a-Porter. She Made Me’s Instagram account boasts 148,000 followers, thanks to a stream of sun-bleached, original photographs taken in warm and exotic locations such as Tulum, Kerala and Uluwatu. Although she rarely makes an appearance on the She Made Me feed, the label’s founder, with her tanned skin and long blonde hair, is the perfect poster child for her own products.

Far more niche, but with an impressive online following of 54,000, All That Remains makes white lace dresses and very small-run batches of crocheted bikinis and one-pieces in shades of sand, marmalade and pea green. Based on Sydney’s northern beaches, the brand’s founder Leaha Lockley was travelling through India at the time of writing, posting artily composed holiday snaps and new pieces of swimwear made on the road.

Jinta Fell used crochet to help pay her way through university. She taught herself the craft using YouTube videos in 2013. Working in cotton, she started selling her creations to friends, and later online. “I started out wanting to make beanies,” she told The Saturday Paper. “Then, because I live on the Gold Coast, I naturally moved into bikinis and tops.” Whenever Fell posted a photograph of her handiwork on Instagram, several orders would come in, from Australia and internationally. “I couldn’t keep up,” she says. “I contemplated going to a nursing home and putting up patterns – because I’ve designed my own – and then paying the grandmas per order.”

Fell took a break from her business last year, travelling through Asia, the United States and South America, but she did not put down her crochet hook. “I have a huge box full of pieces I made while on the road,” Fell says of her recently reactivated store on online craft market Etsy. “People always ask me, ‘Can I get this wet?’, so I guess they’re swimming in them. I certainly wouldn’t wear them in the surf, though.”

Fabi Corrêa of Devocean aims to create crochet that can be worn in the waves. Based between Newcastle and Bali, Corrêa has been working on crocheted swimwear that incorporates Lycra and elastane into the crochet yarn rather than as lining. She had to return to her home country of Brazil to find a factory that could make the right blend. Now that she’s got her thread, she’s working with manufacturers in Bali to get her production perfect. “I keep trying to find better and better factories, but it’s a bit hard with crochet,” she says. “You have to count the number of rows perfectly, otherwise it ends up lopsided.”

Ultimately, Corrêa would like to have a wholesaling business, but until she gets her production chain in order, she’s content to sell through her website, and through Etsy. “I want to make [swimwear] the way I like them first,” she says. “There are a lot of really bad crochet designs around.”

Formerly a web designer, Corrêa learnt to crochet as a teenager. “[In 2013] I realised it was starting to get bigger again, so I started to make crochet again,” she says. “I started with the styles I already knew, the patterns from the ’70s and ’80s, but I got tired of doing those designs... With the stitches you can work flowers, you can work every sort of thing you can imagine. Sometimes I’ll dream of a style, wake up in the morning and handmake it.”

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on November 28, 2015 as "Crochet club".

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