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A Data-Driven Approach To Designing The Perfect Swimsuit

An Autodesk alum wants to help women find flattering swimwear by disrupting outdated manufacturing methods.

“A good bathing suit frames the parts of you that you’re most proud of,” says Sarah Krasley, the creative force behind Swimwear X, a new initiative for the mass customization of women’s swimwear. “It makes you feel safe, and hugs your body so you don’t have to worry about it moving around when you’re doing something. And it’s designed specifically for you.”

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If that sounds like no bathing suit you’ve ever worn, you’re not alone. When Krasley’s consultancy company Unreasonable Women surveyed women about their experiences with swimwear, 88% of them described trying on a bathing suit as being traumatic. That led the company–which Krasley founded to explore how to put women’s needs at the center of design–to embark on Swimwear X as their first public project. The initiative, now raising funds on Kickstarter, aims to use big data and digital technology to create custom made bathing suits that women will actually feel comfortable wearing.

As a technologist and formerly the senior sustainable manufacturing lead at Autodesk, Krasley feels that a new approach to designing bathing suits should both analytical and anecdotal. She and her team at Unreasonable Women have been interviewing women about their experiences trying on bathing suits, learning the pain points of finding one that fits and gathering data on what works and what doesn’t.

Their two major findings? That bathing suit shopping is a goal-driven experience (i.e. I’m going on vacation, so I guess I have to go find a suit), and that it–surprise–leads women to focus on the body parts that they find problematic.

“Women tend to blame themselves in those situations I’ve found,” Krasley says. “After learning about the technology of apparel design, I found that there are so many factors that have nothing to do with our bodies. They mainly have to do with how garment producers have evolved their process over time.”

Which is to say, not very much. Swimwear manufacturers still work off of a rigid model that uses a 34B bra size as the basis for testing a new bathing suit design. Once they’ve designed the suit at that size, they use a grading system to make the pattern smaller or larger and averaged into the standard small, medium, and large sizes you see on the racks. This allows manufacturers to produce swimwear quickly and relatively cheaply, but it doesn’t take into account the many different shapes and sizes of women’s bodies.

“I think we’re not numbers at this point, we’re variables. I’ve even looked at a lot of body-scanning data and the postures, if you have more fat in the belly or at the hips–all these idiosyncrasies that make us unique and special and they’re averaged out based on this grading system,” Krasley says.

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To change that, Swimwear X created a range of base designs–classic tank suit, triangle bikini, high-waisted–that can be adjusted based on desired feel. If funded, they’ll execute their plan in a series of stages: in the first, women will be invited to come by appointment to their studio at Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator, where they will be sized and asked a series of questions about what they want out of a swimsuit. In the second, Swimwear X will open a pop-up shop in Chelsea to extend the service further.

This prototyping stage will also bring in more data that Krasley and her designers can use to create better and better swimwear. Their hope is to eventually make the process automated–similar to True & Co.’s model of data-driven bra sizing–and built an e-commerce business that can reach much further than New York. “I think the data will be useful in aggregate to learn more about women and body image,” she says, noting that it will help inform more Reasonable Women projects down the road.

Help fund Swimwear X here.

About the author

Meg Miller is an associate editor at Co.Design covering art, technology, and design.

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