Swimwear Designer Leah Madden as interviewed by Gold Coast Magazine
When did you establish your brand?
White Sands Swimwear was launched almost 15 years ago, in 2008.
What attracted you to fashion?
I have always loved fashion, my mother was very well dressed and spent a lot of time in Europe, she was wearing Pucci coverups and Gottex swimwear poolside before it was available in Australia. After travelling to Brazil and experiencing the culture and Brazilian swimwear fashion I was obsessed with designing swimwear for the Australian market. At the time swimwear in Australia was mostly surfwear or sporty swimwear, we really weren’t doing high fashion swimwear designs in Australia the way they were in Europe and Latin America. I knew that the tiny Brazilian cut swimwear would take off here, and they did. I was asked to show at Australian Fashion Week, featured in Vogue and sold into David Jones in our first year.
How has your swimwear brand evolved over the years?
The entire industry has changed, a lot. When I started White Sands, instagram didn’t exist, now it is our main driver of sales. We were entirely wholesale based in the early years, selling our swimwear and coverups to big retailers like David Jones and Anthropologie in the USA. The USA loved our Australian designer swimwear brand, our monokini one piece swimsuits and cheeky pants. Now we have moved to a DTC model and almost all of our sales are online direct to customer. Our thong bikini styles sell really well on instagram.
What inspires you each season and how do you come up with your new swim suit designs?
Travel is my biggest inspiration. Moments in the sun, I'll see a colour or a landscape and drift off into a world where I become immersed in colours and prints. Whether it's a new monokini one piece design or a micro bikini collection. I’ll see colours that work beautifully together, or a print and it quickly forms a moodboard in my head. From there it's more about curating the collection down. My walls end up covered in prints and fabric swatches, and I have to slowly take pieces away until it works as a concise capsule. All of our prints are exclusive and we have become known for our floral printed bikinis worldwide.
As a Gold Coaster, how does living here influence your aesthetic?
I was born and raised on the GC and I love it here, but I've never been about the ’surf’ culture. I love that we spend so much of the year in bathers. It's one of the few cities in the world where wearing swimwear and a sarong up to the cafe, or just a bikini top with cheeky shorts is acceptable. Growing up here has probably given me a firm understanding of what really works on a body, Womens swimwear designs need to be practical as well as beautiful.
How does customer feedback contribute to your designs?
Staying AHEAD of feedback is key! Ideally I will have a grasp of what’s coming in beachwear trends, rather than chasing trends. I try new swim suit design fit samples on real bodies as much as I can before ordering thousands of them, so the feedback on fit is done before its sold to customers. We also ask customers for feedback after they purchase a bikini, so if a cut can be improved we can make those changes next time.
What are the "trends" for this coming Spring/Summer season?
The 70’s 80’s and 90’s are enduring trends over the last few years. The highcut leg one piece and classic bikini shapes in solid colours have been bestsellers each season. Sexy minimal Brazilian cut swimwear styles are at the forefront, underboob is a huge trend. Thong swimwear has become mainstream even for younger girls.
I think this minimalist carefree vibe will stay strong for another couple of seasons, before we return to trends like more structured swimwear, intricate detail, specialised trim and underwire bikini styles. As a swimwear designer I'm really looking forward to creating more of those innovative styles that White Sands is known for.
Are you experimenting with any new fabrics or techniques?
Always! We recently did a velvet swimwear collection that was well received, I'm working on textures like seersucker and lace for coming swimwear collections, and silk coverups and sarongs. Sarong wrap skirts in printed silk and beachwear coverups. I’ll visit my factories in China soon, as it's really a ‘hands on’ job working with patterns and sourcing sustainable fabrics. Producing sustainable swimwear styles is really important to me. We launched our first sustainable swimwear line in 2012, and were the first Australian swimwear brand to show a fully sustainable fashion collection on the runway at Australian Fashion Week. Covid made things difficult with factory shutdowns and shipping delays, so I'm lucky that I've got a great team to work with, who ensured that quality was maintained and delivery times were met even though I couldn’t be there.
A lot of celebrities have worn your swimwear, which were highlights for you?
Definitely seeing both Kendall Jenner and Kylie Jenner wearing my styles was a carrier highlight. I booked Kendall for a photoshoot in 2011, and she requested a bunch of styles to keep. A month later both Kendall and Kylie were photographed wearing White Sands in Hawaii. Kylie wore a bandeau bikini top and cheeky bikini bottoms. Both styles sold out immediately.
Image features Swimwear Designer Leah Madden and Swimwear Designer Leah Madden with family.