The big bikini battle

Custom-made swimsuits needn't cost a fortune for curvy women struggling to find the perfect fit, writes Somaya Stockenstroom

BUSTY women know that the ocean can wash away more than your sins when you're wearing ill-fitting swimwear.

With summer approaching, it's time to lose the layers and get your sexy swimsuit on.

Retail stores and designers have made it difficult for well-endowed women to enjoy the sun, sea and sand over the years.

But some local designers say women are going about it the wrong way.

They say having a custom-made two-piece does not have to cost an arm and a leg.

Dax Martin is Africa's leading swimwear designer. He showed off his latest print-inspired swimwear range for various body types at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Cape Town, at the 2013 Fashion by the Sea event in Durban and at the 2013 Durban Fashion Fair.

Martin, who has been sewing women's clothes since he was six, launched his swimwear line in 2004.

He says he wants to offer women something different in swimwear, without it costing a fortune.

"Retail brands cater for high-volume sales, so they are standardised to suit as many people as possible.

"Anyone who is a tiny bit out of the ordinary will therefore struggle to find off-the-peg options to suit them. That's why specialised custom swimwear is a great alternative," he says.

Martin has designed for presenter Jeannie D and several Miss South Africa and Miss World contestants, among others.

He says most of his customers have a similar problem: busty upper bodies and smaller bottoms.

"Every woman's body is different and they all want to look the best they can in a swimsuit, so often a well-priced custom option is the best for them.

"And we don't just do custom sizing, we also do custom colour and prints so that we can use everything we have to flatter and fit them perfectly," he says.

Karien Alberts, the owner of speciality swimwear store Banana Moon, says they offer a variety of cup sizes to women.

But buying a swimsuit at this store does not come cheap.

"We cater for bustier women as South African women are generally more curvaceous. We also have more and more customers who have had breast augmentations done," she says.

She says general retail stores make bulk bikinis for teens with smaller breasts because it is cheaper to produce.

"Catering for well-endowed women takes more fabric, padding and skill.

"It's quite a process, so it becomes more expensive. Swimwear is as important as good-fitting underwear and it can make the difference in feeling confident or feeling self-conscious.

"A bikini bra must never be so small that it creates a spillover when you lean forward. There are also interesting twist or bandeau tops that can have a minimising effect," she says.

This summer, "anything in ice cream, sherbet colours as well as anything with bold African prints" are on trend, says Martin.

Work with what you have

Model Mirriam Ngomani says that although she is admired for her ample cleavage, it does become problematic when shopping for swimwear.

But she wouldn't trade her assets for the world.

"I love my boobies more than I hate them. They are mine. There are women who go out and pay to have bigger ones," she says.

After years of struggling she has finally learnt the art of shopping for swimwear.

"It's irritating as they sell sets together more than they sell them apart.

"My breasts are big, but the rest of me is small, so you can imagine the dilemma. I buy two sets and mix them up - a bigger bra with a smaller bottom.

"On my fat days - yes, I have them, too - I opt for a full but trendy one-piece. It sucks everything in. And I try to go for halternecks, as they lift these babies and hold them in place so there's no time for any oopsies," says Ngomani.

For more specialised swimwear, Ngomani sports the local designs of Suzaan Heyns. "She makes the perfect pieces according to your shape and size," she says.

New mom Nonhle Thema says that before she had her baby, she had no problem buying swimwear.

"I could walk in any shop and find the right fit. Now my body has changed and I have bigger boobs. Until I hit the gym, I'll be sticking to a one-piece, just for comfort," she says.