Swimsuit shopping is easily one of the least-liked retail experiences around: harsh return policies, questionable sanitary measures, and subpar fitting-room encounters (crappy lighting, overly involved salespeople, and the like). A new startup called Cocodune, launching today, wants to completely change that — not just by improving the aforementioned awful aspects, but also by tacking on some qualities that could make the experience actually appealing. First it's bringing sustainability measures and under-$100 price tags to the table. And with that, founder Matthias Metternich sees Cocodune as more than merely a swimwear brand: “I think of us having a responsibility to change the nature of finding swimwear,” he says. “It’s a more macro view of solving a problem I’ve perceived: finding a swimsuit that’s well made, at a reasonable price, that doesn’t fall apart on you or degrade rapidly." The suits truly do feel luxe — and they’re also sustainably made. Metternich traveled to Italy to work with a fabric mill on a custom material to use in Cocodune’s suits, which contains proprietary threads made of “one part upcycled materials and one part extra-light Lycra, instead of using Spandex, which 99% of swim brands use,” he explains. “You end up with something that’s soft as silk, yet holds its shape and color four times longer” than a typical swimwear fabric. “Normal swimwear fabrics degrade when they’re just sitting in a drawer — and after about 20 hours of swimming, Spandex starts to break down and sag, whether it’s a $20 or $400 suit,” he says. “Even the top brands, by and large, use Spandex.” Work had already begun on the unique sustainable-Lycra blend before Cocodune was involved — the fabric was in development for a solid five or so years total. Thus, Cocodune’s suits are sort of positioned as investment pieces in the swim space: Spandex is cheaper than Lycra and it “expires, in a way, which keeps the market moving,” Metternich says (meaning you keep buying a new suit each season). “For the last two decades, ‘churn’ has been an important part of business — fast fashion, say, or big department stores moving product in and out quickly,” says Metternich. “We’re becoming conscious consumers — that are also looking for value.”
To that point, the suits occupy a middle ground price-wise that’s tough to find in swimwear, starting just shy of $100 for a basic bikini silhouette (the brand plans to create more double-digit suits down the line) to $182 for the one-piece shown above. “This is one of the few fashion categories where people are getting away with silly, ridiculous margins because of how old-school the backend is," Metternich says of the swimwear industry.
You have to look in a mirror to know if something really fits or not — an app can’t do that.
Matthias Metternich, Cocodune Founder
While the brand’s quality-plus-pricing combo is unique for the category, its at-home try-on system is perhaps what sets it apart the most. You choose four Cocodune suits, be it different sizes of the same style or completely different styles, which are shipped free of charge. You only pay for what you keep — and you can send whatever you don’t want (even if that’s all four suits), with free return shipping. The try-on setup is similar to Warby Parker’s model, but, arguably, even more useful when applied to the swim category. “We’ve seen augmented-reality apps and weird 360-camera situations; none of that has taken off or appeals to people,” Metternich says of finding a way to innovate the try-on experience. “You have to look in a mirror to know if something really fits or not — an app can’t do that.” We'd add that trying pieces on in the comfort (and presumably better lighting) of your own home lets you truly feel out a suit — sans pushy salespeople getting involved in the intimate shopping experience.
On average, 40 people have tried on a suit before you
Matthias Metternich, Cocodune Founder
Most retailers don't have sanitation processes in place for swimwear beyond plastic liners, and “on average, 40 people have tried on a suit before you have,” Metternich says. “The sanitation process was extremely important to us to get right.” This protocol involves proprietary high-pressure spot cleaning, and checking color integrity and cleanliness on all returned items. Anything that doesn’t pass muster to “recirculate” (a.k.a. be resold) gets recycled, eventually becoming another Cocodune suit. As for Metternich’s background, he’s a self-described “venture designer” who’s helped brands like Alexander McQueen, Jimmy Choo, Topshop, French Connection, and Mulberry enter the e-comm fray and “become relevant again” both on- and offline. "Just like someone might design websites, I design companies,” he says. The sleek aesthetic is helmed by the brand’s design director, Ashli Parker, who previously headed up swimwear at Forever 21, where she was well versed in fast turnaround and equipped with ample customer data; prior to that, she worked at a company that designed for a variety of brands, including Target and Nanette Lepore. Parker designed the debut collection in six months, and it's replete with clean lines, beautiful, lie-flat seaming, and a sophisticated palette (no neons in this all-solids assortment).
“We want to create the best possible staples swimwear-wise, along with a few fashion-forward, runway-like pieces,” Metternich explains. Roughly 80% of the designs are intended to be pool- or beach-ready basics and 20% are edgier, wear-beyond-the-pool pieces that might work for, say, a yoga class. The latter category of “runway-like” looks (think: a plunging, wide-strapped dark-gray one-piece that would work away from water with a pair of high-waisted jeans or a full midi-skirt) are made from a slightly different, even-silkier-feeling iteration of Cocodune’s proprietary material. Additionally, the brand will carry small assortments of its own sunglasses and sandals, priced in the mid-$100s. Skyler Hewitt, an alum of another well-known Angeleno brand, American Apparel, is running operations. “We’re one of the only swimwear businesses that does everything direct and vertically integrated,” Metternich says. Thus the brand can release new styles every few weeks (though the next collection after today’s debut won’t be out until May). “From the onset, I felt like we wouldn’t be able to change the swimwear experience if we didn’t do it from the ground up,” he explains. The business model also, of course, keeps things more affordable: “The only way we can provide this level of luxury at this price is if we do it ourselves."
Cocodune’s launch collection doesn’t cover too wide a demographic: It’s devoid of underwire or structured cups of any sort, and doesn’t extend into plus sizes — yet. Metternich intends to expand its sizing and silhouettes down the line, when the brand is equipped to do it really well. For some of us, at least, this brand signals progress toward making shudder-inducing swimwear shopping a thing of the past.