If you’ve been frequenting the UAE’s pools and beaches this season, you may have noticed an increase in stylish, burkini-inspired swimwear in a range of rainbow hues. Once limited to the realm of all-black (sometimes sporty, oft-drab) styles, burkinis have blossomed in recent years, with home-grown brands creating chic-yet-conservative options for modesty-conscious swimmers.
Most designers’ motivation for dipping their toes into the swimsuit industry stems from one common problem: being unable to find designs that suit their personal modesty preferences and body types. This is what led Adah Idriss Abrar from Dubai to conceptualise her brand, Maya Swimwear, last summer.
“It was born during the pandemic in the summer of 2020, when travel was very limited and lots of our time was spent in the pools in Dubai,” she says. “The struggle to find swimwear that provided coverage for my type of body and style within my budget was immense, so I wanted to create something that was perfect for all body types – yet modest, stylish and affordable.”
Abrar’s creations incorporate wrap-necks, tiered layers and peplum skirts in on-trend hues of mustard, tangerine, maroon, cobalt and emerald, with silhouettes that will flatter diverse body types and sizes. The sets can be worn together or as separates – each swim tunic has a crotch fastening, so it can be worn by itself without the leggings and swim turban, if preferred.
This is also a feature of NickyBikini, a home-grown swim label centred on comfort.
“The swimsuit closes in the crotch instead of a zip-up all-in-one design, making it more practical to get on and off when wet,” says designer Nicola Augusti, who noticed a gap in the modest swimwear market after joining TikTok last year.
“I asked followers to tell me what they would improve about existing modest swimwear and was so overwhelmed with the responses, I knew I had to start designing in this space. I decided to make it a series on TikTok and co-design it with our followers.”
The resulting swimsuits, she says, are customer-driven, and incorporate sizes up to 5XL as the range expands.
“It’s different from the all-in-one three-piece modest sets in the market, because it is a mix-and-match collection all made from separates,” says Augusti. “Customers will get more value for money as they can simply swap out the swimsuit body, skirt or leggings for a new look.”
Safiya Abdallah, founder of Dulce by Safiya, coined the phrase “modest-inclusive”, which is an approach that is becoming increasingly popular among brands aiming to cater to a variety of interpretations of modesty.
“There are different levels of modesty, and everyone has their threshold for what they will and will not push the boundary on,” says Abdallah.
After finding many burkinis readily available in the market that didn’t conform to the personal modest guidelines of her clients, Abdallah partnered with Russian modest swimwear brand Shelline, becoming its local stockist.
She explains that while many mainstream burkinis feature stylish silhouettes, they are still form-fitting, clingy and show the curvature of the body, and may not be conservative enough for many modesty-seeking or hijab-wearing women.
Shelline’s designs are comparatively longer and looser, with tunics that still incorporate elegant drapery, ruffles and decorative buttons, and swimsuit bottoms that are more like trousers than leggings.
“I loved the fact they had different accessories like headbands that are water-repellent, and even under-pieces, kind of like a bikini, so you don’t have to wear anything else underneath,” explains Abdallah.
Innovative accessories and head coverings are another micro-trend that designers are exploring.
Along with introducing surf-inspired swim “jumpsuits” to her ready-to-wear label nur. this summer, Nour Najem also launched a stretchable swim cap that can be worn in various ways for different coverage options.
Najem says that while some might assume modest swimwear to be “restrictive”, this is a myth. Adah clarifies another major misconception about this retail category: “Modest swimwear that covers the body being forced upon women by oppressed families or husbands – this could not be further from the truth in my view,” she says.
“Burkinis are not only worn for religious purposes,” she says. “Some women simply seek protection from the strong sun and UV rays.”
Maya Swimwear and Shelline both offer modest swimwear in smaller sizes for girls – an important yet often-overlooked target market, according to Abdallah.
“This is so needed, because I just took my 12-year-old daughter to shop for swimwear and it was so hard to find something that was covering enough, and to find shorts and a swimsuit that made her feel like there wasn’t too much on show,” she says.
“It’s a huge gap in the market; they don’t often think of the teenagers, tweens and girls who are becoming young women, and who in some ways are the most important people to think of.”