Friday, July 20, 2007

The New Swimsuit Issue

Mecca Laa Laa wears a 'Burqini' on her first surf lifesaving patrol at North Cronulla Beach in Sydney, Australia on February 4, 2007.
Move over, Tankini. Since the full-coverage swimsuit dubbed the Burqini (as in burqa plus bikini) hit the international market in January, devout Muslim women have been snapping them up. The polyester suits were designed to accord with Islamic laws that require women to dress modestly and to eliminate the risk of drowning when the yards of fabric used in traditional burqas get soaked. Now, however, non-Muslim beachgoers are getting into the full-covered swim. Whether women are worried about health, weight or the tolls of age, the Burqini offers a comfortable alternative to a skimpy two-piece or clingy maillot.

The demure suits, pioneered by two Muslim women on opposite sides of the globe, are like lightweight, loose, hooded wet suits and hide everything but the face, hands and feet. Australian retailer Aheda Zanetti, 38, says she was inspired to design her Burqini after watching young Muslim girls struggle to play netball in bulky layers. Her competitor, California microbiologist Shereen Sabet, 36, came up with her full-coverage Splashgear suits after searching in vain for Islam-appropriate scuba gear. The UV-resistant, stretchy swimsuits start at $90 and have found upwards of 6,000 buyers--most of them online--in locations as varied as Malaysia, South Africa, Mexico, Ireland and the U.S. "I'm a very small business with a product the whole world wants," says Zanetti.
Conservative Christians, cancer patients, burn victims and senior citizens, among others, have shown surprising interest. Joanne Martinez, 37, of San Clemente, Calif., bought a Hawaiian-print ensemble to stave off chills during late-night dips. Her mother Norma Suarez, 69, got a suit because her medications make her skin sun-sensitive. "We're both hooked," says Martinez. Meanwhile, Kathleen Petroff, 59, of Helendale, Calif., bought her Splashgear suit for a snorkeling trip, after weight gain from multiple-sclerosis treatment made her old suit unappealing. If not for Sabet's design, she says, "I would have missed swimming with the dolphins."

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