Top To Bottom: Designing The Perfect Beach Volleyball Bikini
Longtime Westside residents Bridget Dome and Sibylle Postley figure that they had about 200 pieces of swimwear between them when they first met around 2005, playing beach volleyball up and down the LA coast.
Despite having “lots and lots of bikinis,” the two marveled that they had never found the perfect bikini for beach volleyball, Postley says. On the one hand, they had tried purely functional two-pieces that sacrificed beauty. On the other, otherwise attractive sets that worked great poolside just couldn’t handle the demands of the sport. Perhaps the straps were wrong or an otherwise enviable bottom shifted too much during a day of intense play.
“There was always something that we hoped would be a little bit different about the pieces to make them really great for volleyball,” Dome says. “And then we kind of naively just decided, ‘Hey we can do better than this.’”
In the early days of Pepper Swimwear, the duo, who lacked any formal experience in the apparel industry, learned that making swimwear is not for the faint of heart. They focused on creating on a fully adjustable top that “ended up not quite coming together,” Postley says. “We blew our entire budget on revision after revision and got to a point where we hadn’t even started and we were already out of money.”
What felt like a disaster ended up breeding innovation. Whereas before they had been darting back and forth between a pattern maker and cutter in downtown LA for every iteration – a “money suck and a time suck” Postley says – they had to come up with a new plan.
And so Postley, who Dome says is “Miss DIY,” pulled out her sewing machine and starting experimenting. As Postley mastered the ins and outs of stretchy fabric, a “super-steep learning curve,” she admits, they streamlined their sample making, enabling easy revisions and tests, many of which happened on the beach volleyball courts dotting the coast, Santa Monica, Playa Del Rey, Manhattan and Hermosa among them.
They’ve even named some of their swimsuits after area beaches (El Matador and Huntington, for example) and the vibrant colors and patterns -- everything from fluorescent ikat to a bright palm print -- owe more than a little bit of inspiration to the Southern California lifestyle. They’ve done photo shoots on Venice Beach, and an upcoming bikini will feature their first custom print, incorporating photos of sunsets, palm trees and flowers taken around SoCal. To get a taste of what inspires them, check out their Instagram account, PepperSwimwearLA.
Each of the reversible Pepper bikini separates made in downtown LA has a matching piece, with one side featuring a bright print and the other a complimentary solid color for more mix-and-match options. And while the suits are made for demanding beach sports of volleyball, boogie boarding, surfing, paddleboarding, and even parenting (they’re both moms), the bikinis are also quite playful, with multicolored straps and braid detailing on the bottoms, intricate cross-backs on the tops (perfect under a backless shirt, Dome notes), and a little bit of booty showing, especially on the California cut.
That cheekiness in the line’s name is intentional; it’s meant to evoke both the volleyball drill and the idea of something a bit sexy and spicy. Still, for those looking for a bit more coverage, they’re working on cuts that keep the fun but add a bit more fabric.
All of their bikinis are available on their website, PepperSwimwear.com, and there’s a selection at Santa Monica shop Brooke Rodd. This year and next, Dome and Postley are looking to grow the brand, capitalizing on the rising popularity of beach volleyball, which should spike a bit thanks to the upcoming 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio.
Already, pro players like Kim DiCello of the U.S., Valerie Teufl and Bianca Zass of Austria, Kacie Mactavish and Caleigh Whitaker of Canada, Justine and Jordan Mowen of Australia, and Janne Kongshavn Hordvik and Vilde Solvoll of Norway wear their suits.
If you want to catch local volleyballers in action, you can check out the Ocean Park Beach courts, or perhaps you’ll bump into them after a long day of matches at favorite hangouts like Enterprise Fish Co. and Big Dean’s Ocean Front Cafe.
Photos courtesy Pepper Swimwear