Suiting up

Photos: Brent McCombs

Joanna Tranter’s swimsuit design company grew out of simple supply and demand.
Tranter and her boyfriend surf a lot—on beaches around Halifax, and around the world. But none of the suits Tranter tried on were rugged enough for the waves. “I remember coming here to see my boyfriend and I forgot my bathing suit,” says Tranter who grew up in South Wales, but moved to Halifax two years ago. “I couldn’t find one anywhere. To find a women’s swimsuit that stays on when you’re surfing is pretty hard.”
So she made her own suit, which inspired her to start a company, Sueno Swimwear.
But Tranter has the education to back up her design ambitions. In 2007, she earned a BA (Honours) in fashion and contour design from De Montfort University in Leicester, England. There she learned how to design hosiery, lingerie and swimwear. “It was the only [course] in the world and I thought it looked so fun and interesting,” she recalls.
Fun comes through her designs. The prints are colourful, often bold, but still practical. And despite being small pieces of fabric, swimsuit design offers a chance to play. “I find a print I really like and I design around that print and find colours to go with it,” she says. “You can be so creative with it…There are so many different fabrics.”
Tranter does all of the sewing, making several suits at one time, usually over the course of an afternoon in her home studio. While she sources some of her fabrics locally, she gets most of it from suppliers in Montreal and New York. She sells her suits at Dacane Surf Shop in Dartmouth as well as via Etsy, and ships around the world.
She makes custom orders, too. There is a sizing chart on her website that clients can use to get the right size. While she makes one-piece suits, she prefers two-piece suits, not only for their look, but also for fit, since most women are different sizes on the top than on the bottom. Often her clients buy either a top or bottom to complement a suit they currently own. Tops come in styles such as sports bra and multi-strapped. Bottoms are briefs or very cheeky high-rise cuts. Clients can also help with the designs of their own suits. But all of the designs work well for surfing and other water sports. Most of her clients are younger, in their late teens or 20s, but she will work with clients of all ages. She gets plenty of orders from locals heading south for winter vacation.
Jill Manos is a local surfer who first met Tranter through family. The 28-year-old travels the world surfing, so Tranter asked if she’d take some of her suits with her, for test runs on international waves.
She took three suits to a trip to Costa Rica where she tested them in the swimming and surfing conditions there. Manos describes them as “hip, cool and one of a kind.” She now wears Tranter’s designs exclusively. The Rio Surf bikini tops with its multiple straps is one of her favourites. “They were very well made,” Manos says. “The straps were in good spots, they stayed on and they are comfortable with great designs.”
Tranter, who has a full-time job, spends considerable amount of time not only designing and sewing the suits, but marketing her products as well. Swimsuit design is her passion.
“I want to be able to do this as a full-time job, so I can have people sewing for me,” Tranter says. “I am committed to keeping it local. But I do want to send [the suits] around the world and have them well known.”

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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