Runway Radar: Olivia Bickerstaff makes flattering swimwear for full-figured women

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      By Janine McAughren

      Swimsuit season is just around the corner, but there’s no need to head for the hills in terror. Olivia Bickerstaff is making trendy swimwear for women of all sizes.

      With the aid of technical fabric and specialized construction techniques, the garments in Bickerstaff's AKOYA collection are created to flatter and enhance the wearer’s natural curves and come in a wide range of sizes.

      AKOYA will be unveiled at 2017 The Show presented by Tamoda Apparel Inc., on April 5 and 6 at the Imperial (319 Main Street). Twenty-seven other lines by Kwantlen Polytechnic University Fashion Design and Technology students will also be showcased.

      For event details, visit or follow @wilsondesignkpu on Instagram.

      Janine McAughren: Describe your collection.

      Olivia Bickerstaff: AKOYA collections follow current trends and styles while offering more coverage than the typical bikini. My 2018 spring/summer collection features embroidery and laser-cut detailing.

      The line also has a range of cover-ups for sun protection for when the wearer is in the water or is beach-dining or lounging. Technical fabric and construction techniques allow the garments to flatter and enhance natural curves, which provide the wearer with comfort and confidence.

      JM: Who or what was the inspiration behind your line?

      OB: All women should feel comfortable at the beach or by the pool in their swimwear without sacrificing style or trends. I’ve felt uncomfortable when trying on swimsuits and noticed my peers experiencing that same level of discomfort.

      These swimsuits had awkwardly placed design details; emphasized revealing areas; and were generally unflattering for most body types. In the Canadian brick-and-mortar retail marketplace, swimwear offerings consist of only small sizes in revealing styles.

      There is very little swimwear in larger sizes that offer more coverage than the bikini in current styles, colours, and prints. My line of swimwear provides women of all shapes and sizes with on-trend and flattering options.

      JM: Walk me through your creative process.

      OB: I gather inspiration from many different places. For example, when looking at a book on Victorian fretwork (the ornamental wood work design found on Victorian homes), I was inspired by the intricacy of all the beautiful curves and designs.

      I started to think about how I could incorporate this into swimwear and figured that I could use the laser cutter to take away the negative space and leave the pattern in the swimsuit fabric.

      Once I created the intricate Victorian design pattern, I had to figure out how to use it practically in the garment. In this case, it meant providing a mesh lining behind the intricate cutout in the swimsuit fabric. I then needed to determine exactly where the pattern should be placed in the garment so that the overall design of the swimsuit would flatter the body.

      Because I am a visual person and work best in a three dimensional format, I began working with a mannequin right away. I manipulated the fabric on the model so I could see exactly how it would look and then finalized the swimsuit design.

      JM: What lessons did you learn while completing your degree at KPU?

      OB: Nothing is a waste—it is all just part of the process. All is not lost when something doesn’t work or react the way I expected or hoped, it just means I need to rethink what I’m doing and approach things from a different angle. The next time I’m working on something, I have the benefit of all the mistakes I made and what I learned from my last project.

      JM: What aspect of design are you most passionate about?

      OB:  I love being creative in a problem-solving way—challenging things intrigue me and get me motivated. For example, designing swimwear for full-figured women involves some challenges. There is a lot of thought that goes into the design and construction of a swimsuit so it offers full support and is flattering for the full-figured woman.

      One of my swimsuit designs has 23 pattern pieces compared to the average one-piece, which usually has three to eight pieces. Twenty-three pattern pieces are required to provide the support a full-figured woman desires.

      JM: How do you set yourself apart from other designers?

      OB: Firstly, I am a very determined person and I apply that same determination to fashion design. Tell me that it cannot be done and I will figure out a way it can be done.

      I also have a special interest in the history of costume. Although I gain inspiration from historical garments and I love to incorporate historical details into my designs, I do so in a way where I don’t lose the modern aspects of the garment.

      On a personal note, I am committed to ensuring that women of all sizes are able to purchase stylish and on-trend garments.

      Janine McAughrenis a final-year fashion design and technology student at KPU’s Wilson School of Design.

      Places to go nearby

      Approx. 15 minutes away