reports2021/12/02

Accessible Swimwear: What Is It?

by Maria Luisa Mendiola

MIGA Swimwear came about through my personal quest to find community. Every time I would go to the beach or the pool, I would get self-conscious and uncomfortable because of a disfigurement I have on my feet. Growing up in Costa Rica, I would cope with my difference by wearing bold and vibrant swimsuits that took attention away from my toes. At this point, I started to develop an obsession with swimwear; I made it my thing to scour the internet for innovative designs and top quality brands. While this helped, the feeling of isolation and being misunderstood remained.

It wasn’t until I enrolled at Central Saint Martins in London that I started to play with the idea of creating swimsuits that not only were eye-catching and beautiful, but that also encouraged the wearer to accept and love their body as is. My 'aha' moment came when, as part of my master’s research, I visited the head psychologist of the burns unit at the Chelsea and Westminster hospital. She told me that a lot of her patients had difficulty finding bathing suits that they felt comfortable in. At that moment, I knew I could be the person to make those bathing suits for them.

Since 2016, I have been working directly with women and learning about their unique body stories, whether they have visible differences, disabilities or chronic illnesses. I was able to create pieces that empowered them to embrace their differences, improving their body image and creating styles that are comfortable, functional and versatile for all. 

Universal design is defined as the design of products to make them accessible to all people, regardless of age, disability or other factors. So when we design universally, we are including everyone. 

Our swimwear has been created with the intention to be accessible to all, meaning it is easy to put on and put off. You can imagine how challenging it is to go to the bathroom if you are wearing a wetsuit, so we have created The Anna swimsuit with an extra long pulley at the back so that it is easier to take off and put on, inspired by artist Anna Nelson’s story with Acne Inversa. This skin condition caused her to develop wounds in her armpits that were so painful that they interfered with her work. This long sleeve one piece swimsuit works for Anna because it comes with raglan sleeves, which guarantee no chafing in the armpits.

Our Lydia Bottom comes with a detachable belt that can be tied in different sides of the stomach, depending on what works best with your medical equipment. Inspired by Lydia Andrews, the belt can be used to best accommodate her ileostomy. The Lydia Bottom can be paired with The Lydia Top, which has no-chafe sleeves and a long zipper pulley at the back for easy dressing. Similarly, The Mio one-piece has extra long straps that make it easier to put on for those that have limb differences and/or limited mobility.

Our hope is that when our customers put on our suits, and read the story printed on the canvas bag that comes with each suit, they feel encouraged to appreciate their body as is, empowered by the courageous and resilient stories of our collaborators. In turn, our collaborators share their story as a way to feel less self-conscious and to raise awareness and empathy about their experience. 

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