They’re loved and loathed, they inspire national pride and prejudice. And this summer, as they boldly waltz across a beach close to you, bringing to mind a rich choice of “s” words (sluggos, scungies, smugglers), they’ll again drive us into the thick of that great annual debate: speedos or boardies?
A British survey released last year reported that 74 per cent of UK women hate the iconic swimming briefs. Which gives Brenden Hartmann, “general smuggling manager” of speedo-style swimwear brand Budgy Smuggler, a good belly laugh.
“The UK is now our second-biggest market and sales have tripled since we opened our offices in London a year ago,” says Hartmann from his HQ in Sydney’s Manly. “The Brits love our larrikin spirit.”
By 2000, the nylon racing trunks, which just about every Australian male wore to the beach from the 1950s to the 1980s, seemed to be dead, confined to professional racers and lap swimmers. The huge success of Aussiebum changed all that. In 2001, when unemployed marketing executive Sean Ashby found he could no longer buy the swimmers he grew up wearing, he spent his last $20,000 having a small number manufactured locally and selling them online after department stores turned him away. The Aussiebum brand now produces more than a million items of swimwear and underwear annually, 90 per cent of which are sold overseas from its base in Sydney’s inner west, with total sales topping $150 million.
Since then, a host of men’s swimwear competitors have sprung up. First came Budgy Smuggler in 2003 (it now supplies all National Rugby League clubs with swimwear), followed by Corka and Sluggers. “If it’s an Aussie brand, it’s like you have permission to just let it all hang out,” says Adam Butler, founder of Sluggers, from his office in Sydney’s Balmain. “Our American customer likes to tap into that Aussie spirit.”
The latest budgie-smuggler brand on the block is The Saint Collective, launched only three months ago by 23-year-old entrepreneur Joel Ilacqua, who uses a tattoo of a palm tree on his left forearm as an emblem in his designs. “Ours is an outdoors, gym-fit culture,” says Ilacqua, who also models his own swimwear. “Why cover it up?”
To read more from Good Weekend magazine, visit our page at The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and Brisbane Times.