Top Man: Matthias Metternich at L.A.’s Cocodune.

Top Man: Matthias Metternich at L.A.’s Cocodune. Photo by Ringo Chiu.

Swimsuit shopping for women often means trying on overpriced and, most likely, unflattering bikinis in a poorly lit fitting room.

But downtown L.A. e-commerce brand Cocodune, which launched last week, wants to overhaul that experience by letting customers try on its handmade Italian swimsuits at home before they buy. Through Cocodune’s home try-on program, customers choose four styles to check out over five days then return one or all of the pieces. Shipping is free and customers are only charged for what they keep.

Cocodune is betting that its affordable swimsuits and in-home shopping experience will generate enough sales to cover the potentially high operating costs.

Matthias Metternich, the company’s founder and chief executive, said he was inspired to start the company after a shopping trip with a female friend.

“As a guy looking at it from the outside, I thought you just put on a pair of trousers and pull a string and that’s the end of it,” Metternich said. “Buying a beautiful swimsuit that fits you well is an extremely painful experience (for women) and it’s shocking to me.”

From New York swim label Solid & Striped to San Francisco men’s brand Chubbies, swimwear is going online following a business model popularized by online retailers Warby Parker, Casper, and Everlane – easily accessible, high-quality products at a more affordable price than brick-and-mortar competitors. And Los Angeles is joining the fold with players such as Cocodune and downtown’s Bikyni.

Jude Al-Khalil, founder and chief executive of Bikyni, said it’s about more than just offering quality and price.

“For us, it was also coming up with the shopping experience,” Al-Khalil said. “It’s not just the product. It’s also the experience we wanted to modernize.”

That meant everything from free shipping and returns to letting customers mix and match bikini styles.

Dan Wallace-Brewster, vice president of corporate marketing for Rancho Dominguez e-commerce services company Onestop Internet, said brands that have ditched a focus on wholesale have realized that operating online can mean better customer service.

“Prior to this, designers served what wholesale buyers wanted, not necessarily what the end consumer wanted,” he said.

Taking plunge

Metternich, who’s also a venture partner at Beverly Hills investment firm Winnick & Co., said it took about nine months to develop Cocodune. Things moved quickly because of an experienced team that includes design director Ashli Parker Lee, former head of global swimwear at downtown L.A.’s Forever 21, and operations director Skyler Hewitt, who previously led production at Culver City men’s luxury label Elder Statesman.

Cocodune has taken capital from other investors but declined to state how much has been raised.

Metternich said the company’s vertically integrated structure allows it to deliver on an attractive price point while keeping a healthy profit margin. He hopes to sell out of inventory in its first year.

The company sources its fabric from a textile mill in Italy and the product is designed, manufactured, and shipped out of its downtown headquarters.

Cocodune’s first collection features seven basic cuts in seven colors. Its swimsuits are made with a proprietary fabric developed by Cocodune that Metternech said is 100 percent recyclable and will last four times longer than other swimsuits without losing shape.

Prices range from $42 for a triangle bikini top to $182 for a one-piece, deep V-neck bathing suit. A small selection of accessories is also available such as a $52 beach towel and an unfinished leather tote for $242.

Metternich said he is confident the company will be able to disrupt the swimwear market in a big way despite the hundreds of established and new local players popping up in the market.

“I think if we were just a traditional fashion brand and trying to stand out with nice designs, then I’d be worried,” he said. “For us, the market is basically two things: You have fast-fashion players providing lots of stuff cheap and then you’ve got designers’ pieces that are $700. We’re playing in the middle, bringing luxury to the masses and also solving all those pain points.”

Shifting currents

Joanna Fasching, Bikyni’s designer, said she’s noticed more brands popping up even at the manufacturing facility her firm contracts with downtown.

“Even at our factory, it’s a revolving door of girls trying to come in and make new brands,” she said.

But Fasching said Bikyni’s reasonable price point (items start at $50) and clean aesthetic reflective of luxury brands allow the label to bring in a wide range of customers.

“It’s larger than we thought,” she said. “We get parents shopping for their teenage girls up to women well into their 40s.”

Onestop’s Wallace-Brewster said there is a big push for e-commerce brands to offer the best customer experience possible.

“I think we’re on the cusp of a shift in service and delivery models in e-commerce,” he said. “The Warby Parker model of providing a variety of styles from which you pick one is going to be tested across other apparel and accessory categories.”

Metternich said the e-commerce model gives brands more control over their product and allows them to be responsive to customers’ needs.

Rather than meeting the demands of a department store that might demand specific styles at a certain cost, offering products online allows the company to set its own agenda.

“We’re not looking for a department store to carry our product because we’re responsible for getting our products out there,” he said. “Until my accountant says otherwise, I see no reason to engage with (department stores).”

Al-Khalil of Bikyni echoed the thought. The company recently released a high-waist bikini because customers were requesting the style, even though the brand had no plans to develop it.

“We can react very quickly to what our customers are asking for and the feedback that we’re getting,” she said.

Wallace-Brewster said while operating as on online business offers a closer relationship with customers and vastly higher profit margins, there are still challenges.

“Amazon and other pure players have changed consumer expectations, making it necessary to match service levels that much larger sites can better afford – free returns or next day delivery,” he said. “Marketing costs can be higher as a percentage of revenue because brands aren’t benefiting from the foot traffic of a Nordstrom or Macy’s to gain brand recognition.”

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