My daughter is 15, and she loves the beach. She surfs, bodysurfs, plays volleyball, runs soft-sand windsprints. It occurs to me how different she is from the teenage girls of my youth. My sister, for example, a great athlete in her own right, viewed the beach as a sedentary place to lay out for hours and cook herself with such incendiary devices as olive oil and Bain de Soleil so she would look that much more boss in her $25 designer jeans. To my daughter, the idea of just lying on a beach is as alien a concept as $25 jeans. Now, I'm not saying my daughter is better than yours, though I am thinking it. What I'm saying is that I've noticed how much more active girls and young women are at the beach. Turns out surfwear companies noticed, too. Starting with Quiksilver's Roxy in the '90s, they began making bikinis and swimsuits specifically designed for active young women. Mary Miller worked at Roxy in the '90s, then moved over to O'Neill to become juniors' design director. Miller, 31, lives in Laguna Beach and grew up in Seal Beach. She knows the beach. And swimsuits. We talked.
OC Weekly: What's the difference between a "lay out" suit and an "active" suit?
Mary Miller:The biggest frustration we heard from our athletes and active customers was that if there was some kind of embellishment on the suit, like a ring on the center of the bra, it was annoying and painful, especially if they were trying to lay on a surfboard and paddle out. So, we wanted to make sure we could offer choices. Within each collection, there are several options. If the girl just wants to lay out, that kind of suit is going to have more beading, embroidery or embellishment. But we'll have suits with the same print that offer more support: criss-cross backs or bottoms with a fuller cut to offer more coverage.
Should the active girl go about testing for fit a little differently?
Yeah, beside just feeling for fit, they should move around a bit, test it out with the movements they're going to make. You know, like a paddling movement if you're a surfer.
Do these kinds of suits wear out quicker because they're getting more use?
No. That's a major concern for us, so we go through a lot of testing of the fabrics in our suits and make sure the Lycra doesn't break down even without a lot of movement, sun, salt and chlorine. They'll last a long time.
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What kind of kid were you at the beach?
We lived about a mile from the beach, so I pretty much grew up there. I think, like any other kid, it doesn't matter what the water temperature was, I'd be in the water all day, bodyboarding, you know, having fun.
Is it more fun designing active or lay-out suits?
Personally, I find it more fun to work with the suits that tend more toward fashion. There are a lot of trends in the juniors' sportswear market that translates into swimwear. A lot of nautical themes: a netting look, accenting rope, stripes are really important. And you can play with a lot of embellishments. Ours tend to be very natural because we think our customers are very natural, so we work with wooden beads, coconut-wood rings. With a suit to lay out, you can think a little more about fashion. With an active suit, you think a little more about function.