The Narrative Roots of Swimwear’s Hottest New Brand
article by Michael DeVault
High in the Atlas Mountains, nomadic Berbers toil for hours to spin rugs of great beauty and quality, practicing as they work an ancient art steeped in mysticism and the ancient world. Eventually, each of the rugs created finds its way to the storied Marrakech Market in Morocco and into the consciousness of LeDoux VanVeckhoven and Nick Bradley, co-founders of Pangea Swimwear, an L.A. based boutique line of men’s swimshort that launched earlier this year. Patterns like those created by the Berbers are what inspire each Pangea creation.
“The idea behind Pangea was to build a rich narrative around each print,” said VanVeckhoven, a Monroe native who now lives in Los Angeles. Each of Pangea’s limited-run swimsuits are inspired by the kinds of exotic locales most people only read about. Incorporating those patterns into new, high-quality prints is just one part of the Pangea experience. “We researched not only the designs and art, but the stories behind those designs and art as well,” VanVeckhoven said. “So we tie those narratives to our prints.” All branding, from the PangeaSwim.com web site to the hangtags in stores, include the stories behind the print, lending to the swimsuit a substance that might otherwise be missing.
For VanVeckhoven and Bradley, creating the narrative was an important part of standing out for Pangea, which enters a crowded field of swimwear creators–very few of whom stand out in any way. “All of them really looked the same. There were really generic offerings from the companies out there,” VanVeckhoven said. Before Pangea, the world of men’s premium swimwear was filled with stripes, solids and a few unoriginal paisleys. There were no stories, either, according to VanVeckhoven. “The narratives were all the same.”
If VanVeckhoven sounds like a storyteller, it’s with good reason. He went to L.A. with no intention of launching a successful clothing line. “I had zero background in fashion. I come from the music business,” VanVeckhoven said, adding that music took him to California. His business partner Nick’s background was in marketing and advertising. “We’ve thrown ourselves into this. Luckily, we’ve had some great mentors who’ve been able to help us out; people we could go to and ask questions.”
The advice the pair has received must have been worthwhile. Pangea Swimwear sold out its entire first-run for 2014. While the styles are all still available for sale on the web, each suit is now sewn-to-order. Current styles include the Moroccan Berber, mentioned previously; a Thai Elephant print, steeped in the history of this ancient symbol; and a vintage star chart print, highlighting some of the most famous constellations in the night sky. For 2015, Pangea plans to introduce four new prints and three new styles of swimshort, with a launch set for February.
Though Pangea Swimwear products can be a little on the expensive side, they’re definitely worth the investment. All are tailored, sewn from luxury fabrics, and feature imported Italian hardware. It all combines to make a product that looks and feels special. “The pattern is basically a blueprint for how the clothing is constructed, broken up into pieces,” VanVeckhoven said. For comparison, VanVeckhoven noted the current trend in men’s swimwear, where cheaper offerings have four to ten pieces. “With ours, we have anywhere from 15 to 19 pieces in that construction. With that comes more flattering, more tailored fits, and it’s more customized.”
As they approach their first year in business, Pangea Swimwear is starting to think beyond the swimshort, with plans to take its narrative-centric focus into other lifestyle products, from button-down shirts to jogging pants. “I can expand and scale with that print story, that narrative,” VanVeckhoven says. “That’s what Pangea is all about.”