L.L. Bean, the 112-year-old outdoor retailer best known for its fuzzy fleece layers and winter-proof Bean Boots, can ignore summer no longer.

To prove it, the New England-based company is launching its biggest collaboration to date with the swimwear company Summersalt. The full collection debuts online and in stores today and includes swimsuits, coverups, and accessories, as well as inflatable paddleboards, beach chairs, and other gear. While L.L. Bean has given a nod to spring and summer and water-sports wear in the past, this is one of its most significant steps beyond its wintery niche. 

“We have our history and heritage more in cold weather, and we have such a dominance in the fall and winter,” says CEO Stephen Smith. “So it’s a natural connection to our purpose to be more relevant in the warm-weather time periods . . . There’s a real opportunity for us to become a brand for all four seasons.”

[Photo: L.L. Bean]

Designing for a warming planet

These days, L.L. Bean is heavily focused on the e-commerce side of its business. Smith says that to expand the company’s reach in the West and South, bolstering warm-weather offerings will be key. And, through a new wholesale strategy, independent retailers in hotter climates across the U.S. are already picking up some of L.L. Bean’s existing summer inventory. But beyond extending the company’s current geographical coverage, Smith is also considering how climate change will impact consumers’ future needs. 

“The weather is more unpredictable, and it is more extreme on each end: When you have a snowstorm, you have a huge snowstorm; when you have a rain event, it’s a huge rain event; in the summer, if it’s hot, it’s getting hotter,” Smith says. “We’re adapting to those changes in buying habits because they’re becoming more acute.”

L.L. Bean is pivoting to prepare consumers for a rapidly changing environment, both by adjusting the time frames of its seasonal in-store offerings and developing new products. For climates that are heating up, Smith says a lighter hiking boot and new activewear options might be in the pipeline. And this summer, the Summersalt collaboration will help fill out L.L. Bean’s warm-seasons offerings.

[Photo: L.L. Bean]

The makings of a swimsuit collab

To mesh with its activity-focused brand ethos, Smith says L.L. Bean’s ideal swimwear partnership needed to be durable, long-lasting, and comfortable. Summersalt, which calls itself “swimwear for life beyond the lounge chair,” was at the top of the company’s list of potential collaborators. According to Summersalt cofounders Lori Coulter and Reshma Chattaram Chamberlin, the admiration was mutual—in fact, they approached L.L. Bean to initiate the partnership.

“Every year, we think, ‘Who would we most want to partner with?’” Chattaram Chamberlain says. “As founders, you do your brainstorming, and then make it a reality. When Lori and I were chatting, we were like, ‘Our number one would be L.L. Bean.’”

Summersalt’s unique appeal comes from its tailoring technology. Whereas traditional swimwear companies use a small sampling of fit models to determine sizing, Summersalt has a data bank of 1.5 million measurements from over 10,000 women, which it uses to create swimwear from sizes zero to 24. Then consumer feedback helps them adjust any potential inconsistencies with the fit.

For the L.L. Bean launch, Summersalt’s team designed suits for four distinct color collections, including four limited-edition prints. All of the pieces are engineered to withstand outdoor activities, from paddleboarding to the Slip ‘N Slide.

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