Australia: Speedo launches burkha swimsuit for Muslim women

IF YOU’VE ever gone swimsuit shopping and struggled to find the right fit — save a thought for Anisa Buckley.

A keen squad swimmer as a young teen, she was turned away from the sport when she couldn’t find the right swimwear.

“Once I hit 14 I had to start making do with swimming clothes,” she said.

“I would wear light weight long pants and long sleeve cotton shirts because there was nothing readily available.

“A lot of pools had policies about wearing clothes at the time so it made it hard for people who wanted to train and wear modest clothes.”

Fadila Chafic, Meltem Kilicoglu and Anisa Buckley practice on the beach. Picture: John Appleyard

In recent years she has rekindled her love for swimming with a group of like-minded women known as the Swim Sisters who regularly meet to swim laps and train for ocean swimming at various pools across Sydney.

Some in the group are Muslim and wear the hijab but all are simply in the group for the company and the support.

On Sunday, they took to the waves for a session of a different kind, teaming up with Speedo to test out their new range of modesty suits — their version of the ‘burkhini’ — with a surfing lesson on Bondi Beach.

“Like there are bikinis or one pieces, its nice to have the modest option available,” Ms Buckley said.

“I’m really happy that Speedo, a reputable brand, has decided to make something like this. It shows that they do care about the fact that there are so many people who want to get into swimming and sport.

“It validates Muslim women and their desire to get fit and get out and exercise.”

The Swim Sisters show off the new range of modesty suits. Picture: John Appleyard

With hoods, long sleeves and full length pants, modesty suits are an alternative to skimpy bikinis for women who prefer to cover up when hitting the beach.

“This is not just something for people with religious reasons behind their modesty, but simply for women who might be self conscious about their bodies and want to cover up or as a means of staying sun safe,” Speedo spokeswoman Lauren Spence said.

“We have a philosophy that we want to provide a swim suit for any body and this modesty suit is just an extension of that.”

Nigella Lawson made headlines in 2011 when she was spotted on Bondi Beach in a modesty suit.

It’s the first time the swimwear giant has released a range of this kind in Australia with options for a swim tunic or dress with leggings or pants and hood.

“We were hearing that people had to go to overseas retailers to find the products they needed or mix and match between brands so we wanted to fully provide for what they wanted,” she said.

‘The suit allows them to have all over coverage while still allowing women to swim comfortably without too much drag in the water.”

Modesty suits like these made headlines in August last year when the French government imposed what was widely known as a ‘burkini ban’ — but Ms Buckley hopes the new range will make people feel less intimidated by the swim suit.

There were protests in France last year when the swimwear was banned from some French beaches.

“It can be daunting if you’re wearing the modesty suit on your own and you feel like you’re more visible on the beach but when we all go down in a group we support each other.

“I hope this will normalise the modesty suits and show people that we’re serious swimmers too.”

Ms Buckley and several others from the group have already competed in several ocean swims this year and have been spurred on by the positive feedback to their group’s mission to remove fear and empower women to get in the water.

For most at the surf lesson it was the first time they had been on a board but their enthusiasm was contagious.

Surf instructor Brenda Miley says the salt water is always a good leveller. Picture: John Appleyard

“As a woman who has spent so much of my life at the beach in swim suits to see these women able to have the same opportunity was really liberating,” Let’s Go Surfing swim school founder Brenda Miley said.

“It was a positive experience for us surfie chicks to chat to those women who cover themselves up and realise we’re so similar.

“Once you get in the water it’s a perfect leveller, no matter who you are.”

Modesty suits are available from a girls size eight to ladies size 22 and work is already underway for new colour options in the coming months.

Fashion blogger Delina Darusman-Gala says growth in the modesty wear industry is providing more options for all women.

Muslim fashion blogger Delina Darusman-Gala gave the suits her tick of approval.

“The style is really simple — its clean and there’s different shapes available depending on what you want,” she said.

“Having a well-known brand behind it makes the modesty suit more mainstream.”

A designer herself, she said the modesty wear industry is gaining traction with women becoming more comfortable in their own skin.

“The first modesty suit I ever got was all one piece and made me feel really uncomfortable — its nice to see that there are more options for people now, not just those who want to dress modestly but for sun protection too.”