Label To Watch: ONIA Swimwear

January 13, 2012 BY CAPSULESNEWS

Founded back in 2009 by New York native Carl Cunow, ONIA is a men's swimwear label that's intent on filling a huge void in the menswear market today. With high-performance fabrics, playful patterns and a distinctive retro-fit, ONIA's trunks are for guys who value high-quality design with a hip, modern aesthetic. Placing an emphasis on performance and functionality, the label sources only the best materials from around the world including places like Spain, Portugal, Korea and Italy and also uses fast-drying fabric blends, durable custom hardware and fine mesh linings. We recently had a chance to catch up with owner Carl Cunow to find out what motivated him to launch this line in the first place and see what he has in store for the upcoming season.

WATM: Tell us a little about the brand. How did ONIA get started?

Cunow: While getting my undergraduate degree in finance at Baruch College, I started working at Steven Alan. It’s there I discovered design. I’m pretty detail-obsessed and production is the ideal outlet for my perfectionist nature. I was so drawn to production work that I balanced a full time job with a full course load.

The idea for Onia emerged grew out of from my own frustrating experience trying to find well-designed swimwear. The choices available in the market simply weren’t appealing or they literally fell apart. I assumed that other guys were having the same experience.

I struck out on my own in 2009 with Steven’s blessing (he’s placed orders every season). Onia is dedicated to creating sophisticated, functional surf-side style for discriminating dudes. In creating our products we use unique fabrics, sourced from all over the world (Italy, Spain, England, etc.), to provide colors and patterns that are stylish but never garish. And all our hardware is custom made to endure a pounding in the surf. And the market clearly needed the products we’re creating; in just over 2 years we’re in over 200 doors.

WATM: How would you describe the ONIA customer? What is it about your pieces that he’s drawn to specifically?

Cunow: The Onia customer values quality design and wants to look put together wherever he is, in a low key way. Whether he is on the beach, on a board or in a bar, Onia maintains the level of style and comfort he expects from a favorite oxford or pair of well-worn jeans. Our cuts are tailored but not tight, our style is clean but never boring and the functionality of our products are consistently excellent. We’ve gotten tremendous feedback from customers who tell us they are wearing their Onia trunks well beyond the water’s edge, making them their go-to shorts all summer (or vacation) long.

WATM: There seems to have been a number of really cool men’s swimwear brands to emerge recently (Warriors of Radness, Saturday’s Surf NYC, ONIA, etc.). Why do you think these swim-focused labels have been doing so well in the menswear market?

Cunow: Clearly there has been a tremendous void in the market to-date and in general you’re seeing growth in products that speak to a surf-inspired lifestyle. But different brands are addressing the market’s need in different ways. Our price point and aesthetic speaks to a discriminating customer who isn’t drawn to a Streetwear or Skate-culture vibe for their swimwear.

WATM: What are a few of your favorite styles from the most recent collection?

Cunow: That’s a difficult question to answer. We work so hard on making each style the best it can possibly be, that it’s tough to pick a favorite. The Calder is our consistent best-seller and I hope in time it will come to be considered a modern classic, like the Sperry Topsider, Adidas’ Stan Smith or Ray-Ban Aviators. But our recent collaboration with Liberty of London has allowed us to expand into more prints and colors without sacrificing sophistication, which has been a great new addition. And we’re constantly trying to improve each product. This season we’ve refined the “Charles” body with a slightly slimmer shape and shorter inseam for a perfect fit. I’m also excited about our first foray into beach towels. In keeping with Onia’s aesthetic we’ve dedicated ourselves to making it subtly unique and highly functional – oversized enough for 2, it’s a blanket-towel hybrid that is backed with our signature fast-drying cotton-nylon blend swim material.

WATM: Tell us a bit about your inspirations for the upcoming Resort 2012 collection?

Cunow: For Resort 2012 we’re exploring a blue story, inspired by my recent trips to shorelines on both coasts and my upcoming honeymoon in the Maldives. Every body of water has its unique attributes and colorations, from clear aqua seas to a stormy navy blue, and the colors and patterns of the upcoming collection reflect that breadth.

WATM: What can we expect from ONIA in 2012? Is there any news you can share with us (stockists, collaborations, etc.)?

Cunow: We add products very carefully, mindful of building out the brand slowly. We are launching our first style for boys, debuting at Barneys and on next month. The “Charlie” is taken from our “Charles” shape in a range of matching colorways so Dad and his tyke can be similarly attired, if so inclined.

We have several collaborations under way, including the The Ritz-Carlton for whom we’ve embroidered their lion insignia on our oversize beach towels. And as far as stockists go, we’re fortunate to be adding new doors frequently. We’re particularly pleased to be in Saks Fifth Avenue in 2012.