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Little Mermaid With Big Ideas

By Emma Gorton Ellicott

· Body Image

From Bristol 24/7 Magazine

Mermaid in England is a Bristol-based swimwear brand that has launched a campaign to use local women as models to advertise its brand of innovative bikinis and swimsuits. The campaign aims to promote body positivity, taking on the sharks of the fashion and advertising industries with an important message.

More than 100 women responded to a single social media post from Mermaid in England’s owner Antonia Furlong, resulting in a campaign featuring women of all shapes and sizes. It was a bold way to take a stand for body positivity and diversity, and an attempt to change the way the female body is represented in the swimwear industry and in the wider mainstream media.

“As a swimwear business, the model you would usually see representing the product is a size 6-8 with gorgeously long legs and not a blemish, wrinkle or wobble in sight,” explains Antonia. “But with 16 million people in the UK saying they feel depressed about the way they look, it was time to change. It’s clear we have a body image crisis, which in turn is a mental health crisis.

“Potential customers need to be able to 'see' themselves in the bikinis: they want to see models that look like them, who have the same wobbles and stretch marks.”

For Antonia, the campaign is very personal: “My passion that drives this is my own two daughters. My wish for them is that they grow up with a media that reflects the norm; our diverse body sizes, shapes, ethnicities and abilities and not the perceived ‘perfect’ body. I’ve spent far too many years concerning myself about it when I could have been focused and putting my energies into something more positive.

“The wonderful women who have volunteered have told me similar stories of their past and how they wish to change their futures, so their children don’t have to waste the time they have worrying about how they look.”

Collaborating with Bristol-based female boudoir and portrait photographer Viktoria Kuti, who is as passionate as Antonia about changing women’s perceptions of themselves, this inspirational team have created a strong and positive campaign for the brand.

“I was absolutely overwhelmed by the response, I wanted five volunteers and got 125!” Antonia laughs. “Clearly, this is something that resonates with many women. We have a problem where, young girls especially, are under pressure to be a certain shape or look a certain way to be considered attractive resulting in unrealistic body image ideals.”

On first inspection the collection itself seems a little stripped back from Bristol’s festival-bright colours and printed palettes with more of a simple, back-to-basics vibe. However, a little bit of mermaid magic has been added to each piece, with the swimwear changing colour when wet: from mermaid scales and animal prints through to polka-dots and ombre stripes.

Antonia says: “Mermaid in England customers feel confident wearing one of our bikinis because it changes colour. It helps them not to feel so self-conscious about wearing a bikini. It has become a metaphor for changing the way women feel about swimwear, their bodies and how bodies are represented in the media. It’s a chance to turn judgement into acceptance.”

Whilst working on the new direction for the brand, Antonia came across a film by Australian filmmaker Taryn Brumfit, the founder of the Body Image Movement, who after having her third child considered cosmetic surgery but opted to become a body builder instead. Her documentary, Embrace, is about body image and how a shocking 90 per cent of women are unhappy with their bodies.

“Something was missing from the business and by the time I watched Embrace, I knew I was going to re-launch the brand and needed to ask for volunteers to showcase all that we stood for,” Antonia adds. “This isn’t some one-off stunt or gimmick; it’s what we truly believe in. Embrace gave me the confidence to put the idea out there.”

Antonia runs Mermaid in England from her home in Sneyd Park and the garments are lovingly handmade by five women at a sustainable factory in south Wales. Supporting working women and keeping these vital skills in the UK, Mermaid in Britain are a community for women, making a positive impact and reclaiming ownership of the female body.

“We feel we have a perfect opportunity, along with a responsibility within the industry, to address imbalance. Using normal, everyday, real women to promote our swimwear means we are part of the solution, not the problem,” says Antonia. “We are a small business with big ambitions to revolutionise the way women view themselves and their bodies.

Now on their third run of photoshoots, the real women models all seem to be going through their own transformations and becoming more body confident. It’s a big step from feeling confident enough to wear a bikini and be photographed at a studio in Bristol, to having these images used in a worldwide fashion campaign.

“The photoshoots are the start of a journey for some of these women and with the support of the extraordinary Viktoria Kuti behind the camera, the images are literally changing the way they see themselves,” Antonia says. “Sometimes they are seeing who they truly are for the first time. I believe Viktoria has captured it all perfectly in her photos.”

The campaign’s models all have their own positive stories, including tattooed girls finally being accepted by their families, mothers of little girls wanting them to grow body confident just like them, but all the women involved say they feel empowered by the experience and have fallen in love with themselves again. It’s inspiring stuff and just what the fashion industry needs to make a change that has been a long time coming.

Antonia is currently seeking more real models of all ages body shapes and ethnic backgrounds for future modelling opportunities and would also like to hear from any designers who would like to be involved in future collaborations.

Prices range from £29.99 each for a bikini top or bottoms to £54.99 for a glamorous one-piece. For more information, visit www.mermaidinengland.com

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