A look back at SI swimsuit issue's humble beginnings

February 15th, 2013
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siarielAlex Cayley photo
Ariel Meredith was photographed for Sports Illustrated 2013 Swimsuit Issue's online edition, in Seville, Spain, in a swimsuit by Sarah Bolz of Maui's Kai ulu Swimwear.

In today's paper, I wrote a brief story about Maui-based Letarte Swimwear's history with the Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Issue, going back 13 years.

Another Hawaii company that made it into the issue was Maui Girl, and the online version also featured swimsuits from another Maui-based company, Kai ulu Swimwear.

spainMaui Girl suit by Debbie Wilson, modeled by Ariel Meredith and shot in Seville, Spain, by Alex Cayley. The company's swimsuits were featured in four magazine spreads, four full pages and six suits were presented in a collage format. With online presence as well, 28 of the company's swimsuits were featured.

chinaMaui Girl suit modeled by Jessica Gomes and shot by Derek Kettela in Guilin, Guangxi Province, China. Many of the suits are already available at http://maui-girl.com

The annual issue has grown into a $1 billion enterprise according to Business Insider, but the issue had humble roots.

Our sports editor, Paul Arnett, happened to have purchased the original 1964 Swimsuit Issue for $10 in the 1990s. (Original price: .25 cents). I saw one site listing its value today as $175, though of course that's dependent on availability and one's desire to own it.

It's pretty rare that a sports and fashion writer have a meeting of minds. Most times, he's making fun of me because I never know the names of the Superbowl teams, except when I can't help but pick it up through osmosis. Generally, I try to avoid all talk of football and pretend to know nothing of the game, though I went to every game of my high school alma mater, and followed the UH team when I was there, as well.

I was much more enthusiastic when he brought in the original swimsuit issue. Sports Illustrated was born in 1954, and the "Swimsuit Issue" started 10 years later, on Jan. 20, 1964. It was really just a six-page fashion spread, with a few water-oriented stories on snorkel and dive spots, but the cover—of Babette March in a white bikini—was definitely not your typical Sports Illustrated cover.

The look was also more girl next door, vs. the bombshell look look of today's models. It was all quite tame and wholesome.

According to Business Insider, the supplement was started by then-editor Andre Laguerre to increase readership during the winter lull between popular sports seasons. With a hit on their hands, Jule Campbell was chosen as SI's first swimsuit editor, taking the helm from 1965 to 1996.

Since becoming a stand-alone issue in 1997, the magazine has become "one of Time Inc.’s biggest revenue drivers over the years, bringing in more than $1 billion," according to Forbes.

The empire encompasses online editions, videos, calendars, and a swimwear website, SwimDaily.com

In contrast to the original swimsuit spread, which fits in its entirety here: (The magazine is now in ab archival cover, and I don't think Paul would let me handle it again.)

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