British Columbia·New

Swimsuit company, hospital ship nurses team up to create swimwear

A portion of the profits from swimsuit sales will go to Mercy Ships, which operates a private hospital ship that provides free primary medical care to developing countries around the world.

Portion of profits from swimsuit sales will go to Mercy Ships

The swimsuit is named the 'Mercy Ships Suit', after the organization that runs the private hospital ship 'Africa Mercy' with hundreds of volunteer medical professionals from around the world. (Nettle's Tale)

A Vancouver swimwear designer has collaborated with a team of nurses to design a suit they can wear while volunteering in countries with more modest clothing standards.

Nadine Kapteyn and three other B.C. nurses were stationed in West Africa with Mercy Ships — a charity that sends a private hospital ship to provide free primary medical care to cities around the world — when they realized they could use a specialized swim suit.

Mercy Ships operates the 'Africa Mercy', former rail ferry ship that has been refitted with five operating theatres and an 82-bed ward. (

The ship they were on, a former train ferry ship that has been fitted with several operating rooms, also had a small pool for them to swim in.

But, stationed in Guinea, a predominantly Muslim country, they struggled to find swimwear that was culturally sensitive.

"One of Mercy Ship's mandates is to ensure that they're culturally respectful to the various, very diverse countries that they volunteer in, so they encourage everyone to dress in a way that is respectful to whatever dominant culture you're staying in," Kapteyn said.

"A lot of us found that challenging, to find something out in the regular everyday market, and a lot of people just ended up wearing a T-shirt over their swimsuit."

So Kapteyn and her colleagues worked with Nettle's Tale, a Vancouver company that specializes in locally-made swimwear for women of all ages, shapes and sizes.

Ten per cent of the profits from the swimsuit will go to Mercy Ships. (Nettle's Tale)

The result is a swimsuit named the "Mercy Ships Suit," which designer Julia Church said consists of a "tankini" with a built-in sports bra, and shorts with a thick waistband.

Ten per cent of the profits from the swimsuit will go to Mercy Ships.

"It moves us away from objectifying women, or women having to look a certain way in a swimsuit, and it puts the swimsuit in a context that is about so much more than that, and I think that's what I loved about the story."

Kapteyn said Mercy Ships has been around for over 30 years, and primarily provides elective surgeries for people in developing countries who would not otherwise have access to that kind of surgery.

"There's a lot of plastic surgery [for] both infants and adults with cleft lips, cleft palates, things like that, a lot of burn contracture releases. There's also an orthopaedics program for bone deformities, congenital or otherwise."

With files from CBC's The Early Edition and Margaret Gallagher

To hear the full story listen to the audio labelled: B.C. swimsuit company teams up with nurses to create swimsuits to use while volunteering in conservative countries