As It Happens

Canadian-Israeli modest swimwear designer decries flap over burkinis

A woman who moved to Israel from Toronto eight years ago designs modest swimwear with orthodox Jewish woman in mind.
Marci Rapp, left, runs MarSea Modest Swimwear, an online retailer. Tunisian women, one wearing a "burkini" a full-body swimsuit designed for Muslim women, walk in the water northeast of the capital, Tunis. (MarSea Modest Swimwear/Fethi Belaid/AFP/Getty Images)

When Marci Rapp moved to Israel from Toronto in 2008, her Canadian wardrobe didn't make much sense any more. 

"We had nine months of hot weather, of beach weather," she says.

That kind of weather poses a problem for Orthodox Jewish women who want to enjoy the sun in modest attire, she says. Few good swimwear options were available. 

"I just wasn't comfortable in what I had to wear," Rapp tells As It Happens guest host Laura Lynch this week. "So I decided to design and manufacture myself." 

A promotional photo for a few of the outfits available from MarSea Modest Swimwear, Marci Rapp's online clothing retailer. Rapp says the company offers more than 30 styles. (MarSea Modest Swimwear)

For seven years, Rapp has been producing swimwear for women and girls that offers more coverage than typical options.

She says her online retailer, MarSea Modest Swimwear, offers more than 30 styles of varying shapes and lengths.

So when French authorities were handing out fines for women wearing the body-covering "burkinis" favoured by some Muslim women, Rapp heard about it.

Rapp spoke to As It Happens the day before France's highest court struck down the ban.

"Everybody sent me that article," she says.

"I think if a woman chooses to follow her religious dictates and cover up for religious reasons, that's her choice," she says. "I cover up for religious reasons, and I don't feel oppressed. I feel free."

MarSea Modest Swimwear advertises beachwear for Jewish women, as well as other women and girls looking to cover up for sun protection or to hide marks such as medical scars. (MarSea Modest Swimwear)

But reasons for choosing swimwear with more coverage extend beyond religion, Rapp points out. She says some women wear it for simple sun protection, or to cover up medical scarring, for example.

She's grateful that she hasn't seen in Israel the kind of beachwear crackdown France has experienced.

"You go to the beach, you'll see anything from bikinis to burkinis, and everything in between," she says. "At our beaches, we're free to dress how we want to."