Award: Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce Golden 44 Award, 1979
Catalina, a leading swimwear and active-wear company, originated as a manufacturer of underwear and sweaters under the name of Bentz Knitting
Mills. As the company grew, it underwent several name changes. From Bentz Knitting Mills, the company became Pacific Knitting Mills in 1912; after that, they became Catalina Knitting Mills in 1928 and finally Catalina in 1955. Catalina launched its first wool knitted swimwear collection in 1912. The company employed Annette Kellerman, an Australian swim star, as a spokesperson to launch their functional, comfortable one-piece suit. Throughout the 1920s, as swimming and sun tanning became popular pastimes and bathing-beauty contests began to be held on the boardwalk, Catalina expanded their swimwear production, always keeping in mind fashion plus function.
The 1930s and 1940s brought new excitement to the swimwear industry: the invention of Lastex, a rubber-cored thread, known for giving stretch to fabric and providing shaping and support. Catalina, one of the first to use this new thread in the production of their swimwear fabrics, first employed the new elastic thread in men's swim trunks, which were sometimes referred to as having "Lastex Appeal."
Catalina was clever when it came to marketing their product lines. The proximity of the company to Hollywood allowed Catalina to draw upon star power to help popularize their lines. Catalina's association with Warner Brothers costume designer Orry Kelly and makeup artist Perc Westmore helped them gain access to such stars as Ronald Reagan and Marilyn Monroe as models for their swimwear. Other designers also supported the Catalina label, including Elizabeth Stewart, Gustave Tassell, Frank Smith, and John Norman.
Catalina promoted their swimwear line in the 1940s through beauty pageants. The first pageant was the Miss America Pageant held in Atlantic City. Catalina became the sole supplier of the flying-fish logo suits for the competition. Although Catalina ended its exclusive agreement with the Miss America Pageant in 1950, it continued to promote its swimwear through the Miss USA, Miss Teen USA, and Miss Universe pageants. Catalina was responsible for founding all of these pageants and was exclusively affiliated with them until 1993.
In 1975 Catalina was purchased by Kayser-Roth which sold the company to Taren Holdings Incorporated in 1989. Taren Holdings declared bankruptcy in 1993 and sold Catalina to Authentic Fitness Corporation. Catalina now consists of six product lines: children's swimwear, junior swimwear, misses swimwear, misses sportswear, men's swimwear, and men's sportswear. Catalina's main operations are based in Los Angeles, with the manufacturing based in Utah for the swimwear division and in the Far East for the sportswear division. For nine decades, Catalina has "shaped" the swimwear industry. From the one-piece, skirted, wool bathing suits of the 1910s and 1920s, to the first two-piece swimsuits of the 1930s and 1940s, to the tiniest bikinis of today, Catalina has been an important design force in the swimwear industry. Catalina has retained its prominence in the swimwear industry through glamorous promotional events and well-engineered swimwear which always considers fashion plus function.
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