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Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition: The Battle of the Bikini Brands

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From left, the cover of the magazine's 2011 Swimsuit Edition featuring Irina Shayk pictured in Hawaii and the model in the Philippines (AP; Raphael Mazzucco/Sports Illustrated)

Scoring a coveted spot in the glossy pages of a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition does wonders for a model’s career. Just ask alumni Tyra Banks, Heidi Klum, Marisa Miller or Brooklyn Decker.

But what about the bikini manufacturers who are also featured? 

Apparently, the competition to make the magazine, and the cover, is just as stiff for the brands as it is for the models.

“The competition is so tough, to have your suit chosen out of thousands for the cover is just incredible,” Simon Southwood, who designed the pink-and-yellow Sauvage bikini worn by this year’s covergirl Irina Shayk, told FOX411’s Pop Tarts. “It is the Super Bowl of the swimwear community; I know how jealous I am when other brands make the cover, so I’m looking forward to others being jealous of us for a few months!” 

The honor didn't come easy. Sauvage has been working with the magazine for more than 12 years, but this was the first time their suit scored the cover. Shayk also donned a bracelet by accessories brand Ettika to complement her sexy swimsuit – they were lucky enough to grace the cover as S.I rookies.

"Ettika has been featured in quite a number of national and international magazines, but this is the first time it is being featured in Sports Illustrated," said designer Joey Rafaeli. "With the great popularity and reach of Sports Illustrated, we anticipate this to be huge in terms of awareness to the brand and hope that It will have a major impact on our sales, both retail and wholesale."

So how does the Sports Illustrated team decide what brands will be featured?

“We have thousands and thousands of suits that are submitted to us every year, and there is only a small chance they’ll make the issue,” explained Diane Smith, Senior Editor of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. “The way it works out is that every trip we go on we pull a couple of hundred suits that are suitable for the category, each trip has its own fashion sense. For instance, this year we went to the Philippines and wanted shades of blue. Once we go on these trips, the model usually has two full days of shooting but the night before we randomly just pull through the racks and see what suits looks good.”

And yes, luck plays a big part, as the model usually has the final say on what she wears.

“It is really important that the girls love the suits that they are going to be in which gives them more of a feeling of confidence. I let the girls go through the racks too, so it is really luck,” Smith continued. “Most of the time I don’t even know who the manufacturer is – it all happens so quickly. If the model likes something and wants to be shot in it, then fine.”

The suits that make it into the pages over the years have been massive sales successes.

“It is ridiculous how much the particular suit sells once it has been in the magazine; there is always a huge surge of excitement. The exposure is tremendous,” Southwood said, adding that the phone was already going wild with requests for Shayk’s sexy cover bikini, just hours after it was unveiled.

Amahlia Stevens, designer of the high-end swimsuit label Vitamin A, has also worked with the S.I. Swimsuit issue for years, and said that the impact of being featured generates sales by showcasing a certain suit on a supermodel, and also raises brand awareness among swim retailers.

“It is extremely competitive, and every swimwear designer in the world submits their designs for the SI Swimsuit issue,” Stevens said.

Ever since Heidi Klum and Petra Nemcova were snapped donning Beach Bunny  in the 2006 Swimsuit edition, sales for the bikini brand were given quite the boost.

“That year definitely catapulted Beach Bunny into the swimwear industry.  Buyers, press and customers pay attention to this issue as to see what is hot for the coming year,” CEO Angela Chittenden said. “I have definitely noticed an increase in brand awareness and sales after the issue hits stands.”

And according to marketing expert and President of Backstage Creations, Karen Wood, the impact of placement like this far surpasses most forms of print advertising.

“People are savvy to advertising and understand that if you have the money to advertise it does not necessarily mean your brand is fashionable or trendy.  If an editor selects a brand for a photo shoot, typically it has the seal of approval of the inside industry of tastemakers who have many brands to choose from. This equates in consumers’ minds as the hottest ‘it’ brands,” Wood said. “This S.I. issue carries pop-culture status which equates to instant confirmation of ‘hipness’ of a brand.  If Sports Illustrated deems your bikini or jewelry fit to grace one of the models, you better believe it’s a brand that other girls will want to emulate.” 

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