Bernadette Bedard: swimwear that sizzles

Crystals and a Carnival influence are the winning combination in Bernadette Bedard’s swimsuit designs

Bernadette Bedard. Photograph courtesy Passion Fruit DesignsPassion Fruit Designs` black and gold wet-look one-piece with crystal strap detail. Photograph courtesy Passion Fruit Designs

Her swimsuits feature Swarovski crystals and luxurious fabrics, and they’ve grabbed the attention of the most successful female bodybuilders and fitness models in North America. Her Canadian husband says her Passion Fruit Designs suits look “as if they’re dancing to her favourite soca”.

Yet it was only on a visit home for Trinidad Carnival at the beginning of this year that Bernadette Bedard, 43, really understood where her inspiration came from. Bedard (who’s known to family, friends and clients as “Berns”) realised how profoundly her Trinidadian heritage has influenced the success of her growing business, whose slogan is “designer swimwear with a Caribbean flair”.

Bedard (nee Butts) learned to sew by watching her mother making her school uniforms, and eventually taught herself the technical aspects of pattern-making and fashion design. She migrated to Canada in 1987, and went to Ryerson University to study fashion design and merchandising. But she later did a degree in education and taught for more than a decade.

In 2004, while trying to whittle down the post-pregnancy pounds after the birth of her second daughter, Bedard found her way to an online fitness and bodybuilding forum. The competitors had posted photos, and she thought their swimwear left much to be desired. The fit needed to be very different, and the bikini cut much higher than usual. But Bedard’s design experience was in ordinary swimwear, so she offered competitors a free suit in return for their knowledge and experience to help make the perfect competition suit.

Bedard’s first client, wearing the first of over 2,000 Passion Fruit Designs suits, won a natural bodybuilding competition. Photos were posted online, and within hours e-mail messages started pouring in. Fitness buffs and bodybuilders wanted custom-made competition suits, and Bedard’s design company was born.

Next she needed a name. She wanted one that would appeal to her clientele, but also a name that would celebrate her own heritage. As snow whirled around her tiny southern Ontario country house, it became clear what the name had to be. At her childhood home in Pearl Gardens, in the suburb of Diego Martin, grew a luscious passionfruit vine, planted by her mother. The name also seemed to represent the drive that her clients all possess. So Passion Fruit Designs was christened.

Over the past five years Bedard has worked to develop her brand. Her formative years in Trinidad show in her use of vibrant colour and vivid patterns and design, and she’s combined this with quality workmanship and attention to detail. Passion Fruit Designs introduced intricate hand-worked crystal designs, revolutionising the look of competition suits on stages across North America, the Caribbean, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Bedard’s heavily-embellished “Couture” suits, with over 10,000 coloured Swarovski crystals, first appeared onstage in 2005.

Her suits have found their way into international industry publications such as Oxygen, Muscle and Fitness Hers, Iron Man, Natural Bodybuilding and Fitness, Fitness Rx, and NPC Magazine.

She now has over 900 clients, including several celebrities. For the past few years she has been personal designer and image consultant to Tosca Reno, author of the bestselling series of “Eat Clean” diet and health books, and bikini competitor. Reno is featured on her website in a Passion Fruit Designs bikini.

Bedard also designs exclusively for Jennifer Nicole Lee, who appeared on Oprah as North America’s fittest mom, and on The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch on CNBC as one of the up-and-coming entrepreneurs in the fitness industry.

Marzia Prince, Miss Bikini Universe 2008, enthuses, “Passion Fruit Designs is the Chanel of competition bikinis. You can spot a Passion Fruit bikini in any competition line-up! I was sold when I saw my first one. I will always be a lifelong client.”

Now Bedard has launched a line of beachwear, using her experience in perfecting the look and fit of bikinis for the stage, and working with her models to develop a hot line of mainstream swimwear. Boasting the perfect fit, and daring designs, these new Peppa Sauce Bikinis feature her signature Swarovski crystal work, but in designs that can be worn in the water. She did her first Caribbean photoshoot to highlight the new line. Hand-made and ranging in price from US$50 to US$250, they will be soon available at exclusive boutiques throughout the Caribbean.

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