By Zoe Cooney (Reuters)
SYDNEY - The Australian designer of the burkini said she has enjoyed increased sales of the body-covering swimwear for Muslim women since three French cities banned it.
The mayors of Cannes, Villeneuve-Loubet and the Corsican seaside resort of Sisco imposed the ban last week, arguing the burkini, which leaves only the face, hands and feet exposed, defies French laws on secularism.
"Our sales have increased and the more they actually ban it, or the more they actually reject it, it doesn't mean a woman will stop wearing it," Sydney designer Aheda Zanetti told Reuters.
"I think they've misunderstood, I think that when we produced the swimsuit it was part of integration, it was part of combining cultures."
The burkini debate is particularly sensitive in France, where the full face niqab and burqa veils were banned in 2010.
Tensions between communities have heightened following deadly attacks by Islamist militants.
Last month, a Tunisian killed 85 people when he drove a truck into crowds in Nice and a Roman Catholic priest had his throat cut in church by two French Muslims. And in November 130 people were killed by bombings and shootings in Paris.
Zanetti, who has lived in Australia for more than 40 years since moving from Lebanon, designed the burkini in 2004 after struggling to find sporting garments suitable for Muslim women.
She said by using a hood to cover the head, rather than a burqa veil, the burkini had become an option for non-Muslim women.
Zanetti estimated that 40 percent of her sales go to non-Muslim women, with cancer survivors, body conscious mothers or women who want to protect their skin from the sun among the buyers.
(Editing by Patrick Johnston and Simon Cameron-Moore)