Breaking down barriers, and making it look easy, is the Zimmermann way. They fast won a loyal following – smart, sartorially savvy women with an eye for quality fabrics and clever cutting.

Sisters Nicole and Simone Zimmermann began their creative and business partnership in 1991. Nicky, who had wanted to be a fashion designer from childhood, started the business single-handedly after working for just six months with a swimwear designer. She is the creative force who has overall design control and shapes the label's market positioning. Simone, who joined the business 18 months after Nicky's first tentative steps, takes charge of the day-to-day business demands. With a degree in fashion from East Sydney Technical College, Nicole manages the creative process while Simone, with her background in marketing, oversees production and sales.

Trained at the renowned design studio at East Sydney College - a launching pad for other Australian fashion luminaries including Akira Isagowa, Lisa Ho, Alex Perry and Michelle Jank - Nicky Zimmermann's swimwear designs are cut from a different cloth. She fuses fashion with functionality to create body-sculpting beachwear that transcends stereotypical swimming attire. As she has often remarked to reporters: "We just never understood why swimsuits and fashion had to be mutually exclusive."

Such awards are welcome recognition for a working lifestyle that sees the Zimmermann sisters work often-torturous hours. Holidays have been few and far between. The motivations are simple: "The challenge and satisfaction."

While she declines to identify a defining moment in the label's success, there is no doubt that acclaim at Australian Fashion Week in 1996 catapulted the Zimmermann label into a different stratosphere.

A collection of trend-driven swimsuits wowed audiences. Sassy and stylish, they featured graphic prints and risqué cut-away designs rarely seen on the catwalk. Buyers were impressed - and an interview with internationally renowned fashion journalist Elsa Klensch on CNN "opened a lot of doors".

Today, with Nicky still in charge of design and Simone the savvy business manager, the Zimmermanns have struck a perfect balance of creativity and entrepreneurial spirit.

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