September 15, 2020
As seen on Retail Touchpoints | Exclusive CEO Q&A
Andréa Bernholtz wasn’t thinking of starting a swimwear brand when she was on vacation with friends in Mexico, but she did want to find the “perfect” swimsuit — one that “didn’t bind at the neck, was adjustable to fit different shapes and body sizes, and also would change as your body changes throughout the day,” she said in an interview with Retail TouchPoints.
Most people would just bemoan the lack of such a garment and leave it at that. But Bernholtz had co-founded the luxury denim line Rock & Republic in 2002, and helped make it a celebrity favorite offering cosmetics and accessories as well as clothing. She’s the kind of person who finds solutions to her problems. Thus Swiminista was born, a brand that combines flattering, comfortable swimwear with a high degree of eco-consciousness (the suits are soft nylon fabric made from post-consumer plastics). CEO Bernholtz discussed how her commitment to sustainability informs the brand, and offered advice for other aspiring entrepreneurs.
Retail TouchPoints: Once you had the inspiration for Swiminista, what were the next steps in creating the products?
Andréa Bernholtz: I began developing the product in 2017, first by cutting up and ‘Frankensteining’ my own suits. When it came to producing the garments, beginning in 2018, we worked with one of the finest mills, using all Italian fabric — the highest quality recycled nylon. We didn’t spare any expense on the components, the fabric, even the liners inside the suits. Even the packaging we use for delivering them is recycled and compostable.
RTP: Sustainability is obviously important to you, but is it as important to Swiminista customers?
Bernholtz: Some customers may not care, and others care tremendously. But it’s my personal mission to have all aspects be compostable and recyclable. That’s why we’re part of causes like Heal the Bay and get involved in beach cleanups. In light of all the pollutants and excess in the world, we try to be as eco-conscious as possible and lower carbon emissions any way that we can.
I grew up in a recycling family; my mom engrained into us at a very young age about saving trees and the environment. It’s always been a part of who I am as a person, although when I was a child I thought we recycled because we were poor.
RTP: Swiminista offers a Personalized Fit Guide for online shopping. Does the company use the data it gathers to do further personalization?
Bernholtz: It’s really just to ensure the fit, because it’s very tricky to get the exact fit when you’re shopping online. Women put in their dress size, band and cup size for bras, and the Guide calculates what their size should be for a Swiminista suit. We spent a lot of time developing and refining that; it was one of our missions at the start of COVID. We panicked like everyone else did, then we redid our web site, guides and everything. So far it’s proven to be extremely effective.
RTP: Are there things you learned from your experience with Rock & Republic that you’ve been able to apply with Swiminista?
Bernholtz: Rock & Republic gave me an invaluable education, from the fit to how the apparel business works, what the distribution channels are, etc. With Swiminista, we applied some tricks that we did with our denim to make you look slimmer, like hidden uplifters and ruching [pleating the fabric] on the tush to make your butt look rounder. There are things within the product to make your body look better.
Both Rock & Republic and Swiminista came from an organic place. Once I was challenged to create the best swimwear, I did my homework about competitors, tariffs and sustainability. It’s important to be passionate about what you’re doing, and also to look at things from a global level. It’s also vital to become partners with your fabric people.
RTP: Are there plans to make the brand available in retail stores, or do you see its future as online only?
Bernholtz: We initially started both online and at resorts, like the Four Seasons in Hawaii and Florida. Unfortunately with COVID, those places are not operating their retail outlets even if they’re open, so I’m very grateful that the online business is excelling beyond expectations.
That said, I would love to be in retail stores; I’m open to different distribution channels. I’m working on an initiative for deliveries in October and next spring; in fact I’m looking for good sales representation. Swiminista is a line that comes from a strong background, we’ve gotten good press, and everything is lined up for success. [Before COVID], 2020 was when we were lined up to go really big; we had made a lot of waves.
One place we do work with is Body & Sol, a swimwear shop in Tarzana, Calif. They let me sit in the store whenever I like and I get to listen to women — from teenagers to women in their 60s — about what they like and don’t like in swimwear. We also just went online with Lisa Kline. We’re looking for a lot of different opportunities to spread the Swiminista love.
RTP: What advice would you give to entrepreneurs?
Bernholtz: Stay passionate and keep trying. It’s the people who push, push, push and don’t give up who succeed. With Rock & Republic, we had an accountant who said the business was just a hobby. If we’d listened to him, that business would not have grown. You have to keep pushing, even if sometimes you have to keep your day job. I did that too, for a long time. With Rock & Republic I worked 24/7 for five years, and then when the brand hit people asked ‘How does it feel to be an overnight success?’ So you also need patience.