I just got back from a whirlwind weekend in Hawaii, where I had the privilege of debuting Sienna Swim at the first annual Hawai’i Swim Show. The event was founded by two of the smartest and most inspirational women I know – Kali’a Leimakani Kekela Wasson and Taylor-Megan Kawaia’ala Matas.
Kali’a became a friend back in Fall 2020 when she first launched her new bikini brand, Leimakani Swim. She sent me an email asking if I would consider modeling for her and after one look at her designs, I was at the beach shooting photos in her suits within a few weeks. I love Kali’a’s designs, and her passion for creating. The photos I took in her designs soon went viral and were featured in Elle Magazine Mexico. Soon after she was the first Hawaiian designer featured in Miami Swim Week and Sports Illustrated swimsuit magazine! I was so proud of her and still am! In spring of 2021, I called Kali’a for advice about starting my own bikini brand and her support and excitement for my little venture was nothing short of the love I got from my own big sister. For that I will forever be grateful.
That support – Kali’a’s very essence — flowed into this weekend’s events too, especially between designers. I had tears in my eyes at the end of each show, just watching the models and the community celebrating each designer and their hard work because – here’s the thing – starting and running a bikini brand is a lot of hard work!
My favorite part about being invited to these amazing swim shows is seeing the ways each designer is incorporating both trending styles and classic staples into their own collections.
By now, we all know that fashion is cyclical and even designers at the very tip top of the market end up with the same colors and themes in their collections. *Cue that Devil Wears Prada scene where Meryl Streep delivers the monologue of a lifetime about the origins of Cerulean.*
The Fashion industry is incredibly saturated, and that only becomes more true as we niche down into branches like swimwear. This year, my team and I studied market trends and found that the 80’s are actually replacing the longstanding 90’s comeback we’ve seen in the last 10 years or so. Bright colors, high cut legs, and sporty-inspired cuts were coming back with a vengeance this year, very a la vintage Body Glove.
At the swim shows, I love seeing the ways the other designers and I tackle the trends differently and cater to our specific demographics. I have always been so inspired by my Brazilian fan base who revere the cheeky-style swimwear, and most of my designs reflect that slightly more risqué cut. Alternatively, some of the other designers I admire are catering to different demographics with more full coverage offering. I had so much fun on Friday watching the other designers from the sidelines and seeing how incredible everyone’s work was.
This industry is so much better and so much more fun when we collaborate and congratulate rather than compete and compare. In a world where women are constantly pitted against each other, it’s so nice to be part of a group of driven, spectacular creators who cheer each other on–online and off.
As a woman and a business owner, I firmly believe in supporting other women business owners, which is why weekends like the one I just had at Hawai’i Swim Show are so incredibly regenerative for me. Working alongside these women reminded me that when powerful, creative, supportive people come together in celebration of our passions, beautiful things happen. I can say with pride that all of the brands who participated at Hawai’i Swim Show have these same values too. I felt so seen and supported by these women, and by the women and men who lit up the runway wearing our collective designs, which were both similar and different from each other in so many ways! I left Hilo with another community of sisters who I would do anything for.
I loved the conversations I had across the community about what it takes to start a business, design swimsuits, and plan for launches. I thought I would use this week’s journal entry to recap some of those conversations. 🙂
Here are the questions I was most asked:
Who owns Sienna Swim? Sienna Swim is owned 100% by my family and me. A few people asked who was funding Sienna Swim and assumed that I was simply the “face” of some bikini brand I have no say in. I get why they would ask that, there are definitely influencers out there who have those types of arrangements for their brands. But Sienna Swim isn’t a merch brand or just some product I slapped my name on. I spend weeks on designs and going back and forth with our manufacturer on samples and changes for each design. My mom is behind the customer service emails, my dad is on a first name basis with our local post office where he drops off packages that aren’t sent by our fulfillment center in New York. My older brother makes our videos, my little brother helps unpack and inventory our on-hand stock in a really hot garage, my older sister gives me fit notes on every design, my best friends model for me, photograph the collections, and even do some of the branding. We don’t farm anything out and that’s the way I like it. We aren’t a big brand yet but even when we are, my goal is to keep it family-led, because the people who have encountered our team in person have remarked on the way our team (my family and friends) make them feel good. I want to keep making people feel good and creating things with the people I love.
How far in advance do you plan your designs? I work about six months in advance on each collection. The Miami top and bottom took me a bit longer though. I originally had the idea for a layered suit at the end of 2021 and even posted a picture on my Instagram in two suits layered on top of each other. I used this as inspiration, but getting it to its final form was a process that took six months! I went through three iterations of designs – like do we stitch just the tops of the fabrics together? Or offer two separate bottoms to layer? Or attach the whole thing as one non-moveable piece? It was some work! It’s such a seemingly simple piece but everything on those layers had to be exactly right. I’m very picky when it comes to the fit and styles of these suits. So many of our designs have been cut, redone, or thrown out all together during our fitting processes. I give my feedback and then we host feedback sessions with sample models from size XS-3XL who give us their recommendations, and then we compile that information and edit our collections accordingly. Every piece I put out is a reflection of me, my team and the people who support us, so bringing it from idea to reality is a process we take very seriously that requires a lot of patience.
What inspires your designs? I spent a year studying the comments of my TikTok and Instagram accounts to see what women were saying made them feel their best, and I also studied the fashion industry as a whole. For collection two, which I started working on in May (even before our first collection launch!), I knew I wanted bright colors in blues, pinks, greens, yellows and orange. The browns were actually inspired by an old picture I saw of my mom as a little girl in the early 1980s wearing a two-toned OP tank top (giving very much Stranger Things). It was adorable, and I knew I wanted to recreate it in a bathing suit. Collection three, which will be out in early November, is already at the manufacturer and will be much more “resort-wear” focused for holiday vacations and travel. What inspired me: Christmas in Hawaii; back to basics colors that can be dressed up or down; and a matching mesh lace set – a dress, pants and bikini top. I debuted an early look at Hawaii Swim Show but this particular design has been with the manufacturer since May – now going on our third sample. It’s a process but I need to get it right because if I won’t wear it, I don’t expect others will either.
Is Sienna Swim sustainable? My swimsuits are made using low-impact materials by people paid fair wages in safe conditions. We use only the highest quality fabrics in a facility committed to recycling fabric, reducing pollution and taking care of the environment. That was incredibly important to me when we were looking for a manufacturer. We aren’t yet making our suits using recycled plastic water bottles like some brands are, but employing circular or zero waste processes is one of our goals as we keep growing. We started doing this with collection two — using leftover fabric from other projects as the binding for each of the suits. It may seem small, but the environmental impact of using leftover fabric is big. We plan to do more of this.
What’s the future hold for Sienna Swim? As one of the only non-native Hawaiian designers this weekend, what inspired me most was the other designers’ commitment to the ocean and to the environment. I live part-time in Hawaii and whether I’m in Southern California or Oahu, I’m in the ocean practically more than I’m at home. As a start-up company with just a few months of operations behind us, almost every dollar we are earning right now is going back into the business. It’s what my mom calls “boot-strapping.” Moving forward, I’d like to incorporate a give-back element to my business to honor the ocean and my communities. I have some ideas that I’ll be bringing to reality early next year. Until then, I’m going to keep focusing on the change I am hoping to foster in this industry from the inside out.
Thank you for reading, for caring and for supporting me. Opening, running, learning and growing a new business at 18 years old is incredibly exciting, but it’s so much more than a business to me. My passion for comfortable, flattering swimwear is something that I’ve had since I was little. Starting this business saved me in so many ways, and I wake up every day so grateful that I get to do what I love. I’m even more grateful that so many other women in this industry are trying to do the same and that for maybe the first time in history, we’re seeing bikinis made by women for women that cater to all different body types, styles and needs. Whether you find your perfect fit with my brand or with another, my hope is that myself and other brands can continue to create a space where everyone feels represented. I want to be a brand that changes the way people feel about themselves in swimwear for the better and I’m committed to making it the best bikini brand I can while supporting other women business owners who have a passion for what they do, too. <3