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Against the Tide

Courtesy of Swiminista

How one swimwear brand prioritized sustainability through the pandemic

For someone who lives at the beach, swimwear is an undeniable part of life. Unfortunately, so is ocean plastic.

That’s partly why Andréa Bernholtz, founder of Swiminista, decided that her second venture was going to be as environmentally sustainable as possible.

“It’s amazing the advances that have come … that are recyclable, compostable and eco-friendly,” she said, thinking back to Rock & Republic, her first fashion brand that she eventually licensed to Kohl’s.

All of Swiminista’s swimwear is made from recycled plastic bottles, Bernholtz explained, and its packaging — down to the liners for trying on bottoms — is compostable. For someone who sometimes spends Saturdays picking up trash on Laguna Beach, it was a no-brainer.

Bernholtz has always been a beach bum; after growing up in Southern California and graduating from high school, she moved to Hawaii instead of attending college. Her self-taught eye for design, she noted, helped rather than inhibited as she created her first brand.

“Frankly, it didn’t give me any limitations — I didn’t know if I was not supposed to do something,” she said. “I learned really in-depth on how to create the product, how to get it manufactured, all the components. It was really a great experience, the whole ride of it.”

Her first brand, Rock & Republic, is best known for denim. In its heyday, it was worn by celebrities as big as Beyoncé and Megan Fox. Unfortunately, swimwear was one of the only categories where it didn’t stray.

“Swimwear is a completely different animal; people are much more conscious of their bodies than when they’re wearing a pair of jeans,” Bernholtz said. Still, she has no regrets about her professional training.

“If I did this over, I wouldn’t have taken any fashion courses,” she said. “I would have taken business, and I would have taken psychology. I think those are the two fundamentals, no matter what you do in the world.”

Despite her lack of experience (which has never stopped her before), Bernholtz decided to try swimwear after hearing friends complain about the fit of existing swim suit brands.

“I used to wear this strapless bra to the beach, and I’m really busty, and women would say to me, ‘oh my God, how did you find a bandeau top that fits your bust?’” she said. “I’m always Frankensteining them, I’m always taking them to get altered or changed; why don’t I just parlay this into something that everyone can enjoy?”

To get the right amount of support and comfort, Bernholtz begins her design process with a bra and builds from there. Some end up being more like bralettes or sports bras; others act as push-up bras.

“The biggest thing for me is the adjustability,” she said. “There’s hidden support; there’s adjustability everywhere. You want it to change with you.”

As the spark that created the brand in the first place, fit and comfort has been the primary force in shaping the brand’s identity and sizing, which current goes up to a size 14 and DD cup. Moving forward, Bernhotlz hopes to include even more sizes and styles to increase inclusivity.

“I can’t be everything to everyone, but I want to be a lot of things to a lot of women. And I want everyone to feel comfortable,” she said.

The swim suits themselves aren’t the only things with the ability to adapt, either — Swiminista began a partnership with French designer Christian Lacroix this fall.

“I’ve always been a massive, big fan of Christian Lacroix; he was actually one of the first shows I ever attended at Paris Fashion Week, so he’s always held a special place in my heart,” Bernholtz gushed. “When I found out that they were doing collaborations with other designers, I put together a presentation, went to Paris and presented them with my thoughts. Once we agreed on it, that’s when the fun and hard work started because they have an archive of, like, unbelievable prints. Narrowing that down has been the biggest challenge.”

Swiminista will be “leaking out” the prints gradually and even using some of them in kids’ swimwear over the next season.

The partnership marks a rebound for the brand, which has been metamorphosing during the COVID-19 downtime.

“After about four bowls of ice cream and pasta, I snapped to it,” Bernholtz said, recounting how she first reacted to the pandemic shutdowns. Rather than panic, she focused her energy on redesigning her website and creating a fit guide.

Before the outbreak, Swiminista had trunk shows, retailers and resorts lined up — which, of course, were all canceled. The swim shop that Bernholtz frequented to talk to customers was suddenly unavailable. But at the same time, the world of social media was beginning to open up to her.

“I get to go in there and talk to women and hear what they want, what they don’t want, and it was really refreshing to be able to do that online at more of a global level,” she said. “And — knock on wood — my business is better than it’s ever been.”

As a smaller, newer company, Swiminista has been somewhat more adaptable to the shifting market, Bernholtz said. It has also given her team an edge in participating online and forming relationships with influencers.

“I’ve tried to look at and answer every comment, every question, everyone who likes us — I really put in the time to really be personal about it,” she said.

These interactions are made even more personal by the fact that Bernholtz has been trying to set a good example for her daughter about working through hardships — and, of course, about being good to the environment while being inclusive.

“Everything is made from the heart; everything is made with a purpose,” she said.

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