Cover Feature

A Common Thread

Courtesy of Unify the Ties

Unify the Ties is about more than knotting your bikini

It’s hard to get Taylor Nassar to take credit for her work; like the ethos of her brand, she is quick to acknowledge all of the people who came together to make her business work.

“A lot of these tips and tools are things that were passed along to me by other sisters, mentors, women, customers — just people in general,” she said, reflecting on her experience in the swimwear industry. “And I’m grateful for these tools, and my hope is to be able to pass them along and pay them forward.”

Nassar is the founder and creative director of Unify the Ties, a San Diego, California-based swimwear brand that draws on her training in the fine arts. As a devoted painter, she digitally transfers her artwork onto fabric, creating surprising, whimsical prints for her collections. But the brand name isn’t about the mechanics of a swimsuit so much as it’s about the underlying philosophy of Nassar’s life: connecting with others.

“Often times, people think it must mean tying the ties of the bathing suit,” she said. “That was just kind of a nice little bonus. What Unify the Ties Symbolizes is much bigger than that; I believe that an individual goes through different experiences — they meet different people, places, experience different things along the way — and it’s symbolic of learning from those experiences.”

One of those foundational experiences for Nassar was a struggle with mental illness during her time at the University of Maryland, where she studied graphic design. In her battle against an eating disorder, she turned to the one thing that always made her feel better.

“I started to tap into the art-making process, because art was the only space I felt at-home with,” she said. “That’s really when I started to be able to find my calling, and I just continued to nurture my love for painting, specifically.”

Nassar was first introduced to the fashion world through a family friend who owned a local surf shop. One summer, the owners let her try her hand as an assistant buyer, and they took her to the Surf Expo trade show in Orlando, Florida. Even though the fine arts were her comfort zone, she discovered that fashion came intuitively.

“That was my first opportunity to see this industry and be a part of it,” she said. “I realized, wow, this is everything. This is exactly where I want to be.”

One of the biggest problems with the design side of things, Nassar noted, was the predictability of the prints. As a visual artist, she felt that there was a hole in the market for unique, more expressive swimwear. So, after working a stint in advertising, she decided to put her hypothesis to the test. For that, she knew, she needed support.

Nassar’s parents have always been supportive of her creativity, she said, so the first person that she turned to was her dad.

“Not going to lie, sometimes when I talk about my dad, I get a little choked up,” she said. As an only child, Nassar felt the full support of both of her parents as she fought against her eating disorder. And while her mom has taught her a lot about being independent and finding confidence, it’s the memory of her dad drawing with her on the paper tablecloths at Carrabba’s Italian Grill that makes her teary. That’s why he was one of the first people she opened up to about her dream.

“I had a conversation with my dad and I was like, ‘Look, I’m ready to go for it,” she said. “I’ll never forget the day that he picked me up from work — we had our first official business meeting at this hotel down by my job — and I presented him this vision for Unify the Ties, and he basically was just like, ‘F*** yeah. Let’s go for it.’”

Since then, Nassar said, her father has been by her side every step of the way, helping her learn the ins and outs of the business side of things, grounding her and — most importantly — teaching her about nurturing relationships. One of those relationships that has been vital to her success, she noted, is her production assistant, Ozzy Guerra.

“She’s taught me a lot about the industry,” Nassar said. “She helps me anywhere from product development to sourcing to fittings and all the way into actually producing and manufacturing, so she is woven into every single thing that I do.”

Connecting to others, for Nassar, also has a lot to do with spirituality.

“I always weave my spiritual practices into the ways that I show up as an artist and a designer,” she said. “My relationship with God, source, universe — however you relate to it — is the foundation of every decision that I make.”

She often spoke of “tapping into her inner child,” a process that allows her to channel her creativity and find joy. Both spirituality and rejuvenation are fundamental pieces of the Radiant Roots collection, the most recent collection that was initially delayed by the pandemic.

“The main inspiration was this journey that I went through in rediscovering myself and ultimately tapping back into my roots,” Nassar said. “I really started to tap into the elements as a way to work through the blocks, spheres and resistances that were coming up in my life, and those elements, like the moon, rainbow and Mother Earth, are represented aesthetically in the collection.”

Instead of focusing on pushing her collection through in 2020, Nassar decided to do some “mindful marketing” and partner with a charitable organization. That’s how she found The Art Therapy Project, which provides free “teleart” therapy services for trauma survivors.

“I was just so blown away by what they do for others because it’s so in line with my story and how art really has helped me through my own mental health struggles,” she said. That’s why 7% of the sales from the Radiant Roots collection will go to the organization.

Now that there are signs of a slightly more normal summer season (and a need for swimsuits), Nassar plans to expand her brand’s product offerings to “cater to all women.”

“I know that’s a broad statement and that it’s a process, but the goal is ultimately is to continue to design from a purposeful place and to continue to give back as much as I can,” she said. “It’s tapping into this idea that everything is connected — it’s all in how you see it.”