Fashion That’s Ethical Down to the Bikini Bottoms
I chatted with Kristy Kleist, the owner and designer of Swoon Swimwear. She creates stylish swimsuits in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We talked about why she avoids outsourcing her production to sweatshops, her favorite suit that she sells, and her plans to continue to operate her business ethically and sustainably. Kristy's swimsuits are especially great because they are reversible, so you get two suits for the price of one!
Tell me a little bit about yourself and what led you to start Swoon Swimwear.
Kristy: I have always been creatively driven, just that type of person who was always drawing ever since I was little. A lot of the time fashion designers draw a lot. A friend of mine and I always wanted to make clothes so we tried to teach ourselves and it didn't work out that great. We didn't really know how to sew, but we were still really proud of what we created. In Milwaukee, there was another fashion designer who had a small boutique of her designs. She was also teaching classes, so I started taking those classes. Really, I would credit her for teaching me how to pattern-make and how to sew. But I did also go to Parson's in New York because I really wanted to work at Kohl's, which is in Milwaukee, but I couldn't get my foot in the door there. So I thought I'd really have to strive to create a fashion product.
I had done a gallery night event here in Milwaukee. Gallery nights are when they open up all the art galleries and all the artist show off their creative projects. So this fashion designer who taught me how to sew and I did bikinis. That's what put me down the path of making swimwear.
As I was doing it more and more, I was getting interested in making the products ethically. I was always like that from the beginning, but I was getting more interested in how I could incorporate more recycled fabrics or how I could have no waste. I'm a website designer during the day, so I'm still in the creative field, but I did Wigwam Sock's website and that company is so wonderful. They're very sustainable. They have a motto of making no waste. It's cool because any waste that they have, they send it to recycling or send it to be made into something else. I though that was really neat, so I want to try to incorporate that into my work. I also like Fashion for a Cause, so someday it would be great for some of my profits to go to cleaning the oceans. My goals are headed that way.
I just love the idea of how you can make fashion not be a materialistic thing. That was something I struggled with a little. I see so many designers who use their fashion to actually help the earth. I like how that's the bigger picture and that's my goal moving forward.
"I just love the idea of how you can make fashion not be a materialistic thing."
What has been the most exciting thing for you about running this business?
Kristy: It's always making a sale and talking with a happy customer. Every time I get an order, I get excited. I get quite a few orders now, but I still love it. I love it too when a customer sends me an email. I had a girl send me a handwritten card telling me how much she loved a bikini, so that's always the best.
What's your favorite print on a bikini that you've made?
Kristy: It was actually a style from not from last summer, but the summer before. I used to have a black and white leopard print. Unfortunately, the people that I buy my fabric from ran out of that fabric. So that one is my favorite style.
My second favorite is the one you have: the black one with the flowers. That's the same one I always wear. I would say the wrap is my signature style and it's the one that gets sold the most. It's easy for women to put it on and fit it to their bodies.
Pictured: Tropical Tryst + Bohemian Black Reversible Wrap Bikini. Also known as "the black one with flowers".
What is a resource that has helped succeed as a business?
Kristy: It's not very exciting, but WooCommerce and WordPress. The tools that I used to make my website are definitely very helpful. WordPress and WooCommerce are web development tools and they're free. They're nice because if you're trying to get a small business up and running, they're free besides the hosting of the website and the domain name. WordPress is very intuitive and really nice tool.
Is there anything else you want people to know about the sustainable practices you implement in your business?
Kristy: [The swimsuits] are all made ethically. Nine times out of 10, they are made by me. Occasionally, I do recruit a couple other female-owned businesses to help out with the logistics like cutting and sewing. Sometimes it's my family helping me cut things out. I did have another blogger ask me how can she know that I'm telling the truth. So I'll send you some pictures because her question was legitimate. I can show that I'm not just sending [my swimsuits] to China.
I have found recycled fabric, so I'm going to integrate that into my collection this year. People love the prints that I choose, but those fabrics aren't recycled. But what I can do is have the black side be recycled fabric.
Swoon Swimwear's new collection will be released in late winter/early spring 2019.