Kristy Kleist: founder of Swoon Swimwear
People who can design and create apparel of any kind have always inspired me. People who can design and create swimwear completely blow me away! There's so much technicality that goes into making a great swimsuit. I'm honored to introduce you to Kristy, the woman behind USA brand Swoon Swimwear. Kristy takes a very hands-on approach to her business and it shows in the quality of the pieces she creates.
Share a little about your background as a designer
It was a typical Tuesday night and my best friend and I decided it was time to bring some of our fashion concepts to life. We laid down on some fabric, traced around our bodies, and like magic we thought we were dress designers. Not so fast, unaware of seam allowances and the dimensions of our bodies, the result of our experiment yielded two very skintight dresses. However, we wore those bodycon dresses with pride.!
What was the inspiration for Swoon Swimwear?
After the skintight dress debacle, I decided to take sewing classes with a local Milwaukee fashion designer. The teacher got the class involved with Milwaukee’s summer Gallery Night. Gallery Night was our opportunity to share our design work with the community. We designed swimwear based on the summer season. This event sparked my interest in swimwear design.
I further developed my fashion design dreams and moved to New York City to attend Parsons School of Design. While studying in New York the collapse of the garment district due to overseas manufacturing was painfully apparent. This paired with the prideful mentality of Milwaukee makers inspired me to make it my goal to support America’s economy, Milwaukee’s local economy, and ambitiously manufacturer my own swimwear line, Swoon, 100% state side.
Has the brand changed much since you started it?
I knew I wanted to manufacture my designs in the USA. I found an excellent swimwear manufacturer, Swimwear Experts, in California. However, I could only afford to manufacture one bikini. Inspired by just getting married, I decided I could sell my one bikini style in a honeymoon gift bundle. The bundle included a bikini, a beach bag and a wrap. All items made in the USA. As I worked on getting my honeymoon bundles sold, I started developing a reversible bikini I could make myself. These reversible styles became my best sellers!
What's been the biggest obstacle for you to overcome?
Finding a manufacturer in the USA was an exhaustive process. Between quality control and high minimum orders I really struggled to make this happen.
How did you get over that hump?
Ultimately, many failed attempts to find an affordable manufacturer in the USA lead to me to designing styles that I can make myself. I designed a couple bikinis that are reversible with a focus on mixed prints. I think my best selling bikini’s success is because they are home grown and made with love. Literally, my sister and I sit at the kitchen table and cut them out, then myself and girl boss Gretchen, she operates the sewing school The MKE Fashion Incubator, are sewing small batches of the bikinis.
What does a typical day look like for you as an entrepreneur?
I do still work a full time career as a web designer, so in the evenings you will find me feverishly cutting and sewing bikinis, checking in with customers, posting on Instagram, connecting with brand ambassadors, prepping taxes, working on new designs and currently I just wrapped up a new product catalog photo shoot for my web site to show the new prints I will be offering in spring 2017.
Describe your personal style...
To be honest, I am more focused on Swoon Swimwear then I am my own clothes. I want to create a capsule wardrobe so I can remain focused on Swoon, but still look nice. I would say black jeans, a Henley top, and boots are my go to.
What are your favorite brands to support?
What's been the most rewarding part of founding Swoon Swimwear?
The most rewarding part about founding Swoon Swimwear is getting to express myself creatively and getting to meet all the different business owners and brand ambassadors.
Where would you like to see your business in 5 years?
My goal for Swoon Swimwear is to have more inventory on hand, to smooth out some of my processes and (my favorite part) to design at least 10 more styles. I would love to get a One-Piece, a cheeky high-wasted style and a tank top style.
See my full review of Swoon Swimwear's reversible bikini here!