10 (plus contractors)
When Bernholtz's friends decided they were fed up with ill-fitting swimwear, they knew exactly who to turn to. Already a successful fashion entrepreneur -- she's a co-founder of Rock & Republic, an American lifestyle brand famous for its premium denim -- she took on the task of creating a better swimsuit with enthusiasm.
"I don't sew," Bernholtz says, "but I started to Frankenstein some goods together to create the perfect suit. I used the hot glue gun, the staple gun, safety pins, you name it, and then found a pattern maker to take it from there. It just goes to show that you have to work with what you have. I can't draw, and I don't sew, but I had an imagination, and I knew that I wanted to make swimwear that would give women confidence, be adjustable, and have a real purpose."
The result has grown into a highly adjustable 20-piece collection of mix-and-match tops, bottoms, and one-piece swimwear in a variety of colors and prints for women as well as a smaller collection for girls. Swiminista has also launched a collaboration collection with Christian Lacroix and released a few resort wear pieces -- namely a tunic, kaftan, and dress -- to round out their customers' options.
"Our Cheerful One-Piece is definitely our number one seller for a one-piece," Bernholtz says when describing the brand's most popular thoughtfully-designed swimsuits. "It's adjustable on the front and the back. And then we have our Joy Top, which has hidden underwires. You can wear it as a bandeau, crisscross, or classic bra style. It's universally flattering. Our Smart Bottom has side adjusters and ruching up the back, so whether you're feeling like you need a little more room or a little less room, you can adjust it."
Bernholtz's design process usually begins with talking to women about what they want from a swimsuit. This may be done on the beach in Hawaii, where she spends a lot of her time looking for inspiration, or at home in the Calabasas area. She also does pop-ups at California swim shops.
Once she has an idea for a new piece, a sample is made, and a pattern is created that is sent for grading, which is the process that determines the dimensions of the various sizes the swimwear will be produced in. Swiminista's swimwear for women is made to fit A through DD cup sizes and overall sizes extra-small through extra-large.
"Next it goes on to a marker, which is like your template, and you order all the fabric," Bernholtz says. "The template is laid on the fabric and cut out, and then it goes out to the sewers. The sewers finish it, and it goes through the QC screening process for inspection before being packaged."
Every Swiminista piece is constructed from luxury Italian fabric made from post-consumer plastics. "It's the finest swim fabric you can find," Bernholtz says, "and it's made from plastic bottles and artificial turf that goes to recycling facilities, is cleaned and sanitized, and then shredded down into fibers that are sewn into fabric."
Though Bernholtz initially wanted to keep her swimwear production in-house, she quickly realized that putting together a sewing team was going to be prohibitively expensive. "The initial investment of getting a space, hiring people, buying all the machines, the cutting tables, and everything was daunting," she continues. "Plus, you need to keep your team busy all the time. And until we get some stronger [sales] consistency, it was better to find a factory that makes swimwear all day long."
Though she declined to name her cut-and-sew partners, she says they are her "secret weapon" and she is "very happing supporting the businesses that are here in Los Angeles."
Challenges: "A lot of buyers are unsure about what's going to happen, whether they're going to have a good year or a great year," Bernholtz says, "so they are buying a little closer to season. But because we're made in Los Angeles, we're able to adapt to that."
She notes, however, that the uncertainty inherent in the last two years of the pandemic has made it impossible to construct a roadmap of what her company can expect as far as demand from month to month. "There really isn't a format to follow," she adds. "We're just going off our instincts right now."
Opportunities: In addition to continuing to lean into eco-friendly design, manufacturing, and packaging -- all the materials Swiminista uses are compostable or recyclable -- Bernholtz says she sees opportunities for the company in expanding into more retail venues.
"I know a lot of people say brick and mortar is dead," she continues, "but it's just changed. The brick and mortars that are there, I believe, are stronger than ever. And we're here to support them. We're taking those opportunities."
Year-over-year, Swiminista's sales are trending 50 percent higher than in 2021. "Our trajectory is much higher than we've ever seen," Bernholtz says, "which is very exciting for us."
Needs: "We're growing fast,” says Bernholtz, "and we're looking for great, motivated people to join our team. It's a thriving place to be, because we all challenge ourselves to do better and be better and be more creative every day."