“Nothing feels as good as a customer photo coming in from her honeymoon, trip with family, girls vacation or just in her backyard on her deck. The joy in their faces says to me I have made an impact”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Plus-Size fit model and founder of Curvy Beach, Elizabeth Taylor. After a viral success on Facebook of 12 million views and her first stock of 100 bikinis selling out in 24 hours — Elizabeth Taylor changed the entire fashion industry. She knew in her gut women of all sizes wanted string bikinis and she was determined to give it to them. Combining her passion for 80’s vintage silhouettes and the fit expertise of a garment industry pro, Elizabeth knew it was time start her own line: Curvy Beach.
Born and raised in Southern California, I knew there was something missing in the swimwear market. With over 10 years of plus-size model experience, I found myself longing for the luxury swimsuits that my smaller size friends were wearing.
Curvy Beach was created because of Miami — sitting on those beaches for hours, watching the parade of bikinis walk by. I thought, “They must have so many different sizes down here — I will finally be able to find one!”. Sadly, I was very wrong. I found myself walking up and down Lincoln Road for hours, vainly trying on the largest bikini I could find which would barely cover the ‘necessary parts’. I knew if I wanted one bad enough, so would other women.
When I couldn’t find a bikini that fit me, I decided to make my own. Curvy Beach is a radical rethink on beach fashion that reinvents the bikini style in a way that suits more body types than ever before. My goal is to offer bikinis in the fabrics, fit and feel of traditionally higher-priced brands, so all women feel comfortable at the beach and confident in their own skin.
There has been many, but a classic one is when a UPS dispatcher called me to say the driver couldn’t find my warehouse, so she looked up my site to find my contact info and now has all the other dispatchers around her computer because “Your bikinis are GORGEOUS!!! Thank you for making this for US!” It made a crazy, stressful moment turn sweet reminding me how many people it takes to get the job done and more than anything, how many women need Curvy Beach!
At Curvy Beach, we truly believe “Life is Short, Love your Body”. Our customer relates to our brand, because we are real with her and what her needs are. I have been there, just the same as a woman living in New York City or a Mid-west mom of three. We all know what it’s like to feel insecure at the beach, the pool or even alone trying on bikinis.
One of my all time-favorite moments was when a customer messaged me when I was traveling in Miami working with our factory — she was desperate for a bikini and we were completely sold out. All I had with me were “salesmen samples” — ones we use for photo shoots. Her messages were so sweet and she was on vacation from Detroit but most importantly she was the exact size of the last few samples I had. It felt right so I told her she could meet me in this random parking lot by the beach, where I was headed that afternoon and I would give her the suit. When she came out of the car, I started cheering and rambling on — how fun it was to meet a customer and thank you so much, blah blah blah. She started speaking to me in Sign Language. She was deaf. We hugged and took selfies and held back my tears until I turned away and was walking towards the beach. We never know the journey others are going through and how one simple piece of clothing can bond us. That is one of my most treasured memories of Curvy Beach.
My pattern maker/mentor is the #1 reason Curvy Beach exists. She didn’t need convincing, she was on board from the get go as she was also a size that had traditionally been left out of luxury swimwear. From standing in my underwear in her living room and draping fabric over me to taking late night frantic phone calls when we exploded and ran out of stock in 24 hours, I owe much of my success to her. Although she would say about me, “You were a great student”.
One of my favorite stories with her was the night of my first photo shoot for Curvy Beach. I was literally shooting in my photographers living room with a shower curtain taped to a wall so we had a clean, white backdrop. I had originally wanted beads on the side of each bikini (and I will get there one day!) but I hadn’t told my factory so I had to manually thread each bead myself.
My pattern maker had warned me how long this would take but alas, sometimes I am not always a good student and left it to the last minute. I’m frantic, in Queens NYC, running from the subway with all my bags and samples and trying not to ruin my makeup and hair, already running late to an 8pm shoot. “What do I do about the BEADS?!” I ask her. She quickly made a little video from her living room in New Jersey of using a piece of yarn as a pulley, how to thread each one. I literally had to stop on the site of the street with my suitcase and laugh as I watched her detailed video. When I called her to say I can’t do it that fast she said, “You know what? F THE BEADS!” So that is one of our catch phrases when things get too complicated, “F the beads!” and keep moving forward.
Always! As this was my first full year in business, I am learning the “Swim Calendar” and how to prepare for next season. When I started, it felt like a one-shot deal — I do the line, I sell it and what’s next. But much to my joy and surprise, it has kept going! So I’m happily learning how to grow into the next year as well as accept my dream has come true of becoming a designer.
In terms of product, we are developing new styles that our customer has asked for. That’s the beauty of Social Media — you can keep in touch with your customer and literally ask her what she wants. For the woman who is not ready to show as much skin, I’m more than happy to give her new silhouettes that match up with the Curvy Beach attitude and quality she is used to. As well as going even smaller with our sizing as women from Size 4 and up want our bikinis. We had started at a Size 12!
Also, we are dabbling our toe in Trade Shows as well as partnerships with department stores for Drop Shop programs. Cross your fingers!
Nothing feels as good as a customer photo coming in from her honeymoon, trip with family, girls vacation or just in her backyard on her deck. The joy in their faces says to me I have made an impact. A customer recently told me she has lived in her housing community in Central Texas for almost 2 years now and finally, in her Curvy Beach bikinis, she has started going to the pool. I can be having a super stressful moment, juggling my factory and warehouse, freaking myself out, and at that exact moment I see a photo pop up on our Instagram. A glowing Curvy Beach Babe, floating down the river in our Cheetah print bikini and it makes it all worthwhile, and then some.
My mother and sister are librarians, so I was lucky enough to grow up in libraries. While many, many books have had an impact on me I would say The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf is the one that truly changed it. A seminal feminist book of the 90’s, Wolf explains that our society has trapped women in a Beauty ‘Myth’ that is unattainable which always leaves us wanting to change more about ourselves. I read it during the depths of my anorexia while at NYU and beyond all the counseling, expensive therapy and Weight Watchers — the message of that book woke me up. I no longer wanted to be a pawn of an industry that would never accept me as I am. When I was fortunate enough to meet Naomi Wolf (as she was crossing my path on Central Park on summer day!) I made very sure to tell her that. I am so proud and humble to be making my own change for women with my brand.
And I think what truly made women respond to our viral Refinery 29 video on Facebook, was when I said, “We don’t have all the time in the world. We have to start loving our bodies as they are NOW”. That is also why we do not airbrush our models and always put the model in the size bikini she would normally wear so women get truly get a sense of what she would look like. That is very, very important to me — “Truth in Advertising” and I think it’s a pillar of my brand.
1) Stop thinking about it, take action! We can talk ourselves out of anything. But when my pattern maker told me to purchase the first two yards of fabric to start the process, it felt totally different then all the months and years I had spent talking about it.
2) You will have to humble yourself. The first return request I got, I started crying. What?? A return?? Do I return clothes, of course I do! You have to learn how to say you are sorry and take responsibility. The let it go. I sent the wrong tracking to a customer who was leaving on a vacation (this is very common in swimwear!) and she sent me a very *strong worded* email about it being late. After refunding and apologizing, I texted my father that this was too hard — I didn’t think I could make it. He wrote back, “Everything worth anything is hard. You will make it — I know you will”. I plan on having that text printed out and framed when I get Curvy Beach offices.
3) There are not enough hours in the day. From emailing with fabric houses in China at midnight to texts from my factory at 7:30am, you will need to exist on less sleep than you ever have but it will be worth it and always get easier.
4) “No” is not the final answer, it just means you need a different solution. I had called my pattern maker, frantic about a deadline I would miss for getting my tags in production. (Yes, from tags to plastic bags — you have to produce it ALL) and she told me to calm down and re-adjust my calendar. And her classic line of “It’s not ‘no’, it’s just a different way around it”. I think of that daily.
5) People will copy you — but there is only one YOU. This has been very hard for me as the entire plus industry is now doing string bikinis. What was at first intimidating, is now a good challenge — as I stand by our quality, our producing in the US as well as the connection to our customers.
No question, it would be Sara Blakely of SPANX. To me, the most successful woman in the world and as real as they come. From her Instagram stories making pancakes with her kids on Sunday mornings to her body positive marketing, she is exactly who I would love to talk about HER journey to success and how it relates to Curvy Beach. If you are reading this Sara, the bikini is on me!
If you would like to see the entire “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me” Series In Huffpost, Authority Magazine, ThriveGlobal, and Buzzfeed, click HERE.
Originally published at medium.com