The woman-owned, minority-owned, mom-owned brand designs eco-friendly swimsuits for all body types, and makes them in California.
Denise Foley launched her startup Sunset Vibes Swimwear company two years ago with a mission to provide stylish and comfortable women’s swimsuits for every body.
Foley’s American-made swimwear company has found a niche in the $6 billion American women’s swimsuit market by offering high-quality, comfortable, yet stylish swimwear for women of all ages, shapes and sizes – not just the young, thin models often featured in magazines and advertisements.
The 41-year-old Foley worked in market research for 16 years, overseeing global campaigns for some of the world’s biggest companies including Nestle, Levi’s and VISA, when her entrepreneurial spirit kicked in and she decided to address a problem millions of women encounter when shopping for swimwear.
“I grew up in Oregon, but I moved to Santa Monica in 2009 where I was always at the beach every weekend and after work and it was really hard for me to find a swimsuit that fit my body well because I’m just a little bit more curvy and I’ve always had this body type,” Foley said. “It didn’t matter how many swimwear boutiques I went to, or how long I searched. I just could never find a swimsuit I was happy with.
“I always had this dream of starting a swimwear line and I realized that a lot of women have body types like mine and that there is this huge market for women that couldn’t find swimwear that fit them well. One of the main issues I had is that if a swimsuit was supportive, it was very matronly, and I just wasn’t at that stage of my life yet. But then if it was stylish, it offered no support and really wasn’t the look that I wanted.”
It was a vacation in Brazil that inspired Foley to address the women’s swimwear industry from a different point of view.
“Brazil has a very strong and high-end fashion scene, and they had all these swimwear boutiques and I realized that swimwear and beach culture is very tied in with Brazilian culture, and I came back to America from this vacation, and I realized this wasn’t very apparent in the swimwear industry in the U.S.,” she said. “There are the teeny-weeny bikinis in Brazil, 100 percent, but I will say that the biggest difference is in Latin America, women are grown and raised to truly embrace their bodies and they just wear what they feel good in.
“I realized that self-loving of one’s body was missing from our culture, so the mission of my company is to empower women to love their bodies, one swimsuit at a time.”
Foley believes that every woman deserves the right to feel comfortable and sexy in a swimsuit, no matter their shape or size. The problem with most swimwear companies, she says, is they start their prototypes with a size small and just add a bit more fabric each size up which are fitted for women in their 20s.
“We didn’t follow that process,” Foley said. “We created the prototype. I am size 10-12, and we used my body as the prototype, and going up and down we adjusted each size on how it fit on different women. So, the end result is if you are a woman wearing a one-piece or a two-piece, your bust isn’t spilling out on the sides, and you still have nice supportive cleavage.
“It’s not over the top. And, also a pain point a lot of women had is that swimwear might dig into their hips, and we make our bottoms so they specifically don’t dig into your hips. We also have only one top with a wire, but what we did different is where the wire goes there is a special type of material that the wire goes through and when the woman is wearing it it does not dig into the skin and is very comfortable.”
Sunset Vibes Swimwear is a woman-owned, minority-owned, and mom-owned business, and Foley wants the company to be a disrupter in the industry. If you have noticed recent television commercials for women’s clothing, today’s ad agencies have taken notice as well. Instead of waifish models displaying fashion products, more women of all sizes, shapes and colors are now represented.
Foley is trying to bring this same attitude to women’s swimwear – along with changing the norms of how it’s made.
All Sunset Vibes Swimwear apparel is manufactured at one of four facilities in Los Angeles. The swimsuits are a combination of Spandex and polyester which is Revere certified, meaning the polyester in each swimsuit is milled from 12 to 15 recycled water bottles. The fabric is also sourced in California.
“We by choice choose to work with manufacturers in the U.S. so we can give back to our economy and to reduce the carbon footprint by not waiting on cargo to come in from China or other places,” Foley said. “Everything is made in the U.S., and that’s one of the reasons the pricing of the swimwear is more expensive.
“But the material itself is very luxurious, very high-quality and has SPF 50 sun protection, so it doesn’t fade and it doesn’t stretch out. Because we do have everything produced in the U.S. and we work with very good manufacturers, the cost of production is also more expensive than something made in China.”
But the excellent American-made quality provides a swimsuit fit that can’t be found in fast fashion rivals sold at Target or Walmart.
“One of the unique features about the company is how the tops fit, because they are very, very comfortable,” Foley said. “They are supportive and functional, but are still sexy to wear. If you are going to go swimming, you are not going to accidentally pop out and have an accident. If you wear our top, it will not hurt your neck or your shoulders.”
Foley designs the suits herself with help from a product developer. But when she began her swimsuit manufacturing journey, her closest confidant was her mother, Nerida Cochagne, who left her native Peru in the 1960s and became a clothing pattern maker in Los Angeles. Now that Foley has a 1-year-old son, her mother continues to help her out.
Cochagne has a wealth of experience. She has made patterns for the designers of Beyonce’s Homecoming Tour outfits and Super Bowl dress, and even designed patterns the old-fashioned way — most of today’s patterns are computer generated — for celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Cardi B. And back in the day, she even did dress patterns for one of the original divas, Zsa Zsa Gabor.
Foley’s initial sales came at her first trade show, The Swim Collective in Huntington Beach, Calif. Her brand is increasingly gaining recognition, and next week she will be exhibiting at Miami Swim Week at the Miami Convention Center.
“I am really excited, and as an exhibitor, it is really big deal to get in because they just don’t accept any brand,” Foley said. “This will give me exposure on the East Coast, the Southeast, and the international market. This show is like the New York Fashion Week or Paris Fashion Week for swimwear.”
Foley hopes to sell her American-made brand globally, and has recently brought on two salespeople and a social media manager.
“I know I am just a little startup right now, but I did create my company to be a disrupter in the swimwear industry because I do think these brands that are trying to be more inclusive may not be going about it the right way,” Foley said. “We have a unique approach to it and besides having sales, I really do want to empower women to feel more confident in a swimsuit. It is something that is definitely needed for the majority of women.”
Sunset Vibes Swimwear currently comes in five assorted colors with sizes ranging from 4 to 22. Two-piece bikinis, which are available to mix and match, retail from $235 to $245. A one-piece swimsuit is priced at $190. Sunset Vibes Swimwear is available at several boutiques throughout Southern California and can be purchased through the company’s website.