Now this Black-owned business is thinking beyond bikinis.
COVID-19 hasn’t completely canceled beachwear. In fact, it’s more enticing now, especially when it’s Made in the USA.
Kayla Bell overcame many obstacles to launch her eco-friendly swimsuit company, Arrow + Phoenix, including being a young, Black, female entrepreneur and building a business with limited funds, to make her dream of starting a successful swimsuit company a reality.
The hard work paid off. Arrow + Phoenix is currently in its fifth selling season and continues to grow. Even in the midst of COVID-19, Bell says that this has been the best-selling season.
Arrow + Phoenix swimsuits have even been featured in Sports Illustrated.
Bell started the company in 2010 – on her 16th birthday. A native of New Orleans, Bell says beach trips sparked her interest in swimwear, in addition to the fact that picking swimsuits was her favorite part of the summer.
“The idea to make Arrow + Phoenix a swimwear brand came before the name. I was born and raised in New Orleans, so anytime that we could go a beach because it’s hotter than life down there, I lived for it,” Bell says. “Trips of going to Biloxi, Miss. and Gulfport, Miss. is what got me into swim in the first place, because my mom would always say I’m quiet, but I used to let fashion speak for itself for me. So, the only thing she would ever let me pick were swimsuits and so growing up that was always my favorite part of summer, picking the swimsuit, especially around my birthday.”
Arrow + Phoenix began as a blog while Bell mapped out how the company would gain traction and accomplish her three main goals: sustainability, inclusive sizing, and American manufacturing. Meanwhile, Bell worked in retail and took some classes at a community college instead of pursuing her dream of attending an art school.
Part of her motivation for the company came from her own experience. In high school, Bell struggled to find swimsuits that were age appropriate but also size inclusive. Stemming from her frustration of not finding the right swimsuit, she bought multiple swimsuits and even made her own.
This is when Bell discovered that this is a major problem for women everywhere. So, she came up with the idea to design swimsuits for women of all body types, using all sustainable fabric made from recycled materials, and making swimsuits “made-to-order” to lessen the amount of bulk. This allowed her as a designer the free range to create suits exactly as she wanted.
And being a Black entrepreneur is something that Bell doesn’t take lightly. One of the toughest challenges she has faced is walking into events and not being taken seriously or being talked down upon because of the racial stereotypes that affect the Black community, she says.
But growing up in the South is the reason that she takes her platform and movements like Black Lives Matter so seriously.
“Being Black and being in the South, and even being a woman, it’s a lot,” she says. “So I’ve always very much resonated with Black Lives Matter. It’s so bittersweet that it took… so many lives to be lost, for people that should still be here, for people to say, ‘Oh, now we’re going to amplify Black voices. Now we’re going to support the movement.’”
The unique name Arrow + Phoenix was birthed from the biblical Phoenix bird, along with a quote about arrows: “The more they are pulled backwards, the more momentum they have to propel forward in whatever direction they chose to go into.”
The name gave Bell the momentum to continue to push forward and grow her swimwear company with so many odds against her, and what is driving her toward the future.
“I really want Arrow and Phoenix to be a sustainable lifestyle brand,” Bell says. “Expansion is coming. We’re bringing candles back. We have a sanctuary section on our website where everything is handmade and it’s all sustainable. I just want to expand upon that.
“So, more items added to sanctuary and a larger athleticwear catalog will be coming and all of our pieces for that are sustainable as well. We’re expanding the skin care realm with new sustainable skin care products. We’re really just expanding our product range and now that we’ve become synonymous with swimwear, we really want to become synonymous with a full-on lifestyle brand.”
Editor's Note: Blogs like this one are intended to highlight companies that support American jobs and that make great products in the United States. We rely on companies we feature to provide accurate information regarding their domestic operations and their products. Each company is individually responsible for labeling and advertising their products according to applicable standards, such as the Federal Trade Commission's "Made in USA" standard or California's "Made in USA" labeling law. We do not review individual products for compliance or claim that company products comply with specific labeling or advertising standards. Our focus is on supporting companies that create American jobs.