Caitlin Kelly is a fashion swimwear designer who recently launched her own line. Being in business for herself barely a year, she already has propelled her brand to the top of the charts. This includes a recent editorial in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition where Kate Upton was photographed wearing one of her extremely sexy suits. I had a chance to speak with Caitlin and learn about her and her motivation behind her brand. It was a pleasure to speak to such a driven, motivated and centered woman. Caitlin is truly going places!
Q- Tell me about how you got your start in fashion.
C- Oh my goodness. My mom always said when I was a kid I was into Punky Brewster. She’d dress me up and I’d put my bandana around my knee and what not. When I got into high school and college, I really wanted to dive into fashion. I was told by teachers that I wouldn’t amount to anything because I wasn’t good at math and science.
Fast forwarding to now, being able to do what I love is affirmation that I can do amazing things. I went to FIT and studied fashion design. I did the study abroad program in Italy and then came back and finished here. I had a job in the industry in outerwear while still in school. It was like “The Devil Wears Prada”, going to school full time and working a 40 hour work week. I was there about two years and when I graduated, I thought I was all set with a job. I asked to be put on full time but was told that they were eliminating my department.
The first job I applied for was for a major retailer designing swimsuits. My friends would say “well, how much can u do with a swimsuit?” I was like, are you kidding, you can do a million things! I took the time to learn everything about the industry, including manufacturing and the ins and outs of the business. I fell in love with the idea of being inspired by evening wear.
I took a huge leap of faith and moved from mass market to another job. I wound up very unhappy with the dynamic of it all and the hierarchy, working under someone. It felt like people were trying to put you in your place, instead of letting you blossom. I talked to my family about whether I wanted to be a designer or make cupcakes (laughs). After all, no one gets mad over frosting and cupcakes! I love to design and my husband told me that I was too good at what I do not to be in my field.
Q- How did you segue from working for someone else to creating your own line?
C- I spent about a year at a new job where I designed an amazing line. The designer took the line, came back and said that she had sold her line and that she was getting rid of all of her employees. The companies that I was designing for were doing really well and I decided I could do it for myself. The parent company kept me on and I was able to blossom and spread my wings.
I had known for a while that I wanted my own line. I didn’t want to go up against the heavy hitters in the mass market swim circuit. There is a contemporary market, but it’s completely saturated by anyone that wants to have a swimwear line. Then there are the unknowns. Miami has a big trade show in July where lines come and go. I wanted staying power for my brand.
I went into a high end store and tried on a $600 bathing suit. I’m a size 2 petite and I couldn’t get on a small. Medium was snug. I tried on several brands, and the fit was really off. I looked at them for construction and also noticed underwire popping out.
In fashion, there’s that woman that will pay $600 for a suit and not bat an eyelash and the one that says ‘this is my one major purchase for the year’. Monitoring quality control, having my suits made in NYC and literally measuring everything to make sure that its right assures that my customer is getting what she paid for.
To take it step further, I challenged myself and saw the lack of design and convertibility in swimwear. A lot of my suits can be worn different ways; a bandeau, a halter, a skirted piece. A lot of pieces can go from day to evening, are completely versatile and don’t use underwire, but still offer necessary support.
Q- How long have you your own line and what was it like having one of your suits featured in Sports Illustrated?
C- I launched in June of 2012 and literally opened my doors in February. I’ve been sending my suits for a while to Sports Illustrated. I’d send some out and they’d come back. After the third time or so, I sent an email asking for some advice as to what I was doing wrong. I was told that my suits were too covered up and too big. I was literally sending size XS, which is a 4 according to my size breakdown.
It was kind of a joke when I took one of my bodies and I put it in this fabrication; a light mesh. I lined it with gold lining. Friends and coworkers said: “It’s see through!” I knew that. I was trying something different and pushing my own boundaries. I sent it and it never came back and I’m going ‘Oh my God!’ Then I got an email a couple of months ago. They asked me to confirm the price and that it was my suit. A few days before it came out, I got a call from my husband. He said “are you sitting down?” He tells me that Kate Upton is wearing my suit in Sports Illustrated and sent me the photo. The entire night, I was in shock! It’s so humbling to have been accepted. They receive so many submissions from amazing designers.
Q- Many times, as women we’re self-conscious about our bodies, especially in swimsuits. Is there any advice that you can offer in regards to looking our best in swimwear?
C- I would say to always try it on. I put so much thought into the fact that a woman is going out in her underwear. There are many things to factor in mind; being innovative, a woman’s figure, pushing boundaries but letting her know that it’s ok to try something new.
I also suggest being sized properly in a specialty bra or swim shop. Don’t be afraid to step outside the box and try different styles and brands. Stick with what works for you. As a new designer, I see things I want to change in the world of swim. I’m getting great feedback on fabrication, hidden support and cut. I’m hoping that the new designers will focus on not just being a fabulous designer, but on solving a problem. With swimwear, it’s not easy making a woman feel absolutely comfortable in what she’s buying. In general, if you don’t feel comfortable in what you’re wearing, you probably shouldn’t buy it.
Q- I know you just opened up a new showroom. What kind of expansion are you looking to do going forward, and where do you see the Caitlin Kelly Brand in the next five years?
C- I definitely want to branch out and grow the brand. I plan on expanding to a more contemporary price point and offer some younger styling. I started offering some men’s and I’d love to do more of that and kid’s swim as well. I want to expand into accessories and eventually collaborate with mass retailers. All in all, I want to become a household recognized lifestyle brand.
Qiana L Williams