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Inside the Daily Grind of a Swimwear Designer

In our 9–5 series, we ask boss babes what a day in their work lives entails. This week, Vancouver-based swimwear designer Beth Richards—whose pop-up shop will be in NYC until July 10— gave us a glimpse into her daily grind

inline_01Age: 37

Education: Diploma in fashion design from the International Academy of Design in Toronto

Length of time at current gig: Nearly 6 years

How did you get into designing? I almost went to school to become a ballerina, but in grade nine, I realized I didn’t love dance that much and found myself at a crossroads. I had to fill in some elective classes and I found a clothing design course that I could take. That’s where it all happened. I fell in love with my first class and discovered that there were other things to do in life in terms of a career. This spoke to me.

What drew you to swimwear? When I moved to Vancouver, I realized that there was beach culture and saw that something that was lacking. It was a very youth-focused industry. I was faced with my own feelings of not wanting to wear something skimpy, like a string bikini, and on my trek looking for swimwear, I found myself at American Apparel or H&M, but the cuts and quality weren’t right. I just wanted something that felt equally sophisticated and that made me feel comfortable, not embarrassed. As a pretty staunch feminist, I put the pieces together—being able to help women overcome the issues they have with their bodies, one swimsuit at a time.

How is designing swimwear different than other garments? It’s next to skin, and most people feel incredibly vulnerable because it’s the next thing you have to being completely naked. As a designer, it’s about conveying your aesthetic and message in a limited space. You have very little to work with to get that fit perfected, so you really have to make those details and touches right.

How did you make your brand different from what was available? When I first started doing this, I approached it as: What do I want to wear? What do I want to see? I really challenged a lot of the typical silhouettes with things like sleeves, or collars, or turtlenecks. At the beginning people didn’t understand. I sell in a lot of department stores and there was a lot of confusion on where to place the brand, whether it should go in ready-to-wear or swimwear. There was a bit of a learning curve, but I always saw it as trying to bring a new aspect to this type of clothing.

Swimwear designer Beth Richards

The Gisele one-piece in cherry, $260 USD

What is your typical schedule like? In B.C., I’m usually up and going by 6 a.m. I work from home, so I have a coffee in hand and I’m at my computer by around 6:30am. A lot of times I won’t leave the house until noon, and then often I’ll go out to the Vancouver factory, where this collection was produced, meet with my assistant to get things under control for the day, and then head out to meetings. I usually try and end my day around 6 p.m. when I go to workout. That being said, I feel like there are no regular days and anything can happen at anytime to totally derail all those plans.

Why was it important for you to produce the collection in Vancouver? Many machine workers around the world are being exploited and many of them are, unfortunately, women and we’re really just trying to take that back. I know it just seems like it’s a swimsuit and it’s not a big deal, but I feel like in order to change the world, you really do need to make small changes in your own backyard. To me this felt really right.

What kind of girl do you have in mind when you’re designing? Chloë Sevigny has always been sort of my spirit animal, so I think a woman like that meets Kate Moss or early Brigitte Bardot—that sort of French, cool, effortless beach vibe.

What is the vibe like at your retail spaces, like the pop-up shop in NYC? I really want them to feel like a breath of fresh air, visually and literally. There’s a lot of space, so it feels very open and minimal, and the suits can speak for themselves.

How does this current offering challenge conventional swimwear? We have a one-piece that has a shoulder pad in it, and that’s not something that most people would associate with swimwear, but it creates a sort of architectural look and a bit of comfort. It’s cool details like that. Our knot top is simple but still very engineered, with the print-on grey heather that never looks wet so you still get that t-shirt look even though it’s actually still a made from a technical process. It’s about marrying those things and breaking down the convention of what people think of in terms of swim.

What piece are you most proud of? They’re all kind of my babies in a way. I love the Gisele one-piece, with a bit of boning in the front. It’s become a very interesting and sort of iconic piece, and I love the cherry print.

Swimwear designer Beth Richards

The Audrey one-piece in black, $180 USD

How has designing swimwear changed over the years? There’s a lot more competition. It’s made me much more aware of my surroundings. I want to still be able to stand alone and have my own voice and vision for this brand as things get louder and louder.

What’s the best part of your day? Probably sitting with my coffee and having a moment of gratitude and reflecting on what I can do better. Everyday is a new opportunity to do something amazing.

How does it feel to see women wearing your designs? A lot of women come in for a fitting and they say things like “I feel gross, I just had lunch” or “I didn’t get a bikini wax.” I hear the script of all the reasons why they’re not totally into it, and I get it. So having them come out of the change room and love what they’re wearing, often times their next question is: “Do you take credit?” This is why I do what I do. Having them come in loathing the whole process, and taking that away and having them be excited to go to the beach. That to me is really gratifying. It’s not so much about me seeing them in my suit; it’s how they feel in my suit.

Who are some designers you admire? I love Céline and Vetements, with their cult-like fan base and status of being admired and coveted. I think that’s how I’ve always wanted my brand to be seen.

What attributes does someone need to be a swimwear designer? It’s a tough business that is not for the faint of heart. You need a tough skin. Majority of what I do is not design, it’s running a business, putting out flyers, and learning to maneuver around challenges and mistakes. Also, it helps to have a really good understanding of the female form, since fit is a huge part of the job.

How do you unwind at the end of the day? Working out or walking my dog. Living in Vancouver helps because it’s such a beautiful place, we’re always just steps away from an amazing hike or the ocean. It makes it easy to unwind.

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