Is it strange enough to sell your handmade product to Miley Cyrus? Ali Conway says, “Confidence, baby!” — and ticks that off of her to-do list.
She founded Strange Bikinis in 2012 to prove that a strong message is what makes the difference between a brand and “just another brand”.
Some people are still trying to create the demand for their swimwear using Photoshop and Victoria Secret’s model types. Ali has chosen a different path — delivering quality designs to real women that make every body shape look gorgeous. And it’s she who ships her handmade swimwear internationally.
In this post, we’ll look into her ways of doing one-woman-for-every-woman business.
From Training to Thriving
It’s the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising that helped Ali develop her skills and get her degree in Fashion Design. But we’ll talk about life lessons rather than those learned at the institute desk.
“The reason I made my first swimsuit is that I wanted one that made me feel awesome and look awesome! Swimsuit shopping is miserable and it shouldn’t have to be. Flattering cute and bold details set my design apart but the quality is what makes them so strange. Because strange means awesome.”
Posting a single photo on Instagram was an outbreak for her business — she sold 3 swimsuits that day.
Yes, shouting out your idea to the crowd is blood-curdling. Yes, success might not happen overnight. However, Ali’s story teaches us that confidence in your personal vision matters more than having a flawless business plan ready.
I maybe sewed 3 swimsuits as gifts before I started Strange Bikinis.
So what is the secret to starting a fashion brand that instantly makes sales?
As soon as Ali started the brand, she got sales and demand, so she knew that she was making something special. What she needed was a strong message on why being a Stranger (which is what she calls her customers) is way better than anything else. So it came to be:
“I basically want anyone to feel welcome to wear Strange Bikinis… not like other brands that try to keep people out of their products by sizing them incorrectly or pricing them unfairly.”
The brand name is doing its job just perfectly. “It’s catchy and kitschy and all things right! It’s not typical and people want to know more when they hear it,” says Ali.
If you’re starting to feel like you’re reading a fairy-tale, don’t be mistaken. There is a hard part behind it.
Ali handled the launch all alone, getting by with the help from her family and friends. At the launch time, she was sewing every day on a pool table in the living room of the house that belonged to her boyfriend’s parents.
I would work tirelessly and was always up before everyone — sewing. Last one to sleep — sewing. That was 5 years ago. It’s fun to think of the progress I have made.
Her first customers were locals, and she was also getting orders from Instagram, Facebook, and by email. Such a hurricane of sales made her hire people. That wasn’t effortless either. Ali had to learn how to hire contractors, which she now remembers as “a boring challenge”.
“People aren’t always good, and people will screw you over. Learning to get everything down in writing was a major hurdle that year.”
The point is not to let all that stop you. Today, Ali’s business has been through a lot of milestones, including winning raw artist designer of the year 2013, winning the Biggest Little Startup competition in 2015, receiving Miley Cyrus’ custom order for her birthday bash, and opening the warehouse and the retail store!
The Online Store
Ali’s sales started from social media, and even today most of her business comes from Instagram. The problem was: when you offer so many things, the cart process “is always a nightmare!”
Therefore, she got started with her online store and by now Ali has got quite the experience with shopping carts. Her developer, Michelle, made her switch to Ecwid.
“I think I have used Shopify and one other before Ecwid. I switched because it seemed to be the best fit for my merchandise. I had lots of variables in years passed so I needed more drop-down options on my site.”
Her Ecwid store works on a Wix website. Both Ali and Michelle are happy with this techie combination.
“I LOVE these two systems. I love the backend, I love the apps, and I love how easy EVERYTHING is.”