Boss Lady is a series that shares personal insights from creative women in business.This week we chat with Aileen Hearn, founder of Bare Native, a Delaware local swimwear brand that provides fashionable bikinis fit for the active lifestyle. Aileen shares with us with her never-ending learning process of being a young entrepreneur and her advice for women to pursue their passions.
1. First, tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up between the beaches of Rehoboth and Dewey in southern Delaware, and all my life I’ve loved the sea and I’ve loved any adventure, tiny or grand. I ended up at University of Delaware studying Visual Communications (graphic design & advertising) and started to discover all the possibilities of what I could really do in life. I explored creative writing, journalism, videography, ceramics, fashion – so many different forms of art that I hadn’t even thought of pursuing previously. But it wasn’t until I was a year or so out of college that I truly began to visualize what I wanted. Stuck between freelancing my graphic design skills, and working summer beach jobs, I realized I had to take a chance. I flew to Kauai, Hawaii to interview for a position at my favorite bikini company and it was incredible! They were a small, in house team doing everything themselves. Designing, sewing, marketing, they had it all. And when I returned I discussed it all with my family, and my dad asked me “But what’s your true dream? Your end goal? What do you really want to be doing?” I wanted to have my own company, with my own philosophies and designs and missions and spirit. Within the next year, I launched Bare Native. I’m starting something meaningful at twenty-four years old.
2. What lead to the creation of Bare Native? Why did you feel the need to start your own swimwear brand?
I’ve always felt a connection to the ocean, to nature, to the outdoors, and growing up at the beach has made me obsessed with bikinis and beach style. I had three goals in mind when creating Bare Native. First, I wanted to design swimwear for the active lifestyle. In today’s world, staying active and healthy is more important than ever. Second, I discovered a huge problem with garment sizing. I felt I could create a unique new solution to the way the bikini fits the body, and I started by offering custom sizing by order. Third, a huge part of the dream is to be able to give back. I hope to design limited edition fabric patterns inspired by places I’ve been, and donate a percentage of sales to different organizations in each place.
3. What sets Bare Native apart from all other swimwear brands?
“We naturally yearn for adventure, but often it seems too far out of our reach. Bare Native is here to remind us there are more ways to be daring than we think – to put a toe out of line, to embrace our wild schemes and transform them into escapades.
Bare Native is for mermaids, explorers, pioneers, and skeptics. For the bold, the fearless, the impulsively cheeky. Or for the timid, but brave. For those who seek to take one small leap of faith every day for the rest of their lives.”
Bare Native is about staying wild! This is a blurb of inspiration I wrote that served as a starting point of the entire company. Bare Native is different because it inspires new experiences, however small or large they may be. From getting a haircut, to boarding a plane for the first time, to leaping from the crest of a waterfall into the depths below. A bikini company that is more than just clothing.
4. With Bare Native being so young, what has been your greatest challenge so far and how did you (or how do you plan to) overcome it?
So far the most incredible challenge has been the trial and error of learning as I go. After learning from my aunt at age fifteen how to sew basic patterns and create a few things from scratch, I had to teach myself the rest. It’s been frustrating at times, but also a ton of fun. And the learning never stops! Sewing swimwear is finicky! Pattern grading and making my designs work for different body types is difficult. I’d never done it before Bare Native, and there are problems that arise every day but learning is a never-ending process. The product is in the journey. Next greatest challenge to overcome: finding sustainable fabric that suits the company’s future needs.
5. Where do you hope to see Bare Native in 5 years? 10 years?
I see Bare Native using sustainably sourced/recycled materials, printing original patterns onto our fabric, and continuing to inspire others to chase dreams. I’m not quite sure yet if I’ll keep it small and in house, or head to a manufacturer. But either way, I see it continuing to evolve and bring in fresh ideas.
6. What is your marketing strategy? How do you plan to further promote your brand in the future?
Social media has been incredible as a marketing tool so far. Ways to communicate are constantly being created and improved, and it’s a great way to reach tons of people all at once. I’ve found models and collaborators through social media, and been able to speak with customers easily and directly. Then we went to the Surf Expo this past January in Orlando while we got ready for our official launch, and that was very helpful in making connections and getting a feel for the industry. I hope to have a booth at Surf Expo and at similar events in the future. Also several months after launch, we participated in our own first event. We set up a Bare Native bikini booth at the Zap Amateur World Championships of Skimboarding, and coordinated a mini fashion show. I’d love to do more in person events, to show the brand promoting an active lifestyle, and connecting with real people. I think connections are key, I’d rather be a hands on company than a static online presence.
7. Have you always designed your own clothes and swimwear?
Around age sixteen, I got the bright idea to make my own homecoming dress. I convinced one of my aunts to take on the project with me and to share her creative knowledge. She taught me the basics of sewing, choosing fabric, and following a pattern. I definitely became inspired after that to do a few projects on my own. I made my first bikini that year, among other things and it was amazing to be able to create something wearable from scratch. Now years later as I’ve gone through the process of starting Bare Native I still find myself sometimes in awe that the things I produce don’t just fall apart!
8. Where do you draw your inspiration from for your designs?
Designing for Bare Native is SO. MUCH. FUN. I’ve had tons of ideas floating around in my head for ages, and half the fun of designing is the hilarity of something that entirely does not work out how I envisioned it. I’m always doing research on trends, but I think the biggest thing I’ve tried to focus on is designing things that you can move and play in. It’s important for me to create collections where sport and style are both considered. As for fabric prints, the inspiration will always come from places I, or my friends and brand reps have been and experiences we’ve had there. Anyone who applies to be a model or brand rep for Bare Native is asked the question, “What’s a place in the world that is special to you and why?” It could be a secret spot, or somewhere they’ve had the best adventure/experience with friends or family. I’ve gotten some truly amazing responses. Everyone has such incredible stories and memories. They inspire me, and I absolutely intend to incorporate them into the art of these bikinis.
9. What is your favorite part about being your own boss?
Being my own boss has been an adventure in itself. I still do freelance work outside of my own company, so time management has become super important. I’m still not the greatest at it! Sometimes a nap is imminent – or the sunshine is just begging me to head outside. But finding balance has been a good challenge for me. I enjoy finding routines for myself, and being able to easily incorporate fitness into my life. Making sure I keep myself moving forward is definitely difficult on occasion, but it’s an awesome feeling to just be following a dream I’ve had forever. Seeing where it may lead, and taking risks is the greatest adventure.
10. Do you have any advice or insight for other women hoping to start their own business?
I’d say… stop convincing yourself that you can’t. I often find myself thinking that I can’t do things. It will cost too much money, or take too much time, or there’s just too much to figure out and so many things I’ve never dealt with before. But if you are truly passionate about something, you will make it work. Keep an open mind when you find yourself in a less than ideal situation. You will constantly be faced with obstacles, and not everything is meant to work out. But whatever you end up doing, you’ll learn so much along the way. It’s worth it to take the risk. We have a certain amount of time on this planet, in this world. On a study abroad to London during college, we met with a man named Peter Saville, whose thought provoking discussion changed us all. During, he said WE are IT. “Who you are is in your own hands.” You have to start somewhere. Starting small is okay! But just START! Dive in headfirst. Lose yourself a little. Dare yourself, and start believing in your own potential.