This Entrepreneur Made a Splash in the $16 Billion Swimwear Market By Listening to Her Customers
Despite operating in the crowded swimsuit category while surviving a pandemic, Andie has persevered, its success driven by Melanie Travis' grit and determination.
For as long as I can remember, I've hated swimsuits. The straps have always been too long on my petite frame, causing constant anxiety. There never seemed to be any one-piece options that provided the coverage I wanted. And finally, every swimsuit model looked like a real life Barbie doll, and I knew none of those pieces would ever look good on me.
For years, I avoided work or social events that were anywhere near a body of water, just in case they might require me to wear a swimsuit. Then one night on Instagram, I met Andie.Andie seemed to know just what I was feeling. Andie said to me: No more adjusting, tugging or pulling. Just well-made, well-cut suits that look great, keep everything where it should be, and feel so comfortable you'll forget you're wearing anything at all.
Andie is a swimwear brand that's the brainchild of Melanie Travis. From a young age Travis knew she wanted to be her own boss, and she wanted to create meaningful change and impact. The idea for Andie was born during a work retreat.
"I was the director of brand experience for Bark at the time, and I was on a work retreat where many of us had brought our swimsuits," Travis recalls. "My coworkers and I started commiserating about how difficult it was to find a swimsuit. So my response was, I'll start a swimsuit company, why not? I thought I would make a couple hundred swimsuits and call it a day."
Five years later, Travis has raised more than $8.5 million in venture funding and sold thousands of swimsuits. "Every day, I'm in disbelief, and I think How did this happen?" Travis says.
In 2020, the swimwear market was $16 billion. By 2025, the market is expected to grow to $21 billion. The category is highly seasonal, with consumers buying only one or two swimsuits per season. A host of new brands have entered the category, ready to capitalize on pandemic restrictions lifting and consumers eager to travel again.
Despite operating in a crowded category while surviving the pandemic, Andie has persevered, its success driven by Travis' grit and determination. Here are three things Travis continues to focus on to fuel Andie's trajectory:
1. Pay attention to the details
"One of the key insights I had about swimwear was that when a woman is wearing a swimsuit, that's the most naked she will be in public, so it's a particularly vulnerable shopping experience," shares Travis. "I hated being in that dressing room, where none of the styles fit me, and it was far from enjoyable."
Travis built Andie around this key insight, focusing on style and fit and paying attention to all of the important details. Andie is backed by feedback and wear tests from 300,000-plus women. The brand provides consumers a detailed fit guide that also explains torso sizing. There's a fit quiz to find your perfect fit, asking you what your biggest frustration about swimwear is, such as wanting adjustability, your suit being too stretched out after a season and not enough compression. Finally, a team of fit experts can schedule a one-on-one virtual consultation with you to help you find the suit of your dreams.
"I built a brand around one key insight, focusing on all the important details that no big retailer had taken on. Despite the lack of marketing dollars early on, we held onto our key insight, and it really propelled Andie," adds Travis.
2. Fight to shatter stereotypes
In 2019, the death of the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show represented an important cultural moment: Many consumers were fed up with the objectification of women. "The Angels show was so male-gaze-oriented," says Travis. "I remember watching the show and thinking, Who is this intended for? Shopping behaviors have changed, and women want to buy from brands like Andie that reflect their values."
Scrolling through Andie's Instagram feed, I see myself, my family and my friends. The heart of the brand is not just about comfort and style, it's also about embracing inclusive sizing. Andie's values are reflected in its focus on featuring a diverse group of models and imagery that does the opposite of objectifying women. We see women untouched and unfiltered, embracing their authentic selves."Entrepreneurs in the fashion space who ignore inclusive sizing leave so much money on the table, which boggles the mind," Travis says. "Don't you want to build a successful business? It's not just the right thing to do, it's a good business decision."
Consumers will no longer tolerate fake activism, in particular a phenomenon coined by Refinery29 called "faking fat inclusivity." Rather than offering inclusive sizing, brands will share an image of someone wearing the largest size they offer. In most cases, this is a size 14 with stretch fabric, and it's just performative marketing faking inclusivity.
As Travis explains, many swimwear sizes stop at large or XL. "It never even occurred to me to be so restrictive. Andie currently goes up to size 3XL, and we're now producing sizes up to 5XL, which is significantly more than other brands in the market."
3. Stay true to your mission
Travis recalls the process to find investors as being painful, especially as a woman founder raising money for a product designed for women. "A lot of the male investors I met with didn't understand that there was a problem to be solved in this category," she shares. "They also didn't think the swim market was big enough, which is just not true. Andie was speaking to so many women who had been ignored for too long."
Despite naysayers and nonbelievers, Travis didn't stray from her mission. She started with three one-piece styles that she thought were perfect for every type of body. She continued to build the business slowly and methodically from there. When Travis first got a meeting with actress Demi Moore, she shares how she was scared out of her mind. "But Demi got it, believed in our mission and was one of the very first checks into Andie. Having an ally like Demi really legitimized what we were doing."
A few years ago, Travis recalls hearing a male investor who had passed on Andie speaking at a conference. "Wow, I really messed up. I missed investing in Andie, and wish I could invest in it now," he said to the crowd.
And that investor was right about missing a massive opportunity to be part of a game-changing business. To date, the company has raised a total of $8.5 million. It has added an eco-friendly line and rolled out a limited maternity and kids collection. Andie also launched a small line of underwear and bralettes.
What's next for Andie? "We want Andie to support our customers throughout their life experiences," Travis says. "We listen to our customers for what comes next."
Related: These Sisters Relied on Side Hustles to Pay the Rent While Bootstrapping Their Food Business: "We Were Pinching Pennies Then Would Walk Into a VC's Office and Act Like We Didn't Need Their Money"
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