A fruitless search for a bikini has led one Cornish mum to design a new range of swimwear perfect for teenagers, discovers Kirstie Newton.
Claire Scipio recalls the nightmare of bikini shopping with her daughter Shannon at the age of 14. “She wanted a bikini but the choice on the high street was all push-up padding and string bikinis – childish, immature styles or frumpy sportswear,” she remembers.
“Shannon was nervous about showing too much flesh, saying: ‘I wouldn’t go out in my bra and knickers, would I?’
“As her mum, I desperately wanted her to look and feel good, but was equally unhappy to let her go out in what was available in store and online. It turned out to be an epiphany.”
Mum and daughter sat down together and sketched their ideal swimwear. “We started with the classic bikini styles – bandeau and triangle – and made them look a bit bigger.
“The coverage is almost that of a swimsuit – the pants are high-waisted, and the top is like a crop top. We’ve used a compression fabric that provides the support girls’ developing bodies need, and each suit is lined front and back.”
With Bodds, Claire – who lives by the sea in Nanpean, near St Austell – was keen to offer teens and younger girls more choice in bikinis, and to fill a gap in the market between children’s and adult’s active swim clothing.
The next step was to convert the designs into reality. Claire had no experience or training in fashion or product development. She was a teacher by training and had been studying for a degree in Education and Child Psychology while juggling life as a single mum to Shannon, now 15, and son Riley, 11.
For help, she approached Breakthrough, an initiative funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). Over the course of two days, she was able to discuss her ideas with coaches, to learn the fundamentals of running a business.
“When I walked into that room, I tiptoed in and tried to hide behind people,” she admits. “I knew my idea was strong, but I had no self-belief as this was so far out of my comfort zone. With a lot of poking, prodding and prompting, I began to feel that I could handle anything that was thrown at me. I came out of the workshop shouting about my business, and I’ve not stopped since.”
Claire’s initial sketches were turned into workable designs by Karen Johnson International, a manufacturer of lingerie and swimwear for 25 years for names including M&S, supermarkets and department stores. With Surfers Against Sewage co-founder Chris Hines as her business coach, Claire evolved the brand to embrace an ethos of environmental responsibility, right down to the material used – Econyl, which is upcycled from regenerated fishing nets (and also used by Cornish clothing brand Finisterre). “By being kind to the planet without preaching, I want Bodds to be an active player in sustainable fashion,” says Claire. “I’ve been able to trace some of the nets back to Newlyn and I’d love it to be 100% Cornish eventually.”
A year on, her first swimwear line going on sale this summer online, at £37.99 for a set. “This sort of quality costs more to produce – but then, the women who are happy buying a bikini for £3 on the high street are not likely to be my customers.” Claire has a growing list of pre-sales based on word of mouth and focus groups alone, is lining up stockists to complement online trade, and is busy collaborating with high-profile brand ambassadors, particularly in the surfing world.
New styles and colourways are in the pipeline, and Claire has found that the appeal of Bodds goes far beyond her original target market. “I was surprised by the interest from women of all ages for well-fitted, non-skimpy, fashionable swimwear,” she reflects. “High street fashion is fine when you’re sitting still, but the minute you have to run down the beach after a toddler, everything starts moving!” “As a result, the new ranges will go up to size 14.
“There’s no doubt this past year has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I wouldn’t change anything,” Claire adds. “I honestly believe without the help of Breakthrough, I would still be just talking about my idea, instead of promoting my business to potential investors and supporters. I’m busy – but excited.”
Claire’s business development manager, Lucy Cox (co-owner of fashion brand Halto), is proud of her charge. “Claire is ultimate proof that if you combine a great idea with the right frame of mind, you can achieve anything,” she says. “There were so many barriers to starting her business, but she harnessed the fear and just went for it.”
Ultimately, Claire’s motivation goes beyond the desire to be successful. “There is so much pressure on social media to over-sexualise the pre-teen body,” she says. “I say: let children be children for as long as they possibly can. Seeing Shannon running down the sand dunes with her brother, happy and confident, shows me that I’ve got it right.”
Source: Cornwall Live