An artful twist on swimwear design

Kortni Jeane Swimmers uses social media to cultivate a growing community of repeat customers and brand ambassadors

by Elka Olsen Carroll

An entrepreneur’s whimsical imagination and a loyal fan following has a non-traditional bathing suit company swimming in success. Kortni Jeane Swimmers, established in the spring of 2014, offers energetic, bright, mix-and-match swimwear to its ever-growing online customer base. Each item is made “exclusive” by only being sold for a limited time, creating a “collector” quality and sense of purchase urgency. By continually switching fabric patterns and offering a range of styles, Kortni Jeane Swimmers provides customers unique combinations that make customers feel special. Customers can order suits that are perfect for their body types and satisfy their personalities as well.

Kortni Jeane Swimmers is more than just a swimwear brand; it is a vibrant community that celebrates uniqueness. Says business owner, Kortni Niccoli, “We serve a large variety of body types. We’ve created a community around that, so everyone can come for support and not look down on themselves for being a certain shape or size. We want everyone to feel comfortable in their own skin and to feel good about who they are.” She says because pieces are limited and there are many options, customers feel they can get a custom suit “without the custom price, and that feels good.” This all-inclusive espirit de corps has helped attract thousands of repeat customers and enthusiastic followers.

Suited for success: the inspiration behind the brand

The inspiration behind the brand dates back to Kortni's high school days. Kortni learned to sew from her mother and spent hours making her own clothes. “I grew up in Provo, Utah,” says Kortni. “Everyone wore the same (clothing) brand, and the same swimsuit in that brand, and I got tired of matching everyone else. So I began making swimsuits for myself and other people as a hobby.” Kortni soon earned a reputation. Her swimsuits became so desired, strangers would knock on the door and ask her parents, “Is this where I get a swimsuit?” Kortni laughs, “People would come to my room, pick out their fabrics, and I’d measure them and make them a suit.”

Kortni’s high school sewing teacher and mentor, whom Kortni keeps up with today, recognized Kortni’s talent and encouraged Kortni to pursue a career in the fashion industry. Kortni took her advice and earned degrees in Business Management and Fashion Design from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) in California. Kortni continued making suits while at FIDM, and her friends and family urged her to turn the hobby into a business. “Everyone else saw more than what I saw, I guess,” she says. “I was encouraged by my family that this was a talent that should be shared.”

Making a splash, online and off

Kortni describes her business, which employs four full-timers and three part-timers, as “a fun, energetic lifestyle that people follow.” To connect with customers, Kortni organizes events throughout the city such as scavenger hunts and craft nights. She also has cultivated a strong virtual community on social media as well as the company’s website and blog.

Says Kortni, “We definitely wouldn’t be growing as quickly as we have without social media. We haven’t done any paid advertising; we’ve solely advertised through social media. It’s wonderful because we have a presence there. But also, everyone shares (photos of) our product there, so it’s a continual cycle of people sharing and buying. It creates that community where people feel like we are not only a swimsuit company, but we know who they are, and they feel connected to us.”

Kortni Jeane Swimmers has 125,000 social media followers, and Kortni says these followers are some of their most active customers. “On average,” says Kortni, “we get about 1,500 (online) customers a month.” She says their customers keep coming back, with the average customer buying five times a year. She explains, “Because we offer limited-time unique colors and patterns, customers feel they have to get them before they’re gone. This keeps them coming back.”

Kortni Jeane Swimmers began as a women’s line but has since added little girls’, men’s, and little boys’ swimmers.

Subverting challenges with a sunny disposition

Kortni says, “In the fashion industry, you can’t patent anything, so it’s hard to keep things unique and set them apart from others’ products.” She explains how easy it is for a competitor to purchase one of her suits and replicate the pattern. To combat her competition, Kortni says, “we work really hard to make sure we are staying ahead of the trends and true to the brand and ourselves in our designs. It’s a continual challenge.”

Kortni says finances are also challenging. “If you want to grow,” she says, “you’ve got to keep recycling money back into the business. You want to grow at a steady pace and keep things going. There’s the challenge of trying not to sell out too fast, of deciding how much (new inventory) to order, and knowing what’s going to be popular. Trying to keep up with our customers and what they want is probably the most challenging part, while managing all of the other financial aspects.”

It was because of financial challenges that her brand developed into what it is today. In the beginning, Kortni used her entire savings to manufacture pieces with limited minimums, and then she encouraged her customers to “mix and match” tops and bottoms, thus making the most of her inventory. She says, “The challenge was meeting minimums but trying to keep everything unique. I manipulated the minimums with the ‘mix-and-match’ idea. I would order the same style but I had several colors and fabric patterns available. I then had to re-educate the market that everything didn’t need to match.” This enabled Kortni to work using the finances she had, while promoting her brand as filled with endless possibilities.

Technology toolbox

Kortni Jeane Swimmers uses desk computers, laptops, tablets, AT&T mobile phone service, and AT&T hotspots. Says Kortni, “I’m solely based online. We wouldn’t be able to run anything without our laptops or desktop computers.” She explains that because her business is located in a remote area, she uses AT&T mobile hotspots for Internet connection. “When we first moved into our warehouse space,” she says, “we couldn’t get Internet companies to come service us there. Finally, we went to AT&T and got hotspots, and it worked!”

Kortni says, “We use tablets to upload pictures and to manipulate our site. I also use a tablet for all of my pattern manipulation, and it has streamlined our business a lot. I am able to do my design work on my tablet and instantly send it to my manufacturer, the design house, and the pattern maker, and everything’s translated more easily. Before (using the tablet), I had to ship over my patterns. Now I can manipulate, save, and send them instantly, and the process is much faster.” The business uses uses a variety of mobile applications for other business needs.

When asked what advice she has for anyone starting a business, Kortni says, "I hope you love it, because it will be a 24/7 job. It will take over your life. You can't just walk away from it. But if you do love it, it's totally worth it. Make sure you are passionate about  your work, and then just go for it."

Thinking of starting up your own endeavor? Visit AT&T's small business page to make sure you’ve got the essentials covered.

Kortni Jeane Swimmers uses social media to cultivate a growing community of repeat customers and brand ambassadors.