Like most entrepreneurs, Jude Al-Khalil found herself solving a problem for herself and her personal network when she first started Bikyni, a clothing firm that has been called "Warby Parker for bikinis."
Attendees at a poolside bachelorette party had one pain point to discuss — the horror of trying to buy a flattering swimsuit. Women dread shopping for bathing suits, Al-Khalil realized, and for good reason. The experience was not designed to make anyone feel great about themselves.
“I realized swimwear was a category that had seen very little innovation, and Bikyni was born," Al-Khalil explained.
The Bikyni innovation pares down to simple, stylish bathing suits without pumped up price tags. The easy-to-navigate web and mobile sites offer seven bikini tops, six bottoms and a selection of one piece styles. The site sets itself apart with an extensive fit guide to help shoppers navigate issues like individual styles, level of support, adjustability, padding and coverage. Everything is priced around $100.
“Much of Bikyni’s growth has been organic,” said Al-Khalil. “Shopping for bikinis can be an exasperating search, and finding a great one is something many women want to share. Our customers have proven to be our best advertisers, spreading the word. Women have also discovered us through our storytelling and visual content, primarily through Instagram and Pinterest, as well as some great press pieces.”
Al-Khalil noted the key to the line's success is its understanding of its customers — and what the "Bikyni girl" wants from her shopping experience from beginning to end.
"With Bikyni, I’ve taken the time early on to learn about the Bikyni girl, understand what she wants and how to connect with her," she noted. "It could be the girl in the Midwest who vacations by the lake, it could be the girl in New York City who can't get out to the beach and is lying out on her fire escape or on the rooftop."
What they have in common, according to Al-Khalil, is a pressing need for simple styling and a fuss-free shopping experience that matches their on-the-go lifestyle. Al-Khalil is no stranger to the audience she now serves with swimwear — or to the world of eCommerce.
Before taking on the CEO role and founding her own firm, Al-Khalil was the COO of the Reformation clothing brand. She was one of the strategy architects that drove the brand's near cult-like following among teenage girls. Al-Khalil also has a background in finance, which she says has been critical in bringing to market her vision for a better swimsuit experience.
"I think if you look at a lot of fashion brands, people are coming out of very creative experiences, which often isn't exclusively what you need to make sure that something succeeds," said Al-Khalil. When securing investors and vendors, her background in understanding how numbers work and ability to explain a path to profitability were key, she said.
Staying on that path has meant keeping highly-centralized control of the firm's operations, according to Al-Khalil, "So we can react quickly to customer feedback on everything from product design to our site experience."
The only thing the company doesn't own is its factory, but it is within driving distance of the Bikyni office and managed with a "very people-driven process."
"We’ve spent the time working with our factory to create a healthy flow, and have developed excellent relationships with our factory team since manufacturing is still very much a people-driven process," said Al-Khalil. "They partner with us to meet our product requirements and deadlines, but also pull through for us during unexpected situations. When our first collection sold out quicker than we had expected, we worked with our factory to turn around more units in time to continue selling for the summer season.”
What's next, now that Bikyni has begun the next great swimwear disruption? According to its founder, the plan is to evolve into a one-stop-shop lifestyle brand for the woman looking "for everything she needs for her next escape.”
But, Al-Khalil said, first there are bikinis to perfect and get into the hands of women everywhere who need them. While the pressure is always to grow and go on to the next thing, she needs to make sure Bikyni is fully delivering on customers' expectations in the space where they have been gaining ground for the last year — the swimwear vertical.
"I’ve seen so many brands try and do too much, too fast, and often they end up moving away from their original vision in a way that doesn’t feel authentic," said Al-Khalil.