Swimming Against The Tide: Wisdom from Canadian Swimwear Designer, Reyhan Sofraci

CanadaFashionLaw has a passion for fashion and for laws that assist the fashion industry.  We'll take any opportunity to learn more about the fashion industry.  From attending industry events to understanding the challenges the designers face to looking at the less-sexy legislation, regulatory regimes and case law that affect the fashion industry, CanadaFashionLaw aims to get a full understanding of the fashion industry.  In this article, we learn from Montreal-based swimwear designer Reyhan Sofraci, owner of the swimwear lines Aqua di Lara and Qiss Qiss.

CanadaFashionLaw first became acquainted with Reyhan through an interview she conducted with the television show In Fashion a few years ago.  Feeling the U of T alumni connection and impressed with Reyhan's hootz-pah to launch a swimwear collection without any formal fashion design training, CanadaFashionLaw has been watching Ms. Sofraci go from success to success. 

In this interview, we get Reyhan's take on getting past the development stages in the fashion industry to becoming a noteworthy contestant in the niche luxury swimwear industry.  Enjoy!

You were recently featured in Miami’s Fashion Week.  How did it go?  What was the inspiration behind this season? 

The inspirations this season were:

Quartz - marble and natural influences
Farrah - 70’s inspired prints and silhouettes
Ecdysis - Snake prints
Golden Lights - Gold accent weaved and net prints

It went very well.  this was our third season presenting and it was a blast as usual.

You have two swim wear lines: Qiss Qiss and Aqua di Lara.  Why?  How are the different?  Does your merchandising and marketing strategy change for each line?

Aqua Di Lara is a trend-forward line catering to an older audience between the ages of 18 and 35 who appreciates originality and style and function.  We market this to more independent woman who possess a strong dominating personality and who are financially secure.  The items are made in limited quantities in order to ensure that the customer feels special.

Qiss Qiss is our junior line that caters to girls between 14-25 and is fun, flirty and sexy.  It is more on trend and changes every season to suit what girls who love fashion seek in the market.  It's trendy with a twist.  We market Qiss Qiss at various events catered to the high school and freshman university crowd.  Bikinis dominate the collection and its all about eclectic fashion.

Is the swimwear market a niche market that requires special skills to navigate through – or do the same principles apply throughout the fashion industry?

Swimwear is extremely seasonal. 

You have one presentation per year versus the 3-4 that clothing companies provide.  If people don’t like your collection in a year, you have to basically wait until the next one to get their attention again. So it is a yearly cycle versus the monthly that most clothing companies face and can be extremely challenging.

There are also similar expectations that have extended into the swimwear market in respect to style. People are seeking more coordinating looks and strive to achieve the complete ensemble.  Many swimwear manufacturers including us are now offering items to better merchandise your look. Runway fashion is definitely becoming more desired and acceptable on the beach and in the pool scene.

When you were an emerging designer and business owner, what were the significant or most surprising challenges you faced?  How did you overcome them?

People copying our designs was a huge one. 

The worst was it was big companies that took advantage of our designs and promoted them as if it was their own.  I find this the hardest as they have a huge network and blast the item everywhere and people associate the look with them when it was clearly yours from the start.  Lacking the funds to do anything is always discouraging.. I guess there is flattery in being copied..but unfortunately it is also followed with a financial loss, as well as loss of recognition.   I am very sensitive to this matter and always try to ensure our designs are as new as possible.  If anything slipped through the cracks I would always do my best to ensure that credit is given where it is due.

Now as an established designer and business owner, what are your challenges?

The web - it can be extremely beneficial in some respects and a huge detriment in others.  

We present our collections in July and items are not in stores for months later.  Bigger commercial companies see the suits and prints online the very next morning, sometimes even instantly.  With their weekly turn around time, they copy them and the suits are out in stores at a fraction of your prices.  So by the time you get your items to the shelves, they seem old to the eyes of the consumer. 

What kind of financial, business or support resources/services were/are available to you either through the government or the fashion industry?  How did they help you?

The most helpful was Promode and the Career Focus Program. These two are fantastic ways that the government offers support.  One thing is important to note though, there are a lot of support programs when you first start and have not yet done anything and then again once you achieve a hefty amount of sales.  There are no services provided to the most challenging parts in between these times.  So you have to be strategic on when to apply for help.

You have been featured at Montreal, Toronto and Miami fashion week.  How fundamental have these shows been in establishing your company?  In what way?

They are important for branding. They are also somewhat of a bikini bible for media to gauge what trends are coming up for the next season as well as a good guide for pulls for photoshoots.

Your swimsuits were featured in marketing campaigns for the Next Top Model franchise – how did this happen?  How has this exposure helped your company?

It was a great opportunity to be featured in both Canada’s and America’s Next Top Model.  When featured in anything, it is very important to do your own PR and send out your own press releases.  It does not say anywhere that those suits belong to us so it is important for the company to ensure the public is aware of where those suits came from.  Exposures like this help a lot as they put your name out into the public eye.  The most flattering part is that they have so many items to choose from and if they picked yours at the end, it must be because they felt it was something special.

As your business grows, are you focusing on the Canadian market or looking abroad?   Why?

The US and the Canadian market are the areas in which we would really wish to keep expanding.  The US market is huge and most areas have a warmer climate so that helps swim sales.  Also Australia and Europe are areas we are selling in and wish to acquire more market presence.  Australia has opposite seasons and Europe, well its Europe!  Definitely a great market to be in.

What has surprised you the most about your journey to success?

How much time, money and energy one must invest when they start as a nobody.  I had no fashion background and did not know anyone in this industry.  It takes a lot of time to meet great people and I am blessed that I had the pleasure to do so.  Support from your loved ones keeps you going; mental and emotional support is key.

Your official title at your company is “Creative Director”.  In developing your business, did you always just focus on the creative aspects, or were you involved in the business side of developing the business.  At what point were you able/or feel comfortable solely focusing on the creative side?

In all honesty, I still take care of the business side too.  I always loved the arts and the maths and sciences so I thrive on focusing on these different aspects of the business.  If I had a choice however Marketing and Design would be my fortes.

From creating to manufacturing to marketing and, finally, sales – what has been the most interesting aspect of the business and why?  Which has been the most challenging?

It is the same cycle every year.  The funny thing is with designer brands like ours at times when we attempt to sell, some of our suits are not picked up by stores as they fear it is too different and are concerned that they will not be able to sell it.  The irony is that these suits get featured in many publications months later or become the trend for the following year and the consumers are breaking down doors trying to find them... and well, that is when the stores come back to us with phone lines ringing off the hook and they say I’ll take that one!

What advice would you give the emerging designer?

Be realistic. 

Follow your dream but always be aware that if you opt to start a business of your own you need to be prepared.  Either partner up with someone who is business minded so you can focus on your strengths and passions or educate yourself to be able to do it on your own. 

Life is full of challenges, and a business has those challenges ten-fold. 

Where can we find your product lines

You can buy our brands at many swimwear boutiques in your neighbourhood or can go online and purchase them at some online retailers.