From the beaches of Turks & Caicos to the ski alps of Courchevel, Vanessa Rivers not only inspires us to live a life of adventure, but also to feed our souls with travel, love and genuine experiences. Founder of the eco-friendly bikini line SUMMERLOVE SWIMWEAR and writer/wanderer behind travel blog Glitter and Mud, we are lucky enough to share Vanessa’s wealth of knowledge on business as well as wellbeing for young women in our interview below. Enjoy, share, and become inspired by this beautiful entrepreneur who takes GOALS to a whole new level.
AURA: As we are all things beauty, brains and business, give us some background on who you are, what your brand is and when you made the decision to become an entrepreneur.
VANESSA: I don’t think I ever really chose to be an entrepreneur. I feel like it chose me. I was on a path to becoming a child psychologist during college but my travels and experiences ended up leading me in a different direction then what I had envisioned for my life. I am now the Founder/Designer of SUMMERLOVE SWIMWEAR, a sustainable line based in Santa Barbara. Running the company is a full time job but I still try to find time to teach surf lessons when I am in California, SurfWithVanessa.com, and write for my travel blog, GlitterandMud.com.
AURA: Tell us how you find inspiration for your creativity and if your surroundings growing up in Southern CA played a part in that.
VANESSA: I grew up on a solar-powered ranch on the Central Coast of California. My stepfather was very into sustainable living. We had the first electric car in SLO County and he instilled awareness in me from a young age that we all need to do our part to protect this beautiful earth we call home.
When I went on to college at UC Santa Barbara, I fell in love with surfing. Surfing led me around the world and it was on one of these trips that I decided to combine my love of the ocean and nature to create my eco-friendly line, SUMMERLOVE SWIM.
AURA: When it comes to emerging brands, audiences only tend to see the glamorous side of doing business. Which is great, but in reality, it’s only about 2 percent of what the work actually looks like. Give us a description of a normal day operating as a blogger and swimwear brand owner.
VANESSA: The SUMMERLOVE SWIMWEAR office is located in Santa Barbara but I am currently based in London. My husband took a job here for a few years so as I type this I am sitting at a table in our living room (my England office) starring out the window at the streets of South Kensington, watching the rain poor down, with a mound of swimwear fabric blocking part of my view.
I spend about 90% of my time on the computer: running the online store, doing digital marketing, social networking, and research on manufacturing, eco fabrics, and eco trends and innovations, as well as reaching out to magazines and bloggers. At least a couple times a month I take fashion, blogging or business classes to try to understand what the new trends will be and where the fashion industry and travel industry are headed. And I try to squeeze in writing 1-2 travel posts per week.
AURA: How has social media affected your career and where do you see its importance taking a role in the development of your brand through the next few years of business?
VANESSA: Social media is so important now. I took a digital marketing class just last week, taught by a guy who works for Google and he dedicated an entire section of his class to the importance of social networking. At this stage in the social network game it is not enough to just be signed up on a network like Instgram or Twitter. As a brand you need to spend hours every day engaging with people. This is new age marketing. With over 300 million users, I see Instagram as the #1 social networking marketing tool for my travel blog @VanessaRivers and my swimwear line @SummerLoveSwimewar. This is where my customers are. Sometimes I do get sick of social networking and I just want a break from it but then I have to remind myself how lucky I am to have these free tools as a business owner.
AURA: Outside of online influence, what hurdles have you overcome and what do you foresee in the future that may challenge your brand?
VANESSA: There are so many hurdles when starting a new brand. I have had my swimwear line for several years now but I still have a very long way to go to get it to the level where it generates impressive revenue. I think keeping overhead down will always be a challenge. I get excited about all the new swimwear styles I want to produce and photo shoots I want to do in exotic locations. But then I have to remind myself to take baby steps! A lot of companies get in trouble because they spend too much money. It doesn’t matter how much you are making. If you spend more then your annual revenue every year you are losing money! You have to figure out how to keep overhead costs low.
AURA: How do you stay organized within your business as well as your personal daily routine?
VANESSA: I am not very organized! Someone help me please! Haha I have a GIANT to-do list that never seems to get any smaller. I keep it next to my computer and I write everything down that I need to do. Lists are the only way I can stay (semi) organized. I make lists for everything!
AURA: What are your favorite phone apps?
VANESSA: For London I use TubeMaps to help navigate the tube. And I could not live without UBER or SPOTIFY (Europe’s version of Pandora).
AURA: If there’s anything you could change about the industry what would it be?
VANESSA: If I could change anything about the fashion industry I would make it more transparent. I wish people could see what they are really buying when they buy a cheap swimsuit from Victoria’s Secret, for example. They are buying a garment made in a sweatshop in China where the workers have horrific work conditions and slave labor wages.
Alternatively I wish they could see the whole process when they buy SUMMERLOVE SWIMWEAR. An old fishing net gets pulled out of the ocean. Instead of being thrown in a landfill, through the process of regeneration, this fishing net is turned into new, amazing swimwear fabric! Our swimwear is made in California by small contractors who have great working conditions. It’s a whole different ballgame when you create a sustainable line. I know the whole supply chain and I have worked to create a smaller carbon footprint at every level, from the reusable organic swimwear bags our suits comes in, to the recycled mailers we ship orders in.
AURA: What are some of your biggest accomplishments as a business owner?
VANESSA: I love when girls tell me they love my swimsuits! It feels good to hear you are creating something people love. Also, SUMMERLOVE SWIMWEAR is featured on Erin Heatherton in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit 2016!
For blogging I love writing reviews! Last year I put a lot of time into updating GlitterandMud.com and I have gotten great feedback from hotels, restaurants and companies across the globe saying they love my reviews. I try to be as honest as I can and write with my own unique voice and it is nice to hear that people like what I have to say. There are so many travel bloggers, and it is hard to stand out, so as with anything in life you really have to pour your heart and soul into it!
AURA: What mistake(s) have you made with your business? What did you learn from the experience/how did you bounce back?
VANESSA: Initially I spent too much money of photo shoots and models and fancy hang tags and well, on everything. I have since learned how to budget better and be creative to get things done more affordably. I never skimp on production costs though because I pride myself on producing high-quality eco swimwear.
AURA: What is your most meaningful memory since you’ve started your brand?
VANESSA: My friend and investor, Lyndon Lea, introduced me to Dov Charney, and helped set up a joint casting call for my swimwear line and American Apparel. I could not believe I was doing a model casting call with Dov! We held the casting at Lyndon’s house in Montecito. No one had ever heard of my line but hundreds of girls came out for American Apparel and my line got to benefit from that. It was a pretty amazing day!
Another extremely meaningful memory I have is of my wedding in Barbados. My husband Steve and I eloped and the day after our wedding my friend took photos of us on the beach and I wore a swimsuit from my Bridal Collection. That was such a magical day!
AURA: In your opinion, what are key traits every female entrepreneur should aspire to have personally and professionally?
VANESSA: All entrepreneurs need to be strong but also compassionate! You need to be extremely self-motivated and have a can-do attitude. You need to be sincere and passionate, believe that anything is possible and that giving up is not an option!
AURA: What advice on personal image do you have for women when it comes to what we wear?
VANESSA: Wear what makes you feel comfortable in your own skin. I hate bras so I never wear one! I don’t really follow trends either. I just wear what makes me feel good. Personally I think you have to feel good from the inside out. You don’t need to be super thin or look like a model to feel sexy. Try to work out at least 3-4x per week, eat healthy 80% of the time, and focus on being positive towards yourself and others and you will start feeling more and more confident, which in turn will make you feel good in just about anything you wear! And for swimwear less is usually more. Try one of our Butterfly Bottoms. I swear they will make your derriere look amazing no matter the size!
AURA: Do you have any start-up advice you can share with women reading this who would like to launch their own businesses?
VANESSA: The #1 piece of advice I can give to anyone wanting to start their own business is go work in the field before you start your own company. If you want to start a swimwear line go work for a swimmer brand. Be an intern if you have to. Learn everything you can about the business on their dime! I didn’t do this. I plunged headfirst into starting my own line and I made so many (expensive) mistakes. Go work in the industry you are interested in at any capacity and make sure it is what you want to do. And then after you have done this, don’t be afraid to go out on your own! Starting a company is scary but not as scary as sitting around thinking about what could have been. Take the knowledge you have gained and go for it! And as Winston Churchill said “Never, never, never give up!.”