At 17 years old Marissa Barlow saw a need for swimwear designed for the active woman. Instead of waiting for the perfect swimsuit to pop into existence she decided to take matters into her own hands by starting Nani Swimwear, a brand that is “on a mission to transcend, innovate, and create high quality swimwear that supports, flatters, and keeps up with active women.” I talked to Marissa about the process involved in starting a business as a teenager, the inspiration behind it all, and the values of Nani Swimwear.
Q: What inspired you to start the business?
A: This is one of the questions I am most asked, and honestly, there was never a defining moment in the process. When I was 15 my family was going on a cruise, and after searching online for a new swimsuit for hours I went up to my mom and asked her if we could start a swimsuit line together. She laughed at me! “Now, almost five years and lots of hard work later I have realized there is only one thing that inspires and keeps an entrepreneur going: passion.”
Q: Once you got the idea for the business, what were your next steps?
A: Lots and lots of google.
Q: Do you feel like people didn’t take you as seriously because you started so young?
A: Yes, this has been and still is honestly one of the hardest parts! It sucked at the beginning always feeling like I had to prove myself to people, but it made me a stronger person. If you start young, just be prepared to work twice as hard for half the acknowledgment.
Q: How do you compete against some of the bigger brands that already have a following?
A: As we are expanding our orders, we aren’t competing against these brands– we’re competing with them. We also are a lot more personal than bigger brands and people love that.
Q: What’s the target customer you’re designing for? How do you connect with them?
A: Active moms and young adult women. Whether it’s paddle boarding, swimming, or hiking, we design suits for active women who want to look good and not have to worry about constantly adjusting their suit.
I am the target customer haha.
Q: Who inspires you as a businesswoman?
A: Phil Knight. His autobiography is one of my favorite books.
Q: How do you personally define business success?
A: To me, business success is about making a living by doing what you love while having a positive impact on other people.
Q: What values do you think are the most important to Nani Swimwear?
A: Nani is the Hawaiian word for “beautiful”. Our goal is to provide swimwear that empowers women to live a nani (beautiful) life by seeking adventure, being kind, and striving to give back.
Q: Where do you see your business in the next year? In the next ten years?
A: Nani currently is in stores all over the US as well as Mexico and Canada. I believe and hope that we will continue to grow and sell this brand all over the world! I see Nani growing exponentially as we keep innovating, perfecting our product, and zoning in on our target customers. In ten years I would love to sell the business and start with something new!
Q: Starting your own business sounds kind of terrifying, how did you move past any fears to start Nani Swimwear?
A: There is a quote hanging on my wall that I would read constantly when we were first getting started with Nani.
“What if I fall? Oh my darling, what if you fly?”
Fear is natural. Fear is good. But, fear can either serve as a motivator or your biggest limitation–you choose.