Meet Rosie Cook, founder of the female swimwear line that does not compromise on style or support
When I stumbled upon Deakin and Blue, a swimwear brand that provides both supportive and stylish swimwear for women, I knew I wanted to meet the creator behind this empowering movement for female fashion. And so today I had the pleasure of going for coffee with the founder Rosie Cook, an English graduate and ex-consultant, at The Hoxton Hotel in Holborn.
Tell me how the Deakin and Blue story came about.
I started swimming for exercise about two years ago and so went to look for a costume for my weekly swim. I wanted something that was both functional (i.e. it would not move when I pushed off the wall or chafe my underarm with every stroke) but also something that was fashionable and flattering, that made me feel good about myself. When I go to the gym I wear performance based kit that is lightweight, breathable, stretchy – all those good and important things you look for in sports kit, but also fashionable so that I can feel feminine, strong, attractive, sexy – however I want to.
I really struggled to find something for my weekly swim that met my requirements. Around the same time I also came across the sobering statistic that 500,000 women in England had given up swimming in the last ten years because of concerns about their body image. That really shocked me. Just last week some new data came out which showed that one in two mothers has been put off taking their child swimming due to fear of being seen in a bathing suit. That data is really troubling – especially given all the amazing physical and mental benefits of swimming, so I knew I wanted to create a product that would help encourage women to feel like the best version of themselves in the pool.
There are lots of barriers today that stop women from going for a swim. Some of these are really basic practical considerations such as not wanting your bust to feel unsupported or exposed in a costume, or wanting something that is bikini line friendly. I wanted to create a collection that dissolves some of these barriers. So that's the mission behind Deakin and Blue, to provide women with swimwear designed for their body shape, comfort and confidence – swimwear that allows them to go for a worry-free swim and which helps them to feel good about themselves.
How do you see your brand evolving in 10 years?
We have plans to bring out regular collections with a range of different styles and to become established as a brand which celebrates women of all shapes, sizes and ages.
In particular we are exploring the idea of establishing an offline presence as, although you can return items at no cost through our website, I think trying clothes on in-store is still very important for both lingerie and swimwear brands.
The next collection, which is due in March, will be building on the lessons we have learned from our first collection and also will be more sun-tan friendly – so involving less fabric than the previous collection. Just this week we have extended our size range up to UK 24 – a really exciting and important move for us as we work to empower even more women to feel great in the water.
We have plans for a sophisticated gym-to-swim collection which has comprehensive impact support so a woman can run and then jump into the water or do a triathlon all in the same clothes.
Your background is not typical to that of a designer, you studied English at university and then did strategy consulting, so what made you take the brave step to start your own label?
I worked in consulting for 5 years and then at a digital recruitment startup running their operations. Working at a startup definitely nurtured the sense that I wanted to start my own business as it gave me exposure to all of the challenge and thrill of starting your own venture.
However, the real catalyst for me was experiencing, first hand, a consumer problem that I felt really strongly needed addressing. People often say “build the business you wish already existed” – and that’s exactly what I’m doing.
What advice would you give aspiring students regarding the first steps to starting a label?
I've learned a lot along the way and made a lot of mistakes! For me, the most important thing is to know what your differentiator and USP is. So if you want to start a fashion brand, it’s really important to be really clear on how and why what you will offer is different to something that already exists – whether that’s in design, use of fabrics, manufacturing process, branding or something else altogether.
Although I do not have a fashion or design background, I think my business background has been hugely beneficial to date because I'm always conscious of the commercial implications of a decision and, I think, it helps me to think long term. I think many of the people that move into the fashion industry have a fashion background and are incredibly talented designers or creatives, but some lack the commercial skillset, and, ultimately, you need to know how to run a business and, ideally, make money, so getting some sort of skills or experience on the business side is crucial.
What's your favorite Deakin and Blue piece right now?
The coral one piece is my favorite. You feel like a total superhero in it. And it's so flattering too. We use power mesh to enhance a silhouette and provide coverage without a costume feeling too heavy. It works really well and has been very popular!
You had your first collection out with a small budget, so how did you get people to find out about you?
Before I launched, I built a social media presence using mood imagery and vintage inspired photos on Instagram. I gained over 1,500 followers and built up a mailing list so that by the time we came to launch we already had a small community of individuals interested in what we had to offer. Post launch, I've been focusing on generating PR and reviews from industry experts. We’ve generated significant traffic and traction through PR so it’s definitely a channel not to be underrated. Building brand awareness is definitely our biggest challenge right now and building awareness on a small budget can be tricky. I am very proactive on social media in trying to get our products in front of relevant people. Referral mechanisms have also been really useful for us – we had a lovely customer in Germany post about one of our products and we then saw significant sales from Germany come in. We’ve also seen lots of traction recently around our eco-friendly USP – all our swimwear is made from recycled consumer waste materials which is a very hot topic and key consideration in the fashion industry at the moment. It’s fantastic that we are able to contribute to this discussion.
Throughout the Deakin & Blue website I see the term "real women" used a lot. What does a real woman mean to you?
Great question. The term "real women" can be very loaded and I’m sometimes cautious of using it. For me, “real women” means everyday women who haven't been airbrushed and are not posing and, as a result, we are gaining an insight into their “real life”. It’s important to me to showcase our products on non-models so our customers can see that normal women, like you and me, also look fantastic in it – without the lighting, the snazzy camera, the hours of photoshop editing and everything else – and that’s where the “real women” language comes in.
How do you think your brand redefines what being a woman means?
We celebrate women of all shapes, sizes, ages and races. We also advocate strongly that being strong or athletic is not about being thin. We believe really strongly that women don't have to conform to a particular shape to feel good about themselves and that there is something to celebrate in all of us.
Where do you find inspiration for your collections?
For our first collection I looked a lot at vintage swimwear and took inspiration from their designs and shapes. I also looked at a lot of lingerie, corsetry, costume wear and sports apparel to look at what other shapes and structures flattered and enhanced the female form, in order to think about how we might make something similar in water-friendly fabrics.
Are there any good resources you would suggest for an aspiring designer?
I am a keen reader and podcast listener and have been amazed by the wealth of free resources available to aspiring business owners and designers. I really like the podcast How I Built This which interviews highly successful entrepreneurs about their own journey. I also would recommend reading The Lean Startup – the bible of startup owners – and Start with Why by Simon Sinek – a great book about being clear on your business mission and purpose. To anyone thinking of starting a business in fashion I would really recommend visiting Premiere Vision in Paris which showcases the latest fabric and design trends and themes – it’s an absolutely stunning show and always a huge source of inspiration for us.