Why Being Strange Is Good for Sales: Lessons From a Bikini Brand
Posted Jun 12, 2017 by Kristen Pinkman, Ecwid Team

Why Being Strange Is Good for Sales: Lessons From a Bikini Brand

Is it strange enough to sell your handmade product to Miley Cyrus? Ali Conway says, “Confidence, baby!” — and ticks that off of her to-do list.

She founded Strange Bikinis in 2012 to prove that a strong message is what makes the difference between a brand and “just another brand”.

Some people are still trying to create the demand for their swimwear using Photoshop and Victoria Secret’s model types. Ali has chosen a different path — delivering quality designs to real women that make every body shape look gorgeous. And it’s she who ships her handmade swimwear internationally.

In this post, we’ll look into her ways of doing one-woman-for-every-woman business.

Ali Conway

Meet Ali, Founder of Strange Bikinis (Reno, NV)

From Training to Thriving

It’s the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising that helped Ali develop her skills and get her degree in Fashion Design. But we’ll talk about life lessons rather than those learned at the institute desk.

“The reason I made my first swimsuit is that I wanted one that made me feel awesome and look awesome! Swimsuit shopping is miserable and it shouldn’t have to be. Flattering cute and bold details set my design apart but the quality is what makes them so strange. Because strange means awesome.”

Ali and her swimwear

Ali preparing for a style pull

Posting a single photo on Instagram was an outbreak for her business — she sold 3 swimsuits that day.

Yes, shouting out your idea to the crowd is blood-curdling. Yes, success might not happen overnight. However, Ali’s story teaches us that confidence in your personal vision matters more than having a flawless business plan ready.

I maybe sewed 3 swimsuits as gifts before I started Strange Bikinis.

So what is the secret to starting a fashion brand that instantly makes sales?

STRANGE (it’s you being you, but in a killer Bikini)

A post shared by Strange Bikinis (@strangebikinis) on 

As soon as Ali started the brand, she got sales and demand, so she knew that she was making something special. What she needed was a strong message on why being a Stranger (which is what she calls her customers) is way better than anything else. So it came to be:

“I basically want anyone to feel welcome to wear Strange Bikinis… not like other brands that try to keep people out of their products by sizing them incorrectly or pricing them unfairly.”

The brand name is doing its job just perfectly. “It’s catchy and kitschy and all things right! It’s not typical and people want to know more when they hear it,” says Ali.

If you’re starting to feel like you’re reading a fairy-tale, don’t be mistaken. There is a hard part behind it.

Ali handled the launch all alone, getting by with the help from her family and friends. At the launch time, she was sewing every day on a pool table in the living room of the house that belonged to her boyfriend’s parents.

I would work tirelessly and was always up before everyone — sewing. Last one to sleep — sewing. That was 5 years ago. It’s fun to think of the progress I have made.

Her first customers were locals, and she was also getting orders from Instagram, Facebook, and by email. Such a hurricane of sales made her hire people. That wasn’t effortless either. Ali had to learn how to hire contractors, which she now remembers as “a boring challenge”.

“People aren’t always good, and people will screw you over. Learning to get everything down in writing was a major hurdle that year.”

The point is not to let all that stop you. Today, Ali’s business has been through a lot of milestones, including winning raw artist designer of the year 2013, winning the Biggest Little Startup competition in 2015, receiving Miley Cyrus’ custom order for her birthday bash, and opening the warehouse and the retail store!

Strange Bikinis physical store

Strange Bikinis, the physical store

The Online Store

Ali’s sales started from social media, and even today most of her business comes from Instagram. The problem was: when you offer so many things, the cart process “is always a nightmare!”

Therefore, she got started with her online store and by now Ali has got quite the experience with shopping carts. Her developer, Michelle, made her switch to Ecwid.

“I think I have used Shopify and one other before Ecwid. I switched because it seemed to be the best fit for my merchandise. I had lots of variables in years passed so I needed more drop-down options on my site.”

Strange Bikinis Ecwid online store

Strange Bikinis’ online store powered by Ecwid

Her Ecwid store works on a Wix website. Both Ali and Michelle are happy with this techie combination.

“I LOVE these two systems. I love the backend, I love the apps, and I love how easy EVERYTHING is.”

Apart from the online store, Ali sells on the go with the Ecwid mobile app. It helps her accept payments in her physical store, as well as in pop-up store that she ran in April.

I love the [Ecwid] app. I sell on the go all the time. I love that I can easily update inventory. I love that I can see my numbers.

Business Development

Ali is doing pretty much everything on her own: sewing 90% of all orders, posting on social media, and finding partners. You can feel her energy even from a distance — I was really surprised by how quickly she replied to my emails.

On her blog, Ali wrote a great post on being a #GirlBoss, where she technically uncovered her daily routine hour by hour.

Below are some of her SMB practices that fashion stores can adopt.

Collections

Ali has been working on her designs for 5 years now. During this time, she has developed a solid collection that is stable in sales. Adding new color stories helps to maintain the interest year after year. “I try to introduce several new silhouettes each year too,” says the designer.

Ali's interns

Ali’s interns are quality controlling of the first run of production for the Deep Dream collection, 2017

If you want to evaluate your new product’s viability, one way is to give it a try in the heat of the shopping season, like Ali does: “I test new styles during mid-summer in my pop-up shop to see what the customers buy.” She also thinks that you shouldn’t neglect trusting your gut.

Have a brilliant marketing strategy, and DON’T overthink it.

And of course, her creative eye constantly needs some inspiration.

“For sure, the most inspiring thing is relaxation. Going outside and just living…. I feel energized by vitamin C. I love the mountains and the oceans and the lifestyles that go with them — taking all those things and trying to capture them in my brand and show them through my swimwear.”

Seasons

Projections about the seasonality of your business become more or less reliable when they’re based on sales data from at least two or three years. If you haven’t been in the game for so long, study the industry and learn the experience of those who are already doing it.

Ali says that her sales are pretty stable all year round. The fall is slower, but it doesn’t just disappear.

The swimsuits sell themselves. The winter is when people travel to tropical places, so I have noticed if I drop some new styles or offer a sale I always have sales!

Look how great bikinis and Xmas can match when you don’t treat seasons like problems.

What is on your wish list? | Check out the blog to see our xmas blog post 💋

A post shared by Strange Bikinis (@strangebikinis) on 

Marketing Strategy: “Overthinking Kills the Vibes!”

Strange Bikinis’ “official” marketing strategy is just one year old, according to Ali. Last year, she decided to focus on a smaller demographic rather than trying to make everyone buy the bikinis.

“I strategically picked 15 ambassadors across the country, hired a PR company, and slowly built up the anticipation of the first collection.”

Her ambassador program’s page is worth visiting, and the program itself teaches a couple of lessons:

  • Put your ambassador program in your main homepage menu to get more eyes on it
  • Design the page in a fun, interactive way to sparkle interest
  • Give your ambassadors some love back, for example, by featuring them on your blog

Strange Bikinis Ambassador program

Strange Bikinis’ Ambassador program

Though most of the photography is taken by Jocelyn Little @joceXPhoto, ambassadors and customers generate a lot of content, too.

The program started 5 years ago and followed the brand practically from the beginning.

“It just made sense to me to ‘sponsor’ specific girls to wear, live, laugh, travel, be in my bikinis. It’s a great way to get feedback on your products and reach people outside of your geographical area! Exposure is everything and word of mouth travels just as far as their social posts.”

Here’s what Ali says about finding the right girls for product presentations who share and reflect her brand’s philosophy: “I honestly ask Strangers I see out and about. I have found them at the gym, online, from friends of friends.”

Finding partners is definitely her strong point. She finds opportunities everywhere. Recently, Strange Bikinis threw donation yoga classes in Ali’s warehouse, hosting additional vendors and pop-up shops. “It’s super fun because the street I’m on is artsy, and these pop-up events always have a great turnout! I plan to do a lot more, but there’s only so much time!” Ali shared.

How does she generate ideas for promotion? No secret weapon here, unless you consider your own mind to be one.

Most of the time I just get a random thought in my mind and put it out there, it almost always happens. I really believe in the power of the mind!

Ali is very light-hearted about her social media. Her SMM’s headline is “Overthinking kills the vibes!”.

“I wing it! I try to have a general direction of color story but most days I just post what I feel looks good in that moment — or what I would like to see sell!”

What’s your go to bronzer? Have you tried Bali Body? #deepdream #strangebikinis2017 #strangebikinis #luxuryswimwear #Inspo

A post shared by Strange Bikinis (@strangebikinis) on 

Ali’s spreading those positive vibes right to her customers’ doors. Every swimsuit is wrapped up in beautiful tissue, stickers, and a handwritten note.

Strange Bikinis wrapping

Strange Bikinis’ personalized wrapping

Confidence, Baby!

We’ll definitely keep an eye on this beautiful store and Ali’s progress in the future. She told us that one of the first things on her list is to get the systems in process: “I have grown so fast and have had to just wing it. It’s going great but I’m going to be burnt out if I don’t get more people on board and systems set!”

“The apparel industry is crazy. Fast fashion is an impacting element that doesn’t really effect me, but as far as the industry as a whole is concerned, I think we have to educate our children and future generations that quality is better than quantity! Also, retail is on a fast decline to internet sales. It has never been in my plans to reach the point of massive wholesale accounts, I would like to remain niche enough that my website is the majority of my sales.”

Here’s Ali’s top three qualities a business owner should have:

  • Desire to make clothing, not to make money. I think that’s a big part of what makes anyone successful. Everyone always says it, but it’s true. If you’re doing something from a good place and genuinely love what you are doing, then you’ll thrive. If all you care about is the numbers, I think you’ll struggle. You might hit some highs, but overall, people see/feel through that.
  • Dedication. I think any entrepreneur needs mass amounts of dedication. You sacrifice so much to get your company started. You work endlessly! You may even work two jobs (like me); you have to hustle. Then once you FINALLY have the momentum, you’re just getting started! Each day is a crazy ride, and you really never get to take a break. If you think it’s going to be easier when you hire people, wrong… It’s almost harder!
  • Strong sense of self. You have to be in control of your feelings and confident enough to put products out in mass amounts with the confidence they will sell. I really feel because I am so relatable and confident with myself, it shows through my brand, and customers love that! And that’s what I’m selling really, confidence!

Honestly, find people who believe in you and will help you and guide you. Then fake it until you make it!

***

Dear Ecwid merchants, you are always welcome to share your business stories on blog@ecwid.com.