Launching a brand is no small feat. It takes blood, sweat, and tears. Not to mention serious balls. Launching a brand during a pandemic that shuts down the world’s economy? Well, entrepreneurship doesn’t get much more stressful than that.
One of our clients knows this story all too well. Lauren Tinerella, founder of Eltee Swim, was awaiting the shipment for her bulk product just as most of our country was preparing to shut down indefinitely. She faced the tough decision to either move forward with her planned launch date, or postpone going live until there was a known end to this pandemic. Below, we’re chatting with Lauren about her path to entrepreneurship and how things are going in her first 2 months as a brand.
MEET THE FOUNDER
SCS: Lauren, we’re so excited to talk with you today. Tell us about yourself. What is your professional background? What lead you to start an apparel brand?
LT: I’ve worked in some version of retail since I was 18. I started to really focus on the idea when I was 23 years old and had left my job to be a men’s stylist. It gave me the opportunity to do custom clothing and to really get creative when it came to design. I had so many plans to first launch a menswear brand. I had also dabbled in blogging. Over the years I had so many women reach out to me to ask me about brands I loved, especially when it came to swimwear.
I love to travel and I love any excuse to put on a swimsuit. It’s always been a struggle for me to find quality swimwear that fit well, or swim that fit well but wasn’t extremely expensive. I’m such a hard fit in all clothing so one day I was like “this is your calling.” You need to make your own because you’re going to be good at it.
SCS: What was the process like for you to decide to become an entrepreneur?
LT: My parents are entrepreneurs, so I think becoming one myself was something I always saw as my end goal. It’s always been at the forefront of my mind. Fortunately, I had them to guide me. They showed me that it is possible to be whatever you want to be and to do whatever it is you want to do if you’re willing to work really hard. I’ve always wanted to create something myself from the ground up. Because of that, I don’t think I would have ever been happy with myself if I didn’t at least try.
SCS: What/Who has been your biggest motivator or muse in building your brand?
LT: Honestly, myself. I’m the only one inside my own mind to know how much I truly believe in what I’m creating and to know how far my vision extends beyond this initial point. If I dream it, I owe it to myself to try. That idea, that voice in my head, motivates me every single day.
ABOUT THE BRAND
SCS: Who is your target customer?
LT: Women – I don’t like to put specifics on who I’m targeting because I find it to be a deterrent. With this brand, I’m truly trying to make something that goes beyond standards or confines. I wouldn’t want someone to read that my target market is women ages 18-35 and say “Oh, this brand is too young for me.” So, maybe the answer is everyone?
SCS: Tell us about the brand! Where can your goods be purchased? What makes you different?
LT: Eltee Swim can be purchased online only through my website at the moment. Once permitted to do so safely I plan to get some pop-ups back on the calendar so that customers can see pieces and try them on in person. What makes Eltee Swim different is the attention we put on fit and adjustability. We are making a product that doesn’t sacrifice quality to keep to an attainable price point.
SCS: You launched this brand just as the country was entering an economic shutdown, almost to the day. What was that like?
LT: Most days I feel like I’m still waiting for the light at the end of the tunnel to appear. I can feel it getting closer, though, which is positive. It’s been strange. My biggest internal struggle has been around decisions on how to promote a brand amidst a pandemic. People are facing such uncertainty and such huge changes in their circumstances.
Realistically, I’m selling something that is far from a necessity, right? So, the way I have seen it, if I have even received one order since launch, that is positive and I’m grateful. My entire mindset had to change. I was so confident (almost naïve actually) that I thought my timing couldn’t be better. Of course, I could not have ever predicted something like this happening. I was already throwing myself into a situation in which the results were unknown. So, I would say now that the unknown has been prolonged. I’m just trying to come out of it stronger than I was before it, and with more knowledge. On top of that, I also know that one day it will make for an unbelievable brand story.
SCS: Did you question pushing the launch back? What made you go forward with your launch at that time?
LT: Yes, I did. I remember how many people asked me if I was still planning to go forward with it. I could always hear the hesitance in their voices when I asked their opinion. None of us knew what was to come.
I decided to move forward with it because I saw it as an opportunity to start learning about the next phase of launching a brand. Therefore, I told myself that if launching now meant that I might get way less orders than I initially might have, that still gives me the chance to learn about the processes I want to put in place in the future. This would allow me the time to iron out any kinks I run into. Looking back now, I am so happy with my decision to launch when I did. I’ve already learned so much, changed things, and been able to get ahead of potential future problems.
SCS: What is your brand story or messaging that you really want consumers to understand?
LT: I want customers to understand that I truly understand how hard fit can be and that I feel their frustration. My customers should know that I am working to offer and continue to create a solution for them. I also want consumers to understand that I am just a normal person; not the biggest, not the smallest. Owning it can inspire confidence in someone else, or inspire them to strive to do something they dream about doing even if they think its unattainable or impossible. We are all capable.
LESSONS TO BE LEARNED
SCS: What have been the biggest challenges or hurdles for you to conquer while building your brand?
LT: I think almost everything is a challenge when you’re building a company and a brand from nothing. They’re good challenges though. The ones that force you to learn things you might not have known you needed to learn. I am constantly learning something new, almost every day. I tell everyone I feel like I’m back in school sometimes. Many things are a challenge until you learn how to do them or how to overcome them. It’s all part of the process and the experience.
SCS: What have been your best successes so far?
LT: Having a final product that I was able to launch online and sell to consumers. A year ago I wasn’t able to see that it was possible. I just dreamed about it being possible. Actually getting to that point was a true indicator of success for me.
SCS: Launching a brand can be scary and very emotionally driven even in the best of times. What outlets have you used to keep the sanity while going through this process?
LT: Talking it out. I’ve reached out to other people who I know understand the struggles of trying to start a business and who know what it’s like to not be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel sometimes. I also talk to people who know more about the process than me: who can answer questions I have that cause me stress and they can usually offer advice.
Meditation has helped me tremendously when it comes to staying sane. Giving yourself even a few minutes a day to really dive into your own thoughts can provide so much clarity.
SCS: Are there any lessons you have learned so far as an entrepreneur?
LT: You need to be willing to give up control sometimes, and you need to be prepared to have plans go out the window. Things happen all the time that are going to be beyond your control. No matter how hard you try to stick to a plan, sometimes it just isn’t possible. Also, budgeting is so important. However, you are going to be so far off unless you talk to someone who has done something similar to what you want to do before. Have them help you with planning your budget. I incurred so many unforeseen expenses because I just didn’t know better at the time.
SCS: How have you had to pivot to accommodate the economic shut down?
LT: Three months ago I was thinking so far ahead in terms of what I wanted to do with Eltee Swim once it launched. I thought that financially within 4-5 months of launch I would be in a place to do so many of those things. In reality I’ve had to dial back. Those ideas are filed away somewhere to revisit at a later time and just take things day by day. I think that’s all any of us can really do right now.
IN IT FOR THE LONG HAUL
SCS: Where do you see your brand in 3-5 years (besides wildly successful)?
LT: Hopefully in 3-5 years I can expand into other categories. I have so many ideas and designs already!
SCS: Are there any major brand initiatives that you can share for the upcoming year?
LT: For the upcoming year I plan to expand my sizing to include up to size 5X. We currently offer XS-2X. I had wanted to include it on the first run. We just needed more time to be able to do so.
SCS: Have you seen any interesting selling trends so far?
LT: Black is my best-selling color. I knew it would be, but I am amazed at how much better it does than the other colorways.
SCS: Digitally native brands face a major hurdle with online returns. How have you built this into your structure? Is there anything you’ve learned about shipping and returns so far that you were not anticipating?
LT: I now know why so many small brands say all sales are final. Navigating returns and exchanges is tough, even aside from being a swimwear brand and dealing with the issue of hygiene. I host my site on Shopify and I initially thought I was going to have more capability to easily do exchanges than I currently am.
My first two weeks in business I tested out so many app plug-ins to try and help and nothing worked. I can say the one thing I did do that is working so far is install an app to initiate returns/exchanges rather than having customers reach out to me via e-mail. I am very excited about that. So far I love that process and it seems more logical, elevated, and it helps keep all of the details I need organized in one place. I don’t have to toggle back and forth through my site and e-mails. The app I integrated is AfterShip Returns Center.
SCS: This period of isolation and social distancing has been challenging and also has allowed time to take life a bit slower than usual. What have been the most difficult aspects of this time and what have been the most enjoyable for you personally and as a brand?
LT: The one thing I have enjoyed is the opportunity to take life a bit slower than usual. I have time to appreciate the little things that I’m typically moving too fast to notice. When we’re moving at the normal pace of life I think the moments we get to slow down and take things in are special and appreciated. In times like this though, it can become difficult to be sitting with one’s thoughts all the time. I almost have too much time to sit and overanalyze scenarios and to speculate about the future, of my brand and my life. It makes me extremely anxious a lot of the time.
SCS: Who would be your ideal celebrity customer?
LT: Serena Williams or Demi Lovato because I love how they embrace their bodies, their confidence and the way they share that with their following. Kristen Noel Crawley for the way she would style it, and Beyonce because…well because she’s Beyonce.
SCS: Which beach or body of water would you be most excited to see your swimsuits worn once the world reopens?
LT: I will be happy to see them anywhere once the world reopens! After this, I will just be so happy that people finally get to put them to use! It would be so surreal to be somewhere and to see someone I don’t know wearing one of my designs. That’s a dream – whether it be in Chicago, in Maui, in Bora Bora (I’m trying to manifest that I will travel there in the future), I would be beyond excited to see it.
We will be going live with YWCA and Lauren Tinerella later this week on May 21st, 2020. There, we will be diving deeper about building a business and navigating crises. Join us for a great cause and a great conversation. This is part of a fundraiser series for the YWCA Chicago. Get your tickets here.