There’s something about surfing that never fails to baffle me.
Of course, just the notion of riding tumultuous waves is already a wonder in itself, but what’s even harder to believe is how the bikinis that female surfers wear stay up amidst all the twists, turns, and crashing waves.
I can’t even swim properly if I chose to wear a bikini instead of a one-piece!
A quick search online confirmed that I wasn’t the only one – surfers themselves were also finding it hard to get bikinis that were actually functional for their hobby.
22-going-on-23 year old surfing enthusiast Beckie Liu knows the pain, and started up so that she could solve the perennial problem for female surfers who, like herself, want cute yet functional bikinis.
Full-Time Undergrad, Part-Time Bikini Entrepreneur
Born in Hong Kong but raised in Singapore, Beckie is currently studying for her Communications and New Media degree at the National University of Singapore.
She got acquainted with the sport 4 years ago in Bali, and has spent every recess week and holiday period since then surfing her way around the world.
I fell in love with surfing because it’s like a metaphor for life – some waves are worth chasing, and others letting go. The more you fall and experience life’s ‘wipeouts’, the better you learn to read the swells on the horizon and paddle out to avoid being hit unexpectedly.
However, it was also then that she found herself needing to compromise on various aspects of her swimwear collection.
“Think of it as the school-social-sleep dilemma, except for swimwear its durability-affordability-design and you can only pick two.”
When asked about how much it costs on average for a bikini set that’s surf-friendly, she reveals that it’s “at least 120 bucks with shipping”.
“The most expensive one I got was from my ex – 100 bucks just for a bottom!”
What she also realised was that the bikinis available weren’t size-friendly for girls of various shapes and sizes.
“Every body is different, so standard sizings are often problematic in both swimwear and lingerie. For small-framed girls with a large bust, you can imagine how difficult it must be find something that fits both at the band and covers enough at the bust.”
“Conversely, it’s frustrating for smaller bust girls – like myself – to find a bikini that they can feel completely confident in.”
“I avoid bikinis that comes with an underwire tagged with ‘PUSH-UP’ to death because my smaller chest can almost never fill it, the padding absorbs water like a sponge – how can any girl feel good in that?”
Not satisfied with the limited selection of bikinis that fulfil the durable, affordable, and well-designed criteria, she decided to take matters into her own hands, and created her own brand of surf bikinis – Haikini.
“Haikini represents my wish to create bikinis with the perfect fit.”
“The tops are all designed to be adjustable, so girls who are in-between sizes can always pick the bigger size and tighten it!”
“My Dream Is To Create Surf Bikinis”
Before every surf trip, I would go shop for bikinis that can hold up in the surf, so I said to myself that one day, my dream is to create surf bikinis. This was about 3 years ago.
“Of course, the dream is free, but the hustle is sold separately,” she admits.
For her, December 2016 was a turning point, as it was then that she started making concrete plans to make her dream a reality.
In August 2017, Haikini was officially launched with just $2,000 startup capital.
She cites her sewing experience to have come particularly in handy, especially when it comes to creating the bikini designs.
And this experience is one that came with a Christmas gift from her father when she was 14.
I remember at that time DIY videos were taking over all my free time and I started watching all these videos – DIY dresses, pattern-making, fabric-dyeing…sewing was the enabler for all my ideas to come to life.
Beckie admits, however, that while her pattern-making skills came in handy for the creation of new Haikini designs, actually sewing the bikinis aren’t that easy.
“Any stretchy garment should be sewn with a serger instead of a regular sewing machine. I work with a tailor in the initial stage of sample construction. We create the pattern, then she sews the pieces together with a serger.”
The main difference is stretchability – the serged seam can stretch unlike the straight stitch on a regular machine. This is important because if the seams are done with a straight stitch machine, the swimwear will soon break and fall apart when someone tries to stretch it.
Beckie quickly apologises for her jargon-filled explanation.
“I emphasise the construction of these bikinis a lot because each bikini is carefully crafted to suit both lounge days and active days!”
“It’s an everyday bikini you can trust to look cute, stay on, all at an accessible price point! Want to go surfing but didn’t bring your rashguard or spring suit? That’s okay as long as you have Haikini.”
A Fateful Uber Ride Which Changed The Course Of The Business
While designs come easily to her, finding a reliable producer in Bali proved to be challenging.
But one fateful Uber ride changed all that.
During her ride back from Kuta, her Uber driver struck up a conversation with her, which eventually led her to confide in him about her producer-finding woes.
Guess what he said? ‘Oh, I know where!’
Taking his words with a huge pinch of salt, her meeting with the driver’s contact was also rescheduled twice.
“You have to know that in Bali, it’s always island time- which means deadlines and scheduled meetings are almost always pushed back!”
“It was a really sketchy meeting. I didn’t know who they were, or what relationship they had with the production house. Till this day, I still have no idea,” she admits.
Just like learning how to surf, in the beginning, it’s all about learning how to stay calm when the waves keep you underwater. How you get better is to just keep on paddling, and keep on trying until you finally learn to dance on the waves.
“I decided to trust my gut and show up at the production house anyway, and that was maybe the best decision that I made that year.”
Eventually, after 2 weeks of negotiation just to get a decent price for production and 8 gruelling months of preparation, Beckie debuted the Seaster Collection.
And within just 5 minutes of the launch, the first order was placed!
To date, 80 bikinis have been delivered, and more pre-ordered bikinis are set to be delivered soon.
Working To Make Haikini A “Full-Time Hustle”
It’s hard to believe that Beckie managed to start up the entire operation with just $2,000.
Even she herself was filled with doubt with the very humble capital.
“I only had the capital for 1 design, and it was a make-it-or-break-it moment because its receptiveness would determine if Haikini would survive the first wave.”
I had so many doubts about myself. Will girls like it? What if nobody buys it?
“But I had to just trust myself since I researched the hell out of it for the first design. [For example,] I did a survey to find out what girls think lacked in their swimsuits, what they especially liked, and so on.”
A one-woman operation, she admits that at the moment, she does face some logistical hiccups and loses customers who have more time-sensitive needs.
“But unofficially my friends help me with marketing through word of mouth, photography, modelling, suggesting and even designing new prints,” she grins.
And let’s not forget that the budding entrepreneur-designer is still a full-time undergrad!
How does she handle the stressors of school and running her own business, and what do her parents think about it?
“I think the trick is to just have fun with it! It was my dream to start to start Haikini – there’s nothing more I can ask for. You automatically make time for things and people that matter the most.”
If you struggle to find time then I guess that says something about its priority.
Beckie counts herself lucky to have parents who “believe very much in chasing your passion, so they were quite encouraging”.
“But I think deep down they see still see it as a hobby, and like any practical family, they constantly remind me to get a ‘proper’ job after I graduate.”
“Normally I just nod along…but I am working to make Haikini a full-time hustle!”
Expanding The Range And The ‘Seasterhood’
Other than expanding the swimwear collection with more styles, adding one-piece designs and spring suits, she also plans to organise more surf trips for her fellow surf-loving ‘seasters’.
For example, just last month, she organised a surf trip to Bali.
“We’re creating a safe and encouraging space for girls to comfortably learn and improve their surfing.”
“I’m currently in the midst of rolling out an all-in day surf trip to Desaru, Malaysia. During the months of November to February, waves form along the east coast of Johor Bahru and it’s a perfect spot for beginners to surf some friendly waves!”
Information on the trip will be rolled out throughout the month of January, and a one-time fee will include the ferry ride, transport fees, board rental and board lesson fees as well.
When it comes to advice for others looking to start up like herself, she quotes rapper Vanilla Ice:
“Alright stop, collaborate and listen.”
“Every startup hopes that it is the underdog that can break through the canopy of competitors. You can make every competitor an enemy, or you can choose to collaborate and grow together.”
“That does not mean that you have to merge your operations. Instead, it’s about asking sensible questions and learning from each other. In short, just spread good vibes!”
Check out Haikini’s gorgeous surf bikinis on their website!