By Nichole Gonzalez Photographer & Creative Director
As the owner and designer, Charlie's journey from corporate disappointment to creative empowerment inspired the birth of Iroh Swim. Her story is a testament to the unwavering pursuit of craftsmanship, sustainability, and genuine connection in the world of fashion. In this spotlight, we uncover the layers of Charlie's inspiration, the uniqueness of Iroh Swim's ethos, and the brand's aspirations within the slow fashion movement. Join me as we get an inside look at Charlie's vision, challenges, and the remarkable evolution of Iroh Swim into a beacon of authenticity and effortless beauty.
Photos from left to right: Charlie's sketches of one-piece ideas; Picking out fabrics for the first collection.
What inspired you to start your swimwear brand, and what do you hope to achieve with Iroh Swim?
I was inspired to start Iroh Swim after feeling pretty used and abused in the corporate world. I knew I had good work ethic and the ideas to succeed on my own, so I quit during the pandemic and put all my energy into creating the brand. I've always been into creating and designing, as a little girl I was making fashion sketches. Swimwear wasn't my main interest but I wanted to start with something very specific and branch off from there. Hoping to expand the brand into beach wear and clothing one day!
Photos from left to right: Charlie making the suits herself; selecting package; Charlie photographing Maria in Mexico for Iroh Swim's first travel photoshoot.
Can you describe the key features and unique qualities of your swimwear line that set it apart from other brands in the market?
Building this brand made me realize a lot of things about the swimwear industry. A major discovery was that most brands aren't designing anything at all, but rather purchasing "ready designs" and slapping on a label. There is a company called BaliSwim that not only manufactures the suits but offers to set up the entire photoshoot for the product. There is very little heart and individuality. I refused to go that route. I sketched every design, testing my handmade samples on myself and my friends. I personally handmade the suits for the first year and a half. I made the website, I run the socials using pictures I took after learning how to use a camera from a 40 minute youtube tutorial. Every little detail is intentional. This is truly a passion project and I think few brands can say the same.
What challenges did you face during the process of launching your brand, and how did you overcome them?
There were quite a few challenges launching Iroh and there still are. I am a perfectionist through and through, so finding a team that met my standards was very difficult. Nichole reaching out to me was the best thing that could have happened so early in Iroh's journey. She sees the vision and is equally passionate about her work as she is mine. It's a challenge to find people who genuinely want to create something amazing, not just make some money.
How do you envision your brand contributing to the overall swimwear industry and fashion landscape?
I want to be a part of the slow fashion world. Brands that have integrity and not only care about their products but the people working to make them. Right now you see so many brands just spitting out products to keep up with whatever is trendy, I'd like to see fashion move a lot slower. When you think of Mirror Palais or Savannah Morrow you picture a very specific vibe and quality, they don't feel the need to have all these different styles just for the sake of reaching a wider audience. Thats incredibly respectable and inspiring to see a brand that could easily appease the masses and cash in, but instead stays true to their original vision. I want Iroh to be seen in that same light.
"The key word is always going to be 'natural'."
In terms of design and aesthetics, what themes or inspirations influence your collections, and what can customers expect from them?
The overall theme and aesthetics of Iroh Swim is effortless, innate beauty. Beauty that comes as is, unapologetically genuine. The designs are meant to accentuate what you already have, not distort you into something you aren't. There is an old photo I saw taken on the beach in Spain and the women are in these tiny bikinis, messy hair and what looks like zero makeup. And regardless of their body shape they are exuding this untouchable confidence. Thats the vibe I want for Iroh. The key word is always going to be 'natural'. I want natural makeup, hair, bodies and backgrounds, followed with a confidence that makes you want to be as comfortable and doubtless as those girls on the beach.
Can you elaborate on the materials and production processes you use for your swimwear line, particularly regarding quality and sustainability?
Production, quality and sustainability are some things I am very passionate about. Iroh Swim has a very small team, knowing the working conditions for anyone who contributes to the brand is extremely important to me. We have one seamstress who makes a livable wage and works in the comfort of her own home. Our fabric scraps are sent to a recycler, and our packaging is entirely recycled, compostable, biodegradable and/or plantable. We work with a lot of small businesses on Etsy, the sterling silver size tags, the embroidered hats and the seed paper are all handmade in the United States by small Etsy sellers. To reduce as much waste as possible we also recycle any suit you no longer want, or fix the damages to a suit you'd like to keep. The goal is to give you a suit that will last a lifetime, keeping as much fabric out of the landfills as possible.
How have you approached market research and understanding your target audience's needs and preferences in order to develop a product that resonates with them?
When it comes to market research I didn't have to do too much. It's easy to find out what the customer wants when I am the customer. How do I want my suits to fit, what colors and styles would I be shopping for. Honestly, I am pretty disappointed by most swim on the market, and I know I'm not the only one. When it comes to advertising I had the same mindset, what do I like to see? I think I am pretty good at creating a mood board, which is essentially what the instagram started as. I would get people messaging about how they loved the vibe before they even saw the suits. I relied on that to bring in the right customer, a customer like me. And I feel like I have succeeded so far. An Iroh customer wants consistency, quality and transparency. No gimmicks or sales pitches, just an honest representation of the product. Just deliver the Iroh vibe and the girls that get it, get it!
Considering the competitive nature of the swimwear industry, what strategies have you implemented to establish brand awareness and gain a foothold in the market?
In the fast fashion world its a little hard to keep up, the pressure to put out something new is constant. When you think of it as a competition it can start to feel so capitalistic. I'd like to stay in my own lane of slow fashion, and deliver quality designs at a sustainable rate. Although reaching a larger audience and competing with the big brands would feel like a success, I am happy with being in a smaller niche.
What is your long-term vision for your swimwear brand, and how do you plan to evolve and expand in the future?
Long term goals would be to stay true to the original vision with each new collection. I'd love to start designing beachwear and slowly lean into more clothing. It would be a dream to have my own little Iroh team. I know I could produce more with a large manufacturing company working with me but I want to keep Iroh more intimate. I want to know the people making my suits, to keep the same people around, and create a little Iroh family that can look back and share the success together.
Finally, what message or feeling do you hope people will experience when wearing your swimwear, and what do you want your brand to be known for?
I want people to wear my suits and feel like themselves. I want the brand to feel organic and effortless. And I really want the vibe to be unquestionable, just like your confidence when wearing the suits. When people think of Iroh I want them to think of a small business, a genuine brand that they can trust and feel good purchasing from.