It’s a long way from Picnic Point in Menemsha Pond to the beaches on Phuket, Thailand, and perhaps even farther back to the fashion district in New York, but neither geographic nor cultural chasms have deterred Whitney Andresen from following her dream to create her own swimwear company.
Two weeks ago, her jump-start startup hit the jackpot when one of her suits was featured in the annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue — not even a year after she officially went into business. She calls the company Bikini Thief.
Now 32, the second daughter and youngest child of Sarah and Spider Andresen of Chilmark has never been far from the water.
“I’ve always loved swimwear,” Ms. Andresen said in a phone conversation last weekend. “It started when I was growing up on Martha’s Vineyard and on boats with my dad. I’m happiest when I’m on the water, in the water, on the beach surfing, scuba diving, sailing, fishing — and you do those things in bathing suits.” And some of those suits look better than others.
After graduating from the University of Miami in 2002, Ms. Andresen worked in Los Angeles for a year. On a whim she entered a swimwear design contest run by Roxy, the sister company to Quicksilver. “Design has been something I’ve always loved and when I came in second in the nation, I realized that maybe I had some talent,” she said.
Harnessing that talent would have to wait, or at least gestate, before Ms. Andresen could capitalize on it. Travel and seeing the world came first. “I spent a winter going all over the beaches of Thailand, I sailed through the Caribbean for several months and learned to SCUBA dive, I lived in Costa Rica for two winters and just surfed for the entire winter,” she said.
Artistic since childhood, Ms. Andresen always carried drawing materials with her, and she soon devoted one of her sketchbooks exclusively to swimsuits. “In 2004 I was sitting on a beach in Thailand, thinking maybe I should give this whole dream of being a swimwear designer a try.”
But first, she had to make a living. In 2005, she moved to New York where she works as a production manager for FUSE TV. She has enjoyed the work, but she couldn’t let go of the idea of starting her own swimwear company.
“What stopped me was not knowing where to start,” Ms. Andresen said. “So I just started Googling everything. And I work right next to the fashion district in the city, and I just started wandering the streets and finding fabric shops and sewing shops. I realized that everything was at my finger tips and I should just go for it — I should just try.”
A critical boost came from an unlikely source, Ms. Andresen said. “I saw ‘The Secret,’ a movie about putting out to the universe what you want, and I made a Vision Board, a collage of actual things that you want to have come into fruition in your life. At the very top was ‘Bikini Thief in Sports Illustrated, 2011.’ No joke.”
Working nights and weekends, she dug in to her dream. “I did all my own custom fabrics through sketching and handed them over to a Computer Animated Design artist who put everything in electronic form that we then could send to China and have samples made,” she said. “Everything I didn’t know how to do, I asked or I Googled, and I figured it out.”
A friend in the fashion business helped her with design and manufacturing problems.
And a man in the financial industry, Greg Taddeo, put the money in place. “My brother, Tyler, introduced me to him. I told him about what I was trying to do and I showed him my book, and he asked how much I needed to get this going.”
Mr. Taddeo found investors to back Bikini Thief, to the tune of approximately $100,000. “We started the LLC together,” Ms. Andresen said. “I’m the majority holder, but he’s part-owner, and he’s been my right-hand man on the business side of things.”
With a collection of swimwear in hand, Ms. Andresen took the plunge, big-time, last summer. “I decided to do the Miami Swim Show, last July,” she said. “I had a tiny, tiny booth and I hired a model who was wearing a red bikini that I designed. And the team of SI Swimsuit Edition women walked by and saw the suit. They came into my booth and pulled eight suits out of my collection to photograph. They just walked into my booth.”
An exciting turn of events, for sure, but no guarantee that Bikini Thief would appear in the Swimsuit edition. And Ms. Andresen wasn’t about to sit around waiting for miracles.
Honing her marketing skills, Ms. Andresen hustled Bikini Thief suits into Lux boutiques in the Four Seasons hotels. The line is also in stores in the Hamptons, Key West, Hawaii, Scoop NYC, even in a hotel in Dubai, of all places. “But my first order, last spring, came from Elaine Barse at the Green Room in Vineyard Haven,” she said.
“I didn’t have any idea I was going to make the magazine until I got an email in January asking for credit information for the suits,” Ms. Andresen said. When the magazine came out, my periwinkle blue martini print bathing suit, called Gibson, was in it. And another suit of mine in red, called Ipanema, is on the website, as well as two different color versions of my suit Lucy Vincent. I name all my suits after places that I’ve been to.”
Since the magazine came out in mid-February, sales have perked up noticeably. Still, Ms. Andresen isn’t satisfied.
“I had a terrible time manufacturing in China, so I’ve now moved my entire production into the U.S., and I’m doing all my manufacturing in Los Angeles,” she said.
If Bikini Thief takes off and steals its share of the swimwear market, Ms. Andresen may move back to L.A. In the meantime, she’s still a bit stunned that the dream that she put on top of her vision board six years ago has become a reality. But what else would you expect from a woman who believes that the name Bikini Thief has come to connect with “the type of girl who isn’t afraid to go out into the world and find a way to get what she wants no matter who or what stands in her way.” Sound familiar?
“It’s the craziest education I’ve had in my life,” Whitney Andresen said, sounding both amazed and delighted — and proud. “It’s been incredibly challenging, but I worked it out.”