You likely recognize Candice Swanepoel from her runway appearances as a Victoria’s Secret Angel, as well as her slew of fashion magazine editorials and her work with many of the world’s top fashion brands, including Givenchy, Fendi, Versace, and Chanel. In fact, Swanepoel is no stranger to Forbes: the South African native has been included in the Forbes list of “The World’s Highest-Paid Models” several times.
But today, the mother of two is making a name for herself as the cofounder of eco-lifestyle and swimsuit brand, Tropic of C. With core values like sustainability, empowerment, community, and quality guiding the brand’s strategic and design decisions, Tropic of C is making all the right waves.
After years of working in front of the camera as one of Victoria’s Secret’s top models, Swanepoel decided to pursue her entrepreneurial passions by launching her own swimsuit brand. She joined forces with Daniela Manfredi, whose extensive fashion and design career includes more than eight years as Senior Vice President and Creative Director at Victoria’s Secret.
“It started as a creative outlet,” Swanepoel explains. “I love photography and imagery and beauty in general. I had been working and shooting swim for so many years, and as a way of keeping my mind working during photoshoots, I would analyze the product.”
When Swanepoel finally took a break from modeling when she became a new mom – she had been working as a model since age 15, when she was discovered at a South African flea market – she realized that creating her own swimsuit brand was the path to fulfilling her dream.
Launched in February 2018, the primarily direct-to-consumer brand is available internationally, and has also been featured on e-tailers like Goop, Moda Operandi and Olivela. Tropic of C will also have an IRL presence when it launches in the UK as part of Selfridges’ “Swim Hut” activation at the end of October, adding to its list of luxe global wholesalers like Holt Renfrew in Canada and Factory 52 in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Tropic of C stands firm on its positioning of sustainability, impact and fashion-centric designs that underscore women’s powerful femininity.
“Sustainability is a key part of my lifestyle. I think coming from Africa and growing up with such a strong level of nature, it’s where I get inspiration,” Swanepoel explains. Her life spent at the beach and surrounded by nature has influenced the rich, earthy tones of Tropic of C’s collections.
“At the same time, Victoria’s Secret had [temporarily] stopped the swim category, so I figured, this is my moment to keep myself busy during my pregnancy but also, to make my dream come true. But the hardest part was getting it started! I didn’t know anything about what it takes to build the business or about the manufacturing process, so I started to have a lot of meetings, which is how I got connected to Daniela.”
(Manfredi had worked closely with fabrics, textiles and design from her days at Victoria’s Secret.)
Swanepoel continues: “I had already dreamed up the brand ethos and what I wanted it to look like, and then we collaborated and it was born. It’s like my third baby!”
While her strong connection with nature has always been present, Swanepoel felt an even stronger urge towards minimalism and the call for sustainability when she became a mother. As a result, every decision that Swanepoel and Manfredi make is intentional and purpose-driven, from the fabrics of the swimsuits down to the packaging.
Manfredi explains: “For us it starts with the fabric. We continually research and incorporate sustainable textile developments into our collections. By prioritizing recycled materials and methods that reduce water and energy, we are able to decrease our environmental footprint.” As a result, Manfredi and Swanepoel source materials that are renewable, biodegradable or decrease water and energy consumption.
So every small detail is considered, like the branded woven labels inside each garment that are made from recycled polyester, and the hygiene liner that’s completely compostable and features a bioplastic derived from tree pulp – all details that make a big difference.
The majority of Tropic of C’s styles are produced using regenerated fabrics that provide good strength and stretch, as well as upcycled fabrics that give second life to discarded waste. Econyl, for example, is made from 100% recycled materials like fishing nets, fabric scraps and industrial plastics rescued from landfills and oceans all over the world. Repreve is a high-performance polyester fiber made entirely from recycled plastic bottles; beyond its sustainability, the fabric has inherit properties such as wicking, thermal regulation and cushioned support, adding to the supreme quality of the swimsuits.
Shipping is also a key step that garners attention: Tropic of C’s eco-friendly mailer is 100% compostable, and made from a bio-based polymer and plant materials, meaning it’s a more durable, sustainable alternative to plastic poly mailers.
Also driven by community, Swanepoel has joined Selma Hayek and Annie Lennox as an ambassador for Mothers 2 Mothers (M2M), an NGO headquartered in Cape Town, South Africa that works across eight African nations.
“Motherhood and South Africa are two of my passions, so serving as an M2M patron is a perfect fit for me,” Swanepoel shares. In honor of Mother’s Day this past year, Swanepoel committed a portion of Tropic of C sales to Mothers 2 Mothers.
The core value of empowerment also comes through with Tropic of C’s commitment to preserving the work and craft of local artisans, by commissioning accessories from mostly-female artisan groups in South America and selling the products on its website. “Our goal is to create beautiful, one-of-a-kind pieces that celebrate their traditional techniques and use of local materials,” Manfredi explains.
Also worth noting: the element of empowerment extends to Tropic of C’s swimsuit designs and silhouettes. Thanks to Swanepoel’s keen eye for photography, Tropic of C’s campaign imagery is very much in the female gaze, with the essence of a woman’s strength and sensuality guiding the way.
“It’s about the way the product makes you feel when it’s on,” Swanepoel explains. “I’m inspired by the concept of ‘powerful femininity’ – I’m gently spoken and quite soft and calm, but I’m also quite powerful, strong, thick-skinned, and resilient. I come from a farm in the middle of nowhere, I’ve gone through a lot to be where I am. But I also think my vision of beauty is when people embrace being feminine and soft. So you see it in the designs, in the shoulders, in the waist, in the high cuts of the suits. There’s a dichotomy in the term ‘powerful femininity’ that has a complexity to it.”
As for the most critical traits that help Swanepoel succeed as an entrepreneur?
“Trust in your vision, fully. Don’t compromise that and stay consistent with it. And have a very clear vision. Be hardworking and be willing to do any of work you need to do in your company. Coming from South Africa, we learn that hard work is important. I’ve been working since I’m 15 and maybe am a little bit addicted to the drive.”
Through it all, Swanepoel is committed to carving out quality time with her two young children.
“It takes organization and time management, but it’s very important for me to spend a lot of time with my kids, especially because they’re babies. I live right around the corner from my office, and divide my time accordingly between working from there, being with my kids, and modeling as well. It can be done.”