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Supermodel Candice Swanepoel just may be *the* expert on what swimsuits to pack on your summer holiday.
In 2018, Swanepoel co-founded Tropic of C, an eco-lifestyle and swimsuit brand.
After a nearly 20-year long career in front of the camera, Swanepoel took the skills she learned modeling for brands like Victoria’s Secret to the direct-to-consumer space.
Tropic of C is rooted in sustainability and community to create quality pieces that are meant to last—and withstand the trend cycle.
Swanepoel has always loved swimwear and being near a body of water when she had time off. As a kid, Swanepoel used to make swimsuits out of leftover fabric from her mother’s dance concerts.
“My mom was an aerobics teacher and a dance teacher when I was growing up and we always had lycra and pieces of fabric laying around the house,” Swanepoel said.
For the latest episode of Who What Wear With Hillary Kerr, Swanepoel shares what it was like launching her first collection, the swimsuits everyone should own, and more.
For excerpts from their conversation, scroll below.
Through your first career, you know a lot about swimwear, but having a good eye for something and then actually understanding the market of a particular category are completely different things—let alone getting a brand up and running. I know that you launched in 2018, but at what point did you decide like, “You know what? I want to enter the market to start my own company and this is what the vision is going to be.”
Understanding the market was something that came later to me, as I learned, but I had this dream of creating Tropic of C for years before I actually did it. I think that was partly I had no time in my life, because it wasn’t like you were working at home. Nowadays, you can shoot a whole campaign just at home.
I was in the studio most of the year or on a beautiful beach shooting swimwear for Victoria’s Secret. It was a way for me—while I was working—to kind of analyze the product and really understand what worked for me, what I thought was beautiful. Kind of creating my own vision of if I did have my own brand, what would it look like?
I got to travel the world and got to go to some of the most beautifully natural places and that’s a huge inspiration for my brand. Then I got pregnant and it was important to me to really enjoy that experience. Literally as soon as I could tell people I was pregnant, I was like, “Oh, bye. I’m out.”
I went to Brazil —where I had a home there— and I was enjoying my pregnancy. I think after being in an industry that’s so fast paced, stopping in that way wasn’t gonna sit completely well with me. That’s what gave me the space and time to really focus on the vision for Tropic of C.
Having an idea and carving out some time and space to work on it is one thing, but making a vision and a brand a reality is an entirely different prospect. Talk to me about the early days, because it’s a very different skill set. How did you take this idea and actually turn it into Tropic of C?
I think you somewhat go into it with a certain naivety. I had big dreams and once I started going through branding and meeting people to construct a team, you kind of figure out that it’s not as easy as it feels.
I got pointed in the right direction to my partner, Daniela. I was already in New York at this point and figuring out how to construct a business, people’s roles, equity, all of these things is like a whole other beast.
That’s how I’ve always learned things is just by going through them. So in that time, I was quite well known for being the swim girl. It was a huge part of my life and still is. Every time I would have time off, I’d be on a beach. That was organically the category that I wanted to start with.
My mom was an aerobics teacher and a dance teacher when I was growing up and we always had lycra and pieces of fabric laying around the house. I think even as a little girl, I was making swimsuits out of the leftover fabrics from her concerts. It goes a long way back.
Talk to me about launch. I’m curious about how long it took from idea to actually creating that first collection?
It took a year to structure the business and get it up and running. Setting up a supply chain, distribution, it’s really intricate. That takes about a year—at least for us, I’m a little bit of a perfectionist and I’ve been in the fashion industry for 20 years now, so it was kind of, for me an evolution of my legacy. I didn’t want to just license my name to somebody and not know what the product is and not care.
That was a big deal for me. The quality and what it looked like, how the packaging was. Those early days, was kind of the beginning of influencer culture. I was just daily horrified by little things packaged in a million plastic bags and while going through branding, sitting at the table, I was like “How can I feel good about this next chapter in my life? And what can we do?”
We started doing the research and, in that time, there were a couple of companies that had sprouted in Europe that were doing regenerated nylons and decomposable bags. Now five years later, it’s really amazing to see that it’s kind of an industry norm. That’s how that started.
In the first collection, from design and quality and the back side of the business, I had been perfectionist—and then continued to be—with the kind of art directing and I had chosen these amazing locations that were close to my heart. One in Brazil. We went to Turks and Caicos, as well. The first shoot was really important for me and kind of a pinch me moment to feel like, “Wow, I did this, I went for it. And it’s working. And here’s the product in my hand. And here’s my vision. And I get to be the boss.”
I can only imagine that you obviously love all of the products and all of the styles the same. If you had to pick a favorite or a few favorites from the line currently, what would you say?
A lot of my favorites are in our core collection. We have a triangle bikini called Praia, which is we kind of bring whatever pattern or fabric of the season in that style, so that’s a staple. You can have a million of them. They’re small, but the quality it’s just the way it holds you in. It’s an everyday must, so I have a million of those in every print.