Selling Swimsuits Without Objectifying Women
Melanie Travis founded Andie, a direct-to-consumer swimwear company, in 2017. With a background in e-commerce marketing and the realization that women needed a better way to buy such an intimate item, she has built one of the most successful brands in the rapidly exploding sector. Travis recently spoke to SheReports™ about marketing channels, body positivity and why there’s so much swimwear advertised on Instagram.
What inspired you to start Andie?
I’ve always struggled to find a swimsuit that fits well, is easy to wear and is easy to shop for. I think if you speak to any woman anywhere, she’ll talk about what a deeply painful experience it is to try on a swimsuit — going into a tiny dressing room, getting completely undressed. And it’s such a vulnerable purchase, given that wearing a swimsuit is the most naked a woman will ever be in public.
I was thinking about that for a while, and in the fall of 2016, I ran a crowdfunding campaign to see if anybody would be interested in this idea of a curated collection of timeless swimsuit essentials, sold online, delivered directly to your door with free shipping and free returns so you could try on the suits in the comfort of your own home. And in two weeks, we brought in something like $20,000. That gave me the signal I needed to quit my day job and start the company, which is what I did. We launched andieswim.com in April 2017.
And how did the business grow?
2017 was a story of learning what worked and what didn’t work. Then, at the beginning of 2018, I signed a deal with a manufacturing partner to produce our swimsuits at better profit margin. That was a transformative agreement for the business. I also raised little bit more capital, about $2.1 million, primarily from high-net-worth individuals. Demi Moore, for example, invested in the company. I hired a couple of people. We were a full-time team of four, still learning and testing, trying more products, trying more marketing channels, just kind tweaking everything. And then at the beginning of 2019, I raised another slug of capital, about $2.5 million, to hire a few more people and really get to work deploying our learnings.
Now we’re a full-time team of eight, and we’ve been having an amazing year. We’ve grown a ton. We are basically 10x-ing in size every year. We’ve now shipped hundreds of thousands of swimsuits to women all over the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. As far as I know, we are the fastest-growing direct-to-consumer swimwear brand.
Why do you think that is? Because you were a first mover? Because you have a better product? Because you have insight into digital marketing that others don’t?
I think that we have a better product. We have a point of view on our product. We have a narrowly curated collection. And we continue to use customer feedback to make tweaks to the fit because for swimwear, fit is so important. But I think a good product is table stakes. Without a good product, you’re dead in the water.
My background is marketing, and I know that the best marketer in the world can’t sell a product that women don’t want to buy. Consumers are smart, and they’re not to be underestimated. And so it starts with the product. But then it’s marketing. In order to build a brand on the internet today, people need to find you, and you need to know where to go find your customers as efficiently as possible. We have a really strong marketing team, all in-house. And we are really good at both telling our story and also knowing the right road map, the right digital channel mix to find customers. We follow that road map, we test a lot of creative and messaging, and between that and a good product, it has carried us really far.
And then I think the third component is, yes, being a first mover. In the last two and a half years, the swim category in direct-to-consumer has gotten really crowded. People are realizing they can capitalize on people wanting to Instagram everything they do, valuing experiences over things. A swimsuit is a thing, but it’s a thing you take with you on an experience. And it’s great for e-commerce because swimsuits are lightweight products, easy and inexpensive to ship. With all those new brands, Andie was really a first mover, and that gives us an advantage.
I think that we have a better product. We have a point of view on our product. We have a narrowly curated collection… Without a good product, you’re dead in the water.
What’s the road map? What are some secrets you’ve learned about how to effectively market swimsuits to women?
Facebook and Instagram are big channels for us. Facebook gets a lot of heat, but I remain bullish on Facebook. I think it just works really well at scale, better than any other digital channel. You complement your Facebook and Instagram strategy with other channels to help get a lower blended cost-per-acquisition because your acquisition costs will be lower on other channels.
We have a really strong marketing team, all in-house. And we are really good at both telling our story and also knowing the right road map, the right digital channel mix to find customers.
Creative is really important. We have a lot of learnings about what works and what doesn’t. We’ve found that really highly polished photos don’t work as well as a photo that someone snaps of her kid, or something like that. User-generated content (UGC) works really well. I think that’s because on social media, people have become really accustomed to ads. If something looks really polished, they’ll just scroll right by. But if it looks like your friend’s photo, they’ll stop and think, “Oh, what’s that cute swimsuit?” And then they’ll click over to our site.
We’ve also learned that which creative works varies channel by channel. What I said about UGC is true for Facebook and Instagram, but it’s not true for Pinterest. There, you do have to have more polished imagery. We’ve learned that quotes from reviews work better than press quotes. We have all these learnings, channel by channel, and we deploy that strategy every day.
Body positivity is a big part of your marketing. Was that a strategic decision?
It goes back to the fact that buying a swimsuit is a very vulnerable purchase for women. Historically, the major swimwear brands were all owned and run by men. A lot of the marketing images they’ve used, the way the brands put themselves out there were really objectifying women. Even today, if you do a Google search for swimsuit ads, you’ll see a lot of half-naked women covered with body oil, posing on a rock. And that’s very obviously not from a woman’s point of view. We’re a team of mostly women; we bring our own point of view to everything we do. We wanted to make sure that we were not objectifying women, that we were showing women empowered in every way, living their best lives.
We did a big out-of-home marketing campaign where we shot women — a mix of real women and models — just having fun, like playing basketball in the pool. We use models and friends of ours of every shape and size. Our swimsuits go up to size XXL. Most swimsuit brands stop at L or XL. I think that’s important to do. It’s also a huge percent of our sales. The average American woman is around a size 16, sso it’s not just a marketing ploy to be inclusive. It’s a good business decision.
We’re a team of mostly women; we bring our own point of view to everything we do. We wanted to make sure that we were not objectifying women, that we were showing women empowered in every way, living their best lives.
You talked about your mix of digital marketing channels. There was recently an article on Vox.com about how women’s Instagram feeds are just dominated by swimsuit ads. Why is there so much of it?
A swimsuit is something that you wear when you’re on vacation or having fun with your friends. Right now, I’m sitting at a dirty desk with a chicken salad sandwich in front of me, and I’m not Instagramming myself. But this weekend, I’ll be in the Hamptons by the pool, and I’ll definitely be Instagramming there. That’s what people are Instagramming naturally, and so that’s why it makes sense to invest so much in the channel.