There is an experience to be built around custom swimwear and ŪNIKA is a boutique that embraces this concept. The store operates in Yorkville — one of Toronto's upscale neighborhoods. The brand boasts a few features that make it unique and set it apart from the competition. Firstly, it is appealing to consumers as it offers swim attire that is tailored to each unique body. At their first fitting, guests choose the style of the swimsuit, while the sales associate takes note of areas where the piece needs to be altered. Thereafter, consumers are welcomed to select the fabric from ŪNIKA's vast selection of patterns, colors, and textures. The custom swimwear is made in-store, placing emphasis on locally crafted goods — an approach that is scarce in metropolitan cities like Toronto. At their second fitting, individuals can try on their new piece and any altercations that need to be made are made on-the-spot.
Trend Hunter spoke to ŪNIKA's founder Betsy Campos about the retail concept, how it is received by consumers and the importance of locally produced custom goods.
Can you tell us a little bit about ŪNIKA and how the concept developed?
ŪNIKA was born out of a frustration that many shoppers have. Personally, I was always incapable of finding things that fit me properly. In the instances that I did, the colors, prints or cuts were horrendous. This gap is especially noticeable in the swimwear industry, North America, in particular, where summer is the only time you have a chance to purchase a suit. The reality of living in a city where warm weather only lasts up to four months is that we travel more often to escape the cold.
My entire concept was developed by the idea of making a swimsuit fit someone, instead of trying to make someone fit the swimsuit. Too often women are faced with a sense that they don't fit the "normal" staple sizing in-stores. The custom aspect of ŪNIKA Swim allows my team to take that frustration out of the equation for finding the perfect fit. Sometimes adding an inch or a slightly higher leg makes all of the difference in feel, appearance, and fit.
How are you revolutionizing the retail experience in swimwear?
With e-commerce platforms taking over, many consumers turn to online shopping for convenience's sake. Unlike most constructed garments, however, swimwear is like a second skin. People need to feel confident when buying a suit, so that is why an in-store experience is crucial. The ability to try things on and interact with professionals that can guide you through the jungle of choice definitely makes a difference. In addition, our practice allows consumers to have the freedom to design and create, enabling them to bring their vision to life.
How do you overcome obstacles that come up for your business?
As a startup brand and business, of course, every day has its obstacles. Whether they are big or small, we try our best to look at each opportunity for growth. We can learn a lot from setbacks. In my experience as a young entrepreneur, you face a lot of unexpected situations and difficult decisions when starting a business. I think the most important thing for me is to remain focused on what our message is and to stay true to our values. At the end of the day, we want to be an ethical, sustainable, and body-positive custom swimwear brand and create a community of women who can feel empowered in their own skin. I believe that if we stay true to that then any issues we face, can be overcome.
What part does sustainability play for ŪNIKA?
Sustainability plays a huge role at ŪNIKA and we have our own eco mission. We produce garments that spend time in the ocean and near water. It made sense for us to use the most eco-friendly and sustainable approach to producing our garments. As a result, we work with Econyl, which is a material created by Italian firm Aquafil. The company uses synthetic waste such as industrial plastic, waste fabric and fishing nets from oceans. It recycles and regenerates these into a new nylon yarn that matches virgin nylon in quality. All of our custom garments are handmade in-house at our boutique located at 101 Yorkville Avenue. We also work with recycled packaging for the suits we ship. Due to our ability to design and make everything in-house, we have full control over our production cycle and therefore, have no dead stock leftover from past seasons as everything is made-to-order. Fashion is notoriously wasteful and terrible for the environment and the last thing we want to do is to add to that waste. Instead, we produce garments that are made from recycled plastic fishnets from the ocean and plastic bottles from landfills.
How does the power of choice empower your customer base?
I would say it completely empowers our customer base, which is truthfully anywhere between a baby and a woman in her 70s. Unlike most brands, we don't have a specific target market. This is sometimes perceived as a disadvantage. However, we believe it is what makes us special. We are a place that welcomes women of all ages and all sizes. They can come and choose exactly what they want and what they feel comfortable with. Molding custom suits to each customer's needs and preferences empowers our customers to achieve the results and look that they want. A lot of women who are curvier and have larger breasts are always saying how much they appreciate what we do. They discuss their frustrations with us as traditional swimwear retailers might have one or two styles that somewhat fit them. They might not like these products, but they feel like they have no other choice. Some women have even said they couldn't find a swimsuit for themselves anywhere and as a result, haven't had one in 10 years. ŪNIKA elevates these anxieties and frustrations through its business model. It empowers these women to finally feel included and gives them the opportunity to find something that not only fits but that they actually love.
As we continue to grow, it is our goal to build a supportive community of women who feel included and confident.
Not many businesses craft their products in-house. Can you speak more about the process and the value it brings to your business?
With the garments being produced in-house, our team can fully control the quality of the swimwear and have the freedom to make any changes at any point. We hand-cut and sew each piece, reassuring that last-minute alterations can be completed if our clients need that. We also invite our consumers to watch the process go down! We have an open-concept space with one half of the store in production and the other half is showcasing our ready-to-wear and off-the-rack suits for purchase. Very often clients will stop by and watch the team work on garments, intrigued by the industrial set-up. Seeing how garments are produced is not a common experience for brick-and-mortar destinations.
You are launching a new swimwear line in the New Year. Can you elaborate on how it builds on previous lines and what is new?
We have spent quite some time developing our staple pieces. The cuts complement many different figures and shapes. We try to use our top sellers and build off those styles since we know they work well. We slowly introduce new colors and see what people react to. From purchasing data and in-store feedback, we extract inspiration for new styles. Our new collection has retro and femme fatale-inspired looks. We want to create each collection to have a little something for every woman, a piece that is more conservative and something that is a little out there or different. The upcoming range brings some new fabric into play and we are really excited to see how it's received amongst our base and community.
Image Credit: ŪNIKA