Fashion

Melissa Simone On Reinterpreting '90s Swimwear Styles With Her Eponymous Brand

The Los Angeles-based designer shares how she turned her dreams of designing into a reality.

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2,419 Hypes

Melissa Simone On Reinterpreting '90s Swimwear Styles With Her Eponymous Brand

The Los Angeles-based designer shares how she turned her dreams of designing into a reality.

Growing up on the outskirts of Toronto, Ontario in Brampton, Melissa Simone’s upbringing was molded by the old-fashioned environment of the small Canadian town. Despite having an innate interest in the arts, which was nurtured by enriching art classes in school, Simone wasn’t incentivized to pursue her creative passion in design until decades later after being surrounded by creative, like-minded individuals. While the future fashion designer yearned to further explore and expand her design talents, without witnessing a real representation of what a career in fashion would look like, she instead shifted her focus to sports, an activity her parents and peers deemed most fitting for her.

Putting her artistic aspirations on the back burner, Simone devoted her high school and college years to excelling as an exceptional student-athlete, an easy feat due to her tall stature. Between her study sessions as a psychology major and practice schedule, the athlete-turned-artist had little to no time to indulge in her creative interests — however, as a result of attending school in New York and taking team trips to other U.S. cities and states, Simone’s world widened allowing her future to begin taking form. During her time in New York, Simone’s creative spirit was reignited and for the first time in her life, the self-taught designer saw firsthand that a creative career could be sustainable and lucrative. 

At the age of 26, Simone returned to her roots and began sketching silhouettes for her namesake swimwear brand. The sketches and designs she created were inspired by high-cut swimwear silhouettes popularized in the ‘90s by supermodels such as Tyra Banks and iconic TV shows like Baywatch. In the year leading up to the brand’s official launch, Melissa perfected her process — from selecting vibrant prints and patterns to building a reliable team which eventually took the swimwear scene by storm with her debut in 2018. 

To get to know the designer, Hypebae sat down with Melissa Simone to discuss how she transformed her passion project into a lifelong career of creating staple swimwear styles, the origins and beginning of her brand and how she built Melissa Simone Swimwear from the ground up. 

How did growing up in Canada influence or inspire the way you approach creativity?

My earliest memories growing up were taking art classes. That’s when I noticed that I can draw, that I’m actually good at these things and that I’m creative. Because I was 6 feet tall, people always pushed me toward sports. My outlet was really those art classes, I took them straight through high school. But, if I’m being completely honest I didn’t think that it was real and that I could be an actual artist. Being from Canada, I thought that it was always going to be a passion project for me. It wasn’t until I moved to New York that I really saw people live their dreams and make a living off of them. That’s where I started to get more creative and where it started to open into something else.

Do you think growing up in Canada played a role in determining whether design was something you could really pursue?

I’m 31 and I didn’t decide to pursue this until I was 26. Brampton is a small town and the opportunities there aren’t as big. When I was kid, [design] wasn’t an option that was available. Growing up and being able to explore and go to different countries and places allowed me to open up. I never thought fashion was an option in my life until I was able to travel and see other places where people are really doing this. Being from a smaller place definitely makes you feel closed in and it’s not until you get out that you realize [all the opportunities].

Were any of your family members supportive of you pursuing a creative career or were you met with opposition?

My parents are immigrants, so their dream for us was to have the opportunities that they didn’t have. My mom didn’t graduate high school and she wanted me to go to school and get a good job. The beautiful thing about my mom though is that she was always supportive. When I would tell her [my dreams] she would always suggest the safe route because she didn’t have the opportunity to just dive in and go for it. She would always give me safe advice but was supportive and helped me. When she saw my brand [becoming successful] she was so proud and said “wow, I can’t believe this is something you were able to create.” Now when I tell her I want to do something she’s 100% here for it.

How did you navigate through the period of time when you lost your job and work visa?

I was scared when it happened to me because I was not ready to return to Canada but I felt like it was a blessing because I had so much free time. I made the hard decision to stay and fight to figure it out. It was at that point that I bought the sewing machine and started doing some sketches and [then] it literally birthed my whole company. Then, when my work visa came back, which was about two years later. I started to apply to jobs and I realized that the gap [of time in my resume] had made them either want to hire me at entry-level positions or not at all because of my master’s degree. I just started getting told “no, no and no” and before my gap in time it was so easy for me to get a job. When I started hearing that, I decided to stop asking people for a job and make my own — and that’s how I’m here right now.

How do you approach Melissa Simone in an authentic manner and why is that important for your brand?

[My inspiration for Melissa Simone] comes from personal experiences and that’s how I make it timeless. Growing up I would always see pictures of women in a scrapbook that were taken with a digital camera, and they were in swimsuits looking beautiful. I would see pictures of my mom, from back in the day and just think that she looks amazing in what she was wearing. All those things, all the prints I used to love as a kid would make me say “I can’t wait to wear those things.” Those are the things that I’m now bringing into my brand and like they say, “fashion repeats itself.”

When I design my swim, I try to make it so that if someone has a daughter in the future, she’ll find the old swimsuit and be like “oh my gosh, I love this.” I think that is so beautiful. I hope these swimsuits that I’m designing, somebody finds them later on. I was telling somebody the other day that we don’t heat press our logo on [our pieces] because I don’t want it to come off in a couple of washes. I literally want someone to find it a couple of years from now and search for the tag and be like “what is this?” I want it to be a memorable piece.

Why do you think the ‘90s are such an iconic and inspiring decade for you and how do the women from this era inspire you?

The ‘90s are so inspiring because those are the women I looked up to as a child. That was my mother. When I was a child, those were the women I wanted to be like when I grew up. [Their beauty] was just natural to me, they didn’t do too much. I think back to the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, the most beautiful women would [come into the show] with just a pair of baggy jeans and a tank and they’re beautiful.

I remember too, when I was [finished] with college and it was during that time period when I had more [freetime], I was going to the beach and going to the pool and I was trying to find swimwear that I really loved but couldn’t find anything. I did have this one piece. I don’t even remember where it was from, but I ended up wearing it, taking a picture and feeling so good in it. It was high-cut on the sides on my hip and it just made me feel super beautiful.

Remembering those days and looking at that picture made me realize that there’s nothing of that quality in that budget that made you feel beautiful. I know that there are $500 swimsuits out there, but with our swim, I purposely don’t want to hit that point because I want this to be for everybody.

What do you hope to accomplish and achieve with your brand?

What I hope to inspire with Melissa Simone is to prove that anyone can do it on their own. Women are always starting their own businesses, but women-owned businesses have the least amount of funding and then Black female business owners get the very least amount of funding too. You can do it on your own. You don’t need all of these things the internet might tell you or teachers might tell you. My goal is to inspire people by showing them that you can start, just move at the right pace, and on the right path that you’re supposed to and then you can have this too.

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