As part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Jessica Reed, owner and founder of Ballard Bikini, is a female entrepreneur that started a women’s swimwear brand with nothing more than a few thousand dollars and a dream to create swimwear that was sustainably made and flattering on all body types. With an education in Environmental Science, Jessica knew she wanted to incorporate sustainable practices into her brand from the start. She chooses recycled fabrics, minimal and sustainable packaging, and contributes to cleaning up our oceans in her efforts to build a sustainable swimwear brand. With no background in business, marketing, or accounting, and no financial backing, Jessica has built the brand to over 11,000 Instagram followers and helps thousands of women feel more confident at the beach each year.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. I know that you are a very busy person. Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you grew up?
Of course! I grew up in a middle-class family — my mom was a paralegal and my dad was a car mechanic and eventually he switched to being a real estate appraiser. I was brought up in San Luis Obispo, CA so was fond of the sunshine and beach from a young age. When I was 10, my family decided to move to Spokane, WA so my mom could pursue her lifelong dream of becoming a lawyer. When it came to starting a business, building financial independence and wealth, my parents were much more supportive of getting a degree in STEM, then going on to a 9–5 where I could have a good, steady income, with benefits, etc. As far as starting a business or side hustle was concerned, that wasn’t exactly where they wanted me to spend my time and hard-earned money. When I decided to start my business, my parents definitely treated it as more of a hobby, and it’s taken years for them to truly understand what I am doing. That all being said, they are super supportive of my goals and dreams, especially as I have grown the brand to be much more than just a hobby, today.
What were your early inspirations that set you off on your particular journey?
Before I settled on Ballard Bikini, I knew I wanted to start a business but just didn’t know what. As I thought about the things I do on a regular basis that bring me joy, I realized they all revolved around outdoor Summer activities, especially involving water. As it was early spring at the time and I struggled to find swimwear that I found flattering on myself, I decided why not try and create my own, but with a sustainability piece tied in as well. You can make a business doing just about anything, so always start with something you love. I also think it is so important to have a bigger reason “why” when it comes to starting a business. For me, I wanted to create a swimwear brand that not only was flattering on all body types, but with my background in environmental science, I wanted to incorporate sustainability into the business, which continues to inspire me.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Well at the time it wasn’t funny, but early in my second year, I decided to do my first ever re-stock as I finally achieved selling out of some super popular items. So I get the order to my manufacturer sent over and 10 weeks later, when they send me my invoice to get my inventory shipped, I notice that a top style was listed twice instead of 1 top style and 1 bottom style. I panicked, frantically trying to determine if I was going to have double the tops and no bottoms. Mind you, this was the first time I had ever done a re-stock, so I was all excited that I was kicking butt and selling bikinis, to find out I completely messed up my re-stock order. Well turns out I did, indeed, order double the number of tops, so had to ask my manufacturer to re-make the bottom. Luckily, my manufacturer was able to add on the extra bottoms, but I was stuck with double the number of tops than what I actually wanted (or needed). The takeaway here was to be extremely thorough when placing my orders. Have someone else check your work if you want to be safe. This cost me an extra several hundred dollars simply because of a simple oversight. When you are a solopreneur wearing every hat, it is easy to overlook a number or two, so I definitely recommend asking a friend or family member to help you check your work, or make sure you check it with a fresh mind!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I feel so lucky to have so many great and supportive people in my life, including friends, my sister, and my boyfriend, just to name a few. I have had friends help with pop-up events handing out champagne and processing orders, modeling for photoshoots, and helping fulfil online orders. My boyfriend has helped with all of this as well as and has also been our photographer. The emotional support I’ve gotten from all of these people is priceless. I truly could not be where I am today with Ballard Bikini without my circle. If I had to call out one person, it would have to be my boyfriend. He has been there for me through tear-filled nights, he has encouraged me when other peers tell me my business will never be successful, he has made coffee and champagne runs during pop-up events, he has helped pack orders and as mentioned before, photograph the products for me as well. I highly recommend finding a partner in life that not only loves you but also is willing to help support your dreams in whatever ways they can.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
I faced a lot of hard times when I first started my entrepreneur journey, so it’s hard to narrow it down to one story. My first year in business, I held a launch party at my apartment (hello low budget!), and the only people that came were my friends and family. I remember having a conversation with a gal I knew in high school (one of the few people that came that wasn’t in my close circle of friends) and she mentioned that her boyfriend also started a business, which took 3 years to start making a profit. I remember this moment being incredibly discouraging, because I wanted to believe I would make a profit my first year. Maybe I was naïve, or maybe I was hopeful, choosing to believe in myself over what others said. In fact, I thought I was going to completely sell out of the inventory I bought the first year, making a profit right away. Instead, in my first year I only sold ~$5,000 worth of swimwear and was very much in the red. That all to say that there will always be people who discourage you and your journey, whether they intend to be discouraging or not. It’s up to you to choose what you believe.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I knew that my goal was to be able to take Ballard Bikini full-time, as I was working a 9–5 when I started the business. I knew that while I had a rough first year of sales, I definitely wouldn’t be able to achieve this goal if I gave up and gave in to the hardships. I started reading books that encouraged me to believe in myself, to reach beyond what I thought my potential was, and ultimately, to persevere. The book that stuck with me the most was You Are a Badass at Making Money by Jen Sincero. This book helped me get over my money mindset issues and believe that my dreams are possible. Whenever I hit a snag today with my business, I remind myself of the bigger picture goal and remind myself that anything I set my mind to is possible, and that keeps me going. Plus, as I hear positive customer feedback, I am reminded that I am making great products that people love!
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Things are going great! It’s wild to think about where I was at almost 3 years ago, with this idea just a twinkle in my eye. I started my Instagram page from scratch and now have over 11,000 followers; I have grown my revenue at least 100% each year (over 300% from year 1 to year 2); and I have been able to hire contractors, and host multiple pop-up events and photoshoots. It’s so exciting to see how people are responding to my products and overall, watching my success snowball, and this is what keeps me going.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
As a swimwear brand, I think it’s so important to keep it real on social media when it comes to the women I post on my page. I like to keep edits to a minimum such as not editing out stretch marks, scars, freckles, etc., and I know my community appreciates that so much. I think it’s helpful for our customers to see what our swimwear looks like on real women, not only skinny, perfectly proportioned women. Not only does this make them feel heard having various body types, but they can buy with confidence, knowing our swimwear will look good on them, too. I also know that our customers value supporting a brand that has a larger mission than just selling swimwear. When you buy a Ballard Bikini, a portion of proceeds are donated to cleaning up our oceans, plus some of our styles are made out of recycled ocean waste, and we always use sustainable packaging. We love being a leader in the industry this way!
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
My biggest tip for others wanting to pursue starting a fashion line (or really any business) is to set your goals high. Dream bigger, because if you work your bum off to hit a mediocre goal, you will still be disappointed and ultimately burn out. For example, say you really want to make $150,000 in sales in a year, but feel that’s not reasonable so you set the goal to $50,000. If you work 50+ hours per week on your business, on top of your day job, and hit $50,000 in sales, while you may be proud of yourself for hitting $50,000, you will know that the real goal was $150,000 and feel disappointed that you put in a ton of work, to only achieve half the results. This is what causes burnout. Now, say you actually set your goal to $150,000, work your buns off and end up hitting $125,000 in the year. Maybe you didn’t hit the $150,000 goal, but you significantly surpassed $50,000 and that extra work was actually worth it. Hopefully that makes sense, but my point is to set your goals higher than you think is possible, because even if you miss that mega goal, you will still have achieved more than originally anticipated, which will help you feel fulfilled and in turn prevent burn out. Another tip for preventing burnout is to make sure you are taking time for yourself. I know this can be hard if you are also working a full-time job, or have kids, or other life situations on top of your business. When you are starting a business from scratch, it can be easy to spend 100 hours a week on it, but that can lead to burn out, fast. I just recommend taking time each day to unwind for 30–60 minutes and let go of everything from the day that you can’t control or that you may be stressing over. This time by yourself can be so re-energizing! Lastly, always remember your why and fall in love with your business each day. Make sure you don’t lose focus of why you want to build the business and focus on that goal.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Having philanthropic efforts has always been important to me and my business. I think it’s important to have a bigger meaning or mission behind your business, whatever you are passionate about. I also think it’s important to remember that it’s ok to pivot on what your philanthropy is when things in the world shift. For example, when the BLM movement came up in June 2020, I shifted to donating a portion of proceeds to BLM organizations. When the wildfires were taking over California last summer, we donated to the American Red Cross to help victims. My brand uses fabrics made out of recycled ocean waste, uses minimal and recyclable packaging, and contributes to cleaning up our oceans. As I grow the brand, I’d love to add a non-profit that helps educate on climate change and initiates efforts to clean up our beaches and oceans. I hope to continue to bring goodness to the world as the brand grows and gains exposure!
Wonderful. Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- There will be people that will try to drag you down (whether intentionally or not), and it’s up to you to stay headstrong and not give in to the noise. They will say things that make you feel that they don’t believe in you, they will tell you how long you should expect it to take to turn a profit, they will tell you that starting a business is a ton of work (even though they’ve never done it before), they will tell you how hard it is to make good money in your industry. The list continues. Do not listen. Stay strong. If someone else can make millions in your industry, then you can too. You MUST be headstrong and able to block out the noise if you want to see your business come to life and be successful.
- Everything is figure-out-able. When something comes up that you don’t know how to do, and trust me, it will, you may want to throw in the towel. I often still have to remind myself that everything is figure-out-able. Whether it’s filing taxes or hiring your first employee, you will figure it out! Just remind yourself that someone in the world knows how to do the thing you are stressing about and that you can always find help if you really can’t figure it out!
- You don’t have to drop thousands on marketing — be resourceful. This was something that I definitely struggled with when starting the business. I felt like I needed a huge marketing budget to do paid ads, and constantly stressed over this because I didn’t have the money to invest in it. But because of this, I was forced to be resourceful. I had to learn my lesson on this, too. I did invest in paid ads and expensive influencers and found that these weren’t always the best methods to building a customer base. Find where your customer hangs out and go build genuine relationships with them, it’s as simple as that.
- Start small and build your way up. I assumed I would sell 500 bikinis in my first 6 months of business and sadly I only sold about 100. It’s ok, and probably smarter financially, to start smaller with your business and build it up as you go. You don’t need a fancy office to start; start in your kitchen or garage if you must, just start!
- Try not to stress/over think, you’ll just spin! This is one I constantly have to remind myself of. Especially being in a product-based business where certain things are out of my control, like production speed or fabric availability, it’s important to only focus on and worry about the things you have control over. That said, before bed just let it go. You can write down the things you need to do tomorrow if you must, but you will not get good sleep if you don’t let these stressors go. If you get poor sleep, you won’t have a clear head to sort it out tomorrow.
Now that you have gained this experience and knowledge, has it affected or changed your personal leadership philosophy and style? How have these changes affected your company?
These changes have helped me have a much more level head when it comes to operating my business. I no longer stress to the point of tears about how to do taxes, I have learned how to be scrappy when it comes to marketing, I am able to remind myself that over-thinking solves nothing, and most importantly, I am able to block out the noise from the naysayers. I think these are all important factors when it comes to operating a company. You don’t want your employees to see you overly stressed and mentally spinning, or constantly getting discouraged. These changes help me lead by example and stay mentally strong as a leader.
This series is called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me”. This has the implicit assumption that had you known something, you might have acted differently. But from your current vantage point, do you feel that knowing alone would have been enough, or do you feel that ultimately you can only learn from experience? I think that learning from mistakes is the best way, perhaps the only way, to truly absorb and integrate abstract information. What do you think about this idea? Can you explain?
This is a tough one because I definitely am a stubborn person, so if someone had told me these things starting out, I think I would’ve had a hard time listening. That said, I also didn’t know anyone who had done what I was trying to do, and I think taking advice from people who have been in your exact shoes is much different than the advice your mother or friends might give. Learning from mistakes is absolutely one of the most effective ways to learn lessons, but hopefully readers can at least minimize their mistakes, or make smarter mistakes by reading and learning from mine. However, I have also learned the power of having a mentor and this is something I choose to have for myself and business. It’s important to get outside perspective and listen to the learnings of people who have been where you want to go. Knowing what I know now, I hope I would have acted differently when starting out!
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
One of my goals with Ballard Bikini is to also create a non-profit sector of the business that focuses on spreading awareness about climate change and ocean health. This non-profit could really impact thousands if not millions, if we were able to initiate efforts and have a team that was actively cleaning up our oceans, and spreading awareness. I think it would be so cool to set a norm in the retail industry to also have a non-profit section of the business. More than just donating or having a philanthropy, actually creating a space within the business to educate and make a difference.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Please follow us on Social, “@ballardbikini” on all platforms! Or subscribe to our email list! And of course, our website if you’d love to shop! www.ballardbikini.com