Sandra’s brand is ethical and sustainable and wild swimmers are big fans.

I’ve learnt the hard way how to make my ethical swimwear brand, More Than Swim a success. I tried to be all things to be all people when I launched my first business, twelve years ago. It was a bespoke luxury underwear brand, Louise Ferdinand, and having studied underwear and swimwear design I was full of big ideas.

Inspired by my dad, who was a tailor in Jamaica, I wanted to keep his legacy alive. My underwear brand was really popular – lack of demand wasn’t the problem. It was one of the only luxury lingerie lines catering to to women above an H cup. But offering sizes ranging from 28AA to 52JJ in order to attract the maximum number of customers meant I was working to 76 bra sizes! As every bra was sewn by hand, it was simply too much to produce. When I tried to outsource manufacturing I encountered all sorts of problems with suppliers and things went wrong. I learnt so much in the process.

When I switched to swimwear and launched More Than Swim, I decided to use a few patterns I’d had on the backburner for a while, snakeskin and leopard prints that I’d designed myself. My aim was to simplify. With a smaller range of sizes, smaller collections rather than umpteen trend led designs, I rehauled my business based on the things that matter to me.

Real swimwear for real women
Leafing through magazines and walking around the shops we are inundated with a cultural idea of beauty. It can make the most confident of us feel insecure. We are bombarded with images of long legged, tanned, slim and probably heavily photoshopped women. But of course this does not match reality!

To overcome this problem, I created a collection with classic silhouettes, that I knew would look gorgeous on every woman’s body, hand illustrated designs that you can’t find anywhere else. Swimwear that empowers women and makes them feel strong and beautiful.

Saving the planet
Being eco-conscious is another of my values. I want to give back and make the world a better place. So I’m about being ethical and eco-friendly as far as possible. My production is based in the UK so that I can maintain a small carbon footprint, as well as choosing to use eco-friendly and ethical manufacturing practises.

The swimsuits are hand made to order. The eco-friendly packaging is all sourced in the UK, suppliers are ethically sound. Eventually I want to use recycled fabrics, but for now the fabric is printed on using eco-sound inks so no nasty chemicals go into the water supply. The fashion industry is the second worst industry for causing pollution after the petroleum industry and I’m determined not to add to it. With each sale I donate to Ocean Generation. Postage is offset with an automatic donation to an Amazon Jungle conservation charity. At checkout you can make the choice to plant a tree for an extra 70 pence.

Finding your fans
I have a business mentor who lives in Brighton and she mentioned the popularity of wild swimming there. Researching it, I realised that we were connected by our values – a love of swimming, the oceans and being eco-aware. I sent sample swimsuits to a few I found on Instagram and they’ve become enthusiastic fans, sharing photos of themselves in my swimwear on their social media.

Many of them feature on my website and blog. It’s been so great getting to know them, as we share ethical values and a desire to preserve the ocean and protect the water systems. The ethics of my small business matter to them because my brand stands for something they value. Next up I’m designing whale and seal prints and I can’t wait.

Sandra Palmer, founder of More Than Swim.
Photo by Roland Leon

I’m 46 now and have been in business for 12 years and boy have I learnt a lot. As a long-term entrepreneur who’s had to change tack a few times, my best advice is:

Keep it simple. How you do things, your processes, your business model, your designs.

Make it meaningful. Doing something from the heart is your best bet as you’ll never resent those late nights and early starts as you fit your business around your life.

Switch off. Give yourself the whole day off at least one day a week so you can recharge.

Find a business mentor. You need someone who can look at your brand with a fresh pair of eyes and give you really useful feedback.

Join a community. Find a group like Audrey where you can meet up with other entrepreneurs and share the highs and lows of your business and keep it moving fowards.

Words: Marina Gask

Swimwear designs by More Than Swim.

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