The swimwear agency selling Colombia to the world

Catalina Alvarez changed into traveling her father’s apparel manufacturing facility when she noticed a field of brightly colored fabric samples in a rubbish bin.

The small sheets of material may additionally be rejected by using her dad, however for Catalina, they straight away sparked the idea for a commercial enterprise.

“For me, it turned into like ‘wow,’ I even have observed treasure, due to the fact I knew all the matters I should do with these little pieces of material,” she says.

Excited, the style design student in the Colombian metropolis of Medellin phoned her classmate Mariana Hinestroza to percentage her vision.

The pair has been quickly sitting at Catalina’s grandmother’s stitching gadget, piecing the scraps into bikinis. It became again in 2003, and Catalina and Mariana were both 22.

Fast-ahead to 2018, and their organization – Agua Bendita (Holy Water) – sells its kaleidoscopic girls’ swimming gear to 60 international locations, with annual revenues of $7.5m (£five.4m).

Helped by way of a massive smash in 2007, while one of all its designs turned into featured in Sports Illustrated magazine’s annual suit version – something akin to triumphing an Oscar within the swimwear world – the Medellin-based business enterprise now ships extra than one hundred fifty,000 bikinis in line with yr, plus 50,000 different objects of beachwear.

The truth that Agua Bendita is primarily based in Medellin may additionally raise some eyebrows given the town’s violent past. Ravaged with the aid of drug gang violence in the Nineteen Eighties and early Nineties, it was then one of the maximum dangerous towns on the earth.

However, the criminal charge has fallen substantially since the drugs gangs have been moved on, and following main regeneration paintings over the last two a long time. Medellin has been converted is now a bustling city with a buoyant economic system.

At the conventional Colombian-style purple tiled house, this is Agua Bendita’s headquarters in the inexperienced hills on the outskirts of Medellin; Catalina and Mariana run a number of their state-of-the-art designs past the corporation’s income and advertising team of workers, frequently younger girls.

Amid whirring stitching machines and fluorescent lighting, a towering version twirls in a bikini fabricated from a light purple material splashed with scarlet plant life.

With very little space for logos on its teeny-weeny bikinis, Agua Bendita has worked challenging to maintain an exceptional signature style. This two-piece is typical of its bright, multi-colored designs, featuring Colombia’s tropical plant life and birdlife.

While the enterprise now has one hundred twenty-strong personnel throughout its head office and cavernous dispatch warehouse in Medellin, because 2005 maximum production paintings have been outsourced to rankings of small workshops that service the city’s colorful garb enterprise.

For the trickiest finishing touches, including elaborate embroidery and beadwork, Agua Bendita sends its garments to a set of chatty seamstresses who paintings at their houses approximately an hour’s pressure away in the nation-state. The employer says that overall, it gives illustrations for some 900 humans now not at once hired using the commercial enterprise.

Growing slowly for its first 3 years, in 2007, Agua Bendita’s income shot up thanks to Catalina and Mariana hiring a small stand at a swimming wear change honest in 2007.

The enterprise took observe, and the enterprise got its big wreck in Sports Illustrated; it also helped utilize the reality that within the photograph shoot, its bikini changed into worn via Israeli twiglet Bar Refaeli.

“The day that version got here out, I had more than 400 or 500 messages from folks who have been inquisitive about the swimsuits,” says Catalina.

“They were no longer from Colombia; they had been from all around the globe.”

As Agua Bendita has continued to amplify, co-proprietors Catalina and Mariana have brought in a chief govt to look after the financial facet of the commercial enterprise while they lead the design paintings.

Chief executive Alejandro Ceballos admits that the corporation had looked into moving overseas to India, China, and Bali; however, it dominated it.

Although e-commerce presently most superficial accounts for six% of sales, the business enterprise says it’s far unexpectedly growing.

With the global swimwear marketplace now a multi-billion greenback enterprise, Marguerite LeRolland, a style and retail representative at marketplace studies group Euromonitor, says that Agua Bendita has been clever to create a “recognizable visual identification.”

“It is a cluttered marketplace. As a way to face out, swimming gear manufacturers need to reflect consideration on a specific layout so that it will cause them to easy to understand,” she says.

“Having a recognizable visible identification [like Agua Bendita] approach that the merchandising of your brand can be carried out via a lot of these fashion bloggers and Instagrammers.”

However, Catalina says that the organization isn’t resting on its laurels and is continuing to enlarge the range of swimming wear it sells that doesn’t keep on with the house fashion.

“We can not simply promote birds [and flowers],” she says. “We need to have an excellent blend, information that there are so many traits, and occasionally you have to be part of the one’s traits.

“It’s now not just about developing designs that take a notion from Colombia… And because we live in exotic united states of America.”

The company additionally plans to extend beyond swimming wear and beachwear to “athleisure” – garb that may be worn both even as doing a workout or indeed as informal wear.

Catalina adds that it wants to amplify its variety of garments for children and guys and that selling online could be a key focus.

“E-commerce may be very essential to those thoughts because I assume it has no boundaries, no limits.”