KARO Swimwear CEO Kasia Roginska didn’t set out to become an entrepreneur. For Kasia, the idea of launching her own company became a reality about five years ago when her innovative swimsuit designs gained notoriety and she recognized her businesswoman capabilities.
NAN PRICE: How did your sewing hobby turn into a business idea?
KASIA ROGINSKA: I grew up in Poland. When I was a child, my dad taught me how to use the sewing machine. Growing up I loved sewing and I went to a fashion design high school. After high school, we emigrated to the states and my interest kind of stopped. I’d always enjoyed it, but I wasn’t really thinking of making a business out of it.
When my dad passed away six years ago, I went to Poland for the services. While I was there, I found a sewing machine—it was almost like he almost wanted me to find it. Something triggered in me and, about three months after his death, I started designing bathing suits.
NAN: I read you were of inspired by what you were seeing on a local beach—everyone was wearing the same style bathing suit.
KASIA: Right. I wanted something different. My initial idea was incorporating handmade jewelry into the swimsuits. I remember, I made about 12 designs, and thought: If nobody likes them I’m going to wear them myself!
NAN: But people did like them. How did the business concept evolve?
KASIA: For the first few years, it was more a hobby. But the business idea was growing in the back of my mind. I started going to some local fashion shows in New York City for beginner designers. I was fortunate to have a friend who connected me with somebody involved with New York Fashion Week.
I remember my friend telling me: You have to look professional with a website and everything. I had three or four months to get that together, create new pieces, and get it all to that show. I did it.
Eventually I stopped going to shows. It was fun, but it wasn’t really bringing any business. In the meantime, I hired a public relations person in Miami. She was pitching my designs to some magazines.
I also did some networking on own through LinkedIn. I connected with many editors and I was pitching myself. At the time, it was still just a hobby, but I wanted to build my brand so when people found me online they wouldn’t think it was just a startup with no validity.
NAN: It paid off. Your designs have gotten exposure from notable publications including Sports Illustrated, New York Style Guide, Life Style, Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and Glamour.
KASIA: It was a learning process. Sports Illustrated was a huge milestone. Their PR people work with PR, not directly with designers. So, I would find out the type of styles Sports Illustrated was looking for on a given month and send samples.
In 2016, the year my design was featured, I sent about 100 handmade custom-designed bathing suits. I was pregnant and, around the time my son my due, I was starting to give up on being a featured design. And then one of my bathing suits got lost—I was so upset! I remember thinking: I’m done with Sports Illustrated! That Christmas Eve I received an email telling me my design was going to be featured in the magazine that February. I thought: Oh! That’s the bathing suit that was lost!
NAN: What a great story about perseverance—and patience!
KASIA: Exactly! It was exciting! In the meantime, a photo of one of my designs got into the British edition of Vogue and then another was featured in British Cosmopolitan. British magazines are more open to new, upcoming designs so they’re easier to get into.
NAN: So, you realized there was interest and there was a market for your designs.
KASIA: Yes. And I finally realized I wanted to do something different. I wanted to create some lines that are were special and could be manufactured. Designs that were ready for mass production. Because my swimsuits had all been handmade and I knew I couldn’t produce mass quantities of handmade pieces by myself. I like creating the initial design, but I’m not a manufacturer. I realized I needed to team up with people.
NAN: How did you make connections?
KASIA: It all happened organically. Someone at my gym connected me to Gina Johnson, who is an entrepreneurial business coach. She and I met for coffee and she told me I was beyond her area of expertise. She usually works with people who are just starting out with a business idea. She basically said I was going backward. I had started with the product and not the business concept.
Gina introduced me to Nerac President Kevin Bouley. Through Kevin, I was introduced to Eric Knight, an Entrepreneur in Residence through CTNext and reSET. Eric introduced me to someone from the Connecticut Small Business Development Center (CTSBDC), and I’ve been working with them. And eventually I hired people to help me, because to do everything by yourself is impossible. I’ve been working with several Connecticut advisors.
NAN: Let’s talk about marketing.
KASIA: Last year I created a lookbook featuring several different swimwear lines. My highlight is a collaboration with West Hartford artist and photographer Matthew Jean. I designed some of his paintings into a swimwear line—it was like bringing art into fashion.
Matthew and I brought the lookbooks and samples to Miami Swim Week last year. We collaborated with someone involved with the show who promised us lots media and buyers, but of course it didn’t happen. We were disappointed.
That made me think: What’s going to happen now? And that’s how everything started with Kevin Bouley, Eric Knight, and all the advisors. I had to almost take the business two steps back and try to re-think what to do next.
NAN: What have you learned along the way?
KASIA: I think every mistake has been a learning experience. If I do something “wrong” how would I know that it wasn’t the right step? I’m not really thinking: That was a waste of time or a loss of money. Instead I think: It was a learning experience and I’m just enjoying the ride. I just don’t accept no as an answer. If something doesn’t work, I try to re-think how I can make it work.
NAN: As first-time entrepreneur launching her first startup, what’s been the biggest challenge?
KASIA: I think selling your own product—because you know about every single little detail about it. Going door to door can be discouraging. I tried that last year in Miami. I went to boutiques with a bag full of samples and books. It was hard not to take things personally. But, I’ve learned how to let it go. I don’t get that discouraged anymore. But it’s still challenging for me to sell my own product.
NAN: What’s next for KARO Swimwear? Where do you hope to see the business one year from now?
KASIA: We’re redoing the website to create an area for affiliates to sign in, represent the brand, and earn commission. We also want it to become more of an e-commerce type of website, so distributors can log in and get their orders.
Louis Sanchez from the Fashion Buyers Network has been very helpful. He’s building and train my affiliate team and helping set me get set up with distributors.
Right now, we’ve also focused with a lot of work “behind the scenes” to get ready for the Surf Expo in Orlando in early September.
Thinking long-term, I definitely want my swimwear line in boutiques everywhere in the states and I eventually want to expand to Europe. I have somebody interested in Poland, so we will see how that goes. I just want to be a recognized brand.
Thinking about things one year ahead is a typical entrepreneur goal. It’s tricky because sometimes I almost don’t believe I can accomplish so much. So, most of my goals have been more short-term.
Right now, I’m learning different things from different mentors and trying to think as a businesswoman.