Talking Shop : Swimwear Designer Maayan Sherris
Take notes from minimalist, feminist swimwear designer Maayan Sherris, as she fills us in on her line Babes in Bathers, and stick around for her video collaboration with Mayan Toledano, Efrat Kashai, and the Columbia women's swim team.
Babes in Bathers launched in June–what was the inspiration?
Realizing the diversity of women's body types, I wanted to research a different type of women to design for. I fell in love with the women's swim team at Columbia University, and I spoke with their coach, Diana Caskey. She introduced me to the team, and I began researching women in sports – and specifically their goals and their ambitions to win – rather than the typical superstar professional female athletes we see represented in the media. I interviewed them, followed them around with a camera, and I soon realized how beautiful it was to look at from a fashion perspective. I knew I didn’t want to start my brand off with stick-thin models. With the Columbia swim team, I came to envision a way to do something different.
Tell me a bit about the research process-did fashion history play a referential role?
Not quite. I just wanted to design something that blends in with the water rather than something that stands out, separated from it. This was something that I continued from my thesis when I was studying at Parsons, which was connected to water and clouds, and it kind of launched from how we started from the womb, how we started from that. This inspiration also emerged from the swimmers' performance-oriented concerns. In terms of history, however, I explicitly tried not to reference any past swimsuits. Rather, I wanted to create something very simple and comfortable that serves every type of body. There's six looks and ten styles: just a variety that fits for every woman.
Oftentimes, the success and positive reception of a designer and their label is benefited by being at the right place and the right time. I'm thinking about how women's empowerment has been an increasingly popular (and in some instances 'fashionable') topic of interest in the past couple of years. I'm also thinking about the success of labels like CHROMAT, which according to its founder Becca McCharen, seeks to build garments that not only empower women, but materialize the wearer's innate sense of strength. Would you say this is an ideal moment for Babes in Bathers? How does Babes in Bathers develop the conversation (so to speak).
Oh yeah, definitely. I held on to the [line] for a year, waiting for the right moment, and then launched it with my girlfriend only this summer. Also, all of our sewers are women. In fact, the blue even looks like the Hillary Clinton blue from her campaign! So I bet that helped my sales in some way (laughs). But when you typically see women’s swimwear, it's marketed to be very sexy and designed for the male eye and so I investigated this and, in a way, tried to subvert it. I had my girlfriends try on suits for the past year and a half from my sample room and I used their reactions to help me design something practical and comfortable...not suits designed for standing around and looking attractive on the beach. With this approach, I ended up getting a lot of female support, as well as feedback describing the suits as both comfortable and covering in all the right places, which I think empowers women in a way.
What would you identify as the the most useful resource in your trajectory from student designer to a commissioned designer in a retail boutique?
Well I studied fashion design for a long time and I have to be grateful for my studies, including my theoretical studies. I spent a long time studying the technical side, then I interned and was eventually hired after school at The Row as a freelancer. I learned so much there aesthetically about design and finishing...production...how you talk to people and how to execute your ideas into something real–which designers actually do. I’m still in contact with one of my former professors who has a sample room in New York and I spoke to a lot of people in the industry before I launched [Babes in Bathers]. It wasn’t like...guessing. Parsons helped me because they gave me the platform I needed when I was a student. They gave me the abilities and they taught me how to do it.
Were there any fortuitous moments?
I think it was timing. I was lucky with timing. Everyone was like, “Oh, you need to plan it, you need to plan this, you need to contact this person,” and I was like, no! When I completed production, it was summertime...May or June...and then I contacted Jade Lai [owner of Creatures of Comfort] and she gave me a big chance. I sent her a really nice package and the look book and I told her a little about myself and told her that I love her store and that I think my new project might fit her shop, and she gave me a chance! So dreams do come true, because a lot of people doubted that she would answer. Today, everyone thinks that you need to know somebody who knows somebody who… you know? But knock on wood, I’ve sold out of most of our styles and everything is going really well. So luck is a big factor, and timing.
What advice would you give to design students and emerging designers who align themselves with your approach and aesthetic or perhaps wish to replicate your trajectory?
I think I'd say… (pause). I’m thinking about it and wondering if I should say it. Okay, well my first instinct is don’t listen to anyone, if there’s something you want to do, just do it right away. Go with your intuition...and it's what makes things happen. I think there’s so many designers who just get stuck working for people-and it’s great working for people, I was blessed to work at the top place for womenswear in New York-but in the end I just wanted to do my own thing, and hopefully Babes is just the beginning of something greater to come!
(Maayan was in conversation with our Editor-in-Chief Kim Jenkins. Image courtesy Maayan Sherris.)