Gigi Caruso launched her signature, movement-friendly swimwear line Gigi C Bikinis in 2017 at age seventeen. This month, the brand is expanding into a sexy-functional line of activewear called Gigi C Sport. The daughter of one of Los Angeles’ best-known real estate developers, Rick Caruso, Gigi started and grew her eponymous brand together with her mother in a characteristically Gen-Z style, via organic social growth and tapping into her influencer relationships. Below, she shares how she started a direct-to-consumer fashion brand while in high school and offers advice for young, aspiring entrepreneurs looking to do the same.
1.) Tell us about the line – from first steps to Gigi C Bikinis launch?
I always knew that I wanted to start some sort of business, but it wasn’t until my mom and I started talking about starting a swim brand together that it started to seem like something that could really happen. Our first step was the fun part, designing the styles. We found a lot of inspiration from my mom’s swimwear modeling days. She wore some amazing suits, so we pulled out all the old photos of her. Soon we had photos all over my bed of high-cut legs, higher waists, one-piece styles with belts, zippers, and even one style with a suspender-style bottom. Together we sketched out styles, utilizing those vintage details and we started to look into how to make them a reality.
2.) Did you launch with one particular style?
Our first style was a new take on a classic swim silhouette, the triangle top. My mom and I created the first Gabriella Top with pins and tape, we layered strips of fabric into flat panels to create some dimension and surface interest. Then we met with a pattern-maker and began the development and sampling process. Our goal was to find a way to make a tri-top that was subtly unique and a bit more supportive in the bust than your average. It was a style for me, and it’s become my go-to. I love how casual a triangle top is and I knew it would be nice to have a core style that was wearable and easy.
3.) How did you locate funding to support it?
The initial funding was from my family. I am so fortunate that my parents could support me as a start-up company. Once sales took off, we reinvested our profits into growing the company and expanding the business.
When we went live we had so many friends buying suits posting about them, it really kind of caught fire quickly. Social media is super important to me, it’s what I know, so I was really focused on having great content for Instagram. We gained a lot of traction that way, I was spending hours a day on my phone building the following and it really helped grow the brand.
4.) How did you navigate the world of fabrication as a first-time and young entrepreneur?
The perfect fabric can really set an activewear brand apart so we knew we should lean on the experts. When we started to develop Gigi C Sport we met with some of the most renowned fabric mills and they educated me on the different performance attributes that are offered. I personally hate when my leggings bag out, and I like to feel sucked-in so in the end, we chose a fabrication that was anti-pilling, quick drying, it has plenty of compression/recovery and it’s UV protective.
5.) What inspired the move into activewear and how was the process different the second time around?
Initially, I planned to keep Gigi C as just swimwear but when the team at Carbon38 came to use with the idea of developing a sport exclusive it seemed like the perfect pairing. They are truly experts in the category and it meant so much to me that they believed in the brand enough to make that investment. Initially finding a way to create sport styles that reflected our brand was a bit of a challenge. Looking around there were so many brands entering the market and I began to wonder how ours would be different. It turned out that our sport fabric laser-cut beautifully, and that made it possible to produce the Gigi C Sport Collection with our signature laser-cut details.
6.) How are you entering the market of activewear with so many competitive brands focusing on form and function?
I love that our suits work for jet-skiing and jumping into the water, doing all the things one does in a swimsuit! What sets them apart is that they don’t look like your average sporty swimsuits. So, why not make activewear that functions, but still looks really impactful and fashion-forward? It seemed like the perfect next step for the brand. After meeting with the team from Carbon38, we knew they would be the perfect partners to help us get into this new market.
7.) What advice do you have for other young entrepreneurs with a passion for wellness and fitness?
My advice to other young entrepreneurs would be to listen to your heart and do what you are passionate about. Keep focused and work hard. You’re going to run into problems but my dad always tells me “there’s a solution to every problem”. Don’t let those problems discourage you or set you back.
It’s always a challenge to balance all the demands we all have everyday. I have realized that I must have a strong set of priorities. It’s family first then my school work than business. Many days it all blends together and can get overwhelming but I have a huge support system with my family and friends, especially for the business my mom is always supporting me and leaning in when I have school work.
We have an incredible team of women who help make Gigi C the successful business it is.