Summer’s not over yet and a Black-owned swimsuit company named Rue107 may just have the sexy bikini you’ve been looking for. And you’ll be in good company on the beach. Stars like Nicki Minaj, Christina Milian, Amber Rose, and Dawn Richard are just a few of the celebrities who have donned Rue107’s colorful, bold swimsuits. Even Beyoncé wore Rue107’s “Caged Lover” bikini bottoms in her “Flawless” video. While Rue107, founded in New York City in 2011, focuses on bodysuits and bathing suits, it also offers tops, pants, dresses, skirts, and other clothing ranging in size from XS to 3XL on its website. MadameNoire.com spoke with the woman behind this innovative clothing brand, Marie Jean-Baptiste, to talk about their amazing success.
MadameNoire.com (MN): What made you want to start Rue107?
Marie Jean-Baptiste (MJB): I’ve always had a big entrepreneurial spirit, and I experimented with several ideas prior to launching Rue. While I was exploring my interest in fashion and clothing, a mentor of mine taught me how to work with stretch fabrics– I never really looked back. I found in myself a strong desire for two things: to express my creative side through unique clothes and to work as an entrepreneur so that I can independently define my business’ vision and plans.
MN: How did you fund the startup?
MJB: Before launching Rue107, I worked part time as a Licensed Practical Nurse and used my income to take care of my living expenses. At the same time, I used all my free time to start my business and reinvest everything I made from the business back in it. I incorporated the business in July 2011. For a year prior to incorporation, I tested the market to see if I had a viable business idea.
MN: What were some startup challenges and how did you overcome them?
MJB: Some of the biggest challenges we’ve encountered definitely revolve around narrowing down the customer. It’s really hard to know what problem you are solving for the customer if you don’t have a clear picture of who the customer is. We had such a wide range of women purchasing our products that it became challenging to narrow down who the Rue107 customer was.
To overcome this challenge, we did a whole lot of listening–a lot of customer surveys, phone calls, and asking for feedback on every aspect of the customer experience. We listened to who was coming to us and what problem we were solving for them.
MN: What have been some challenges in growing your business?
MJB: I think a lot of entrepreneurs can relate to this: the money. You can start a business with very little capital, but it certainly takes capital to grow and scale a business. So a lot of questions around debt versus equity, or borrowing from the business itself.
MN: You offer a large range of sizes, why was that important to you?
MJB: Being born and raised in Haiti, I never had a shortage of beautiful women of all sizes around me. Since I never thought beauty or a woman’s sex appeal was defined by the size of her body, I naturally gravitated towards serving of women of all sizes and cultural backgrounds.
MN: Are people surprised that you are an African American woman with a swimsuit company?
MJB: I wouldn’t think so; I’ve always worked with a lot of Black models from day one. It’s always been important to me for our website to reflect my perspective as a Black woman in terms of diversity.
MN: How do you compete with the huge array of competition you face?
MJB: I try not to look at it like that. I have no interest in competing with giants such as Forever21 and H&M because I can’t compete with them. My customer can shop anywhere she wants, but I am confident about what I am offering to her, and if I do my job correctly, our relationship will grow stronger and stronger. That’s my only end goal.
MN: What niche do you think you fill?
MJB: I love what we are doing in the curvy/plus size market! It’s so beautiful to see how the market is evolving and seeing so many women starting to let their hair down and experimenting with their looks. Cool has no size; It is a mindset!
MN: What are some business moves you want to make in 2015?
MJB: We made quite a few changes in the business this year. We launched a new website at the top of the year. We are also opening our first showroom in the heart of the garment district this September. We are so excited for the opportunity to serve our customers in person, in addition continuing to serve them through our e-commerce platform.
MN: What future do you see for Rue107?
MJB: I want to keep growing and streamlining the business. I want to offer our customers a wider variety of products and continue to enhance the Rue107 experience.
MN: What has been the biggest business lesson you have learned?
MJB: Team building is the hardest, yet most important thing you can do for your business. You cannot do it alone. I made a lot of mistakes in that area—under hiring, over hiring, hiring the wrong people, not being the best boss, etc. It is a constant assault to your self-esteem because it challenges you on so many levels. But when it’s right, magic can truly happen.
MN: What do you enjoy most about what you do?
MJB: I love that I have the opportunity to be creative everyday. Whether it’s designing a new dress or finding creative solutions for problems; no two days are alike.