For the month of June, we chatted with Cami, of Fenntessa Swimwear. Read along to get to know the inspiration and design process of our new favorite swimwear brand!
"...We want to empower women. We are both alpha females and we love seeing women in charge. We hope to showcase women of all ages, shapes, sizes, colours, and sexual orientations."
Describe your morning routine for us :)
Nothing starts until I have coffee and I like to enjoy my coffee without thinking about work.
Once my coffee is done I go to my office and write my "to do list" usually on a scrap of paper and begin crossing things off. My day usually consists of about 50% computer work and 50% running around the city mailing orders or meeting customers or picking up things. My sister works her day job teaching ESL from 9 am - 2:30 pm and and once she is done she usually comes over. My day job is in the costumes department in the film industry. I work long days but only 1-3 times a week. Sometimes I go weeks or even months without working in Film. We are both very fortunate to have flexible part time work schedules that allow us to focus on Fenntessa.
The Fenntessa office is at my house so that's where everything happens. We usually meet from 3:30 pm - 5 pm to chit chat about all the things we have done and the things we have yet to do. We typically add more to our "to do lists" at this time. After Robyn leaves "the office" we usually continue working on our own. Robyn handles most of the bookkeeping, sales, and inventory management, while I take care of design, product development and manufacturing. We usually don't finish our tasks until about 10pm. This is only because we both take lots of breaks throughout the day. We are both big believers in work / life balance!
Tell us a bit about how you started your business!
Fenntessa was born very naturally. It's in every sense a family business. I went to school in Milan to study fashion Design and my Colombian roommate (who was also studying fashion) was always telling me about her home city Medellin, Colombia and how excellent it was for manufacturing clothing.
I thought very little of it at the time. While in Milan I received an opportunity to teach fashion design and fashion illustration in Lima, Peru. I took the job and lived in Lima for over 2 years. It was in Lima that I got exposed to the industrial side of fashion and fell in love with the idea of making things professionally. I started a small fashion line in Lima called "Crush" where I made pants, shirts, dresses and eventually swimwear. The line didn't do very well. It was kind of a flop. It did however teach me a lot!
My contract for teaching fashion design ended and I left Peru for good. It was Christmas break at the time and I flew from Lima to Maui to meet my family. This is where I reconnected with Robyn and Fenntessa was brought to life. When I showed her the swimwear I made down in Peru and she immediately saw an opportunity. One night in Maui my family was sitting around the dinner table with a little too much wine when I started talking about the struggles with "Crush" and how I didn't want to give up. Robyn saw my passion and shared my vision. She understood the potential that existed at the time. It was there at the dinner table in front of our parents that she suggested being business partners. She didn't want to continue with Crush, she wanted to start a new brand. It would be a fresh start. My parents thought it was a fantastic idea. That same night my dad recommended calling the brand Fenntessa - a combination of our middle names Robyn 'Fenner' Rush and Cami 'Tessa' Rush. We listened to our Dad and named the brand Fenntessa. It was around this time when I started thinking about my old room mate Carolina and all the good things she said about Colombia. Since Robyn and I wanted a clean state with Fenntessa I thought it might be smart to try a new manufacturer. I reached out to her and 6 months later Robyn and I took a leap of faith when we flew down to Colombia to make our very first Fenntessa Collection.
What are three pieces of advice you would give to fellow small business entrepreneurs?
Listen to your gut! If something doesn't feel right it probably isn't a good idea.
Ask for help. Know what you're good at and know what you're not good at. When you run your own company it's easy to take on too many jobs. The ego can be a factor in that too. Hire other people do the work you can't do.
Keep plugging along. Robyn and I are both turtles. We learn things slowly and it turn our business is growing slowly. This isn't necessarily a bad thing as long as you're moving forward. It's better to make errors in the beginning stages while you're still small and out of the public eye. Slow and steady wins the race!
What are some guiding values that inspire your decisions and space that you hold every day?
Respect. Respect your manufacturers. Respect your customers, Respect your retailers. Respect everyone. If you give respect you receive respect.
Have fun. Building Fenntessa is a joy. 1/3 of your lifetime is spent working. That's a lot! We never take our work too seriously. We are making swimwear after all. We're not saving lives or fighting crimes.
What do you hope to see in the world 5 years from now?
We hope that Canada gets rid of plastic bags. We are trying to make Fenntessa as eco friendly as possible. We barely use plastic. Our suits come in a reusable bag. This year we used our scrap fabrics to make scrunchies.