February 23, 2021

Influencer, Designer, And CEO Shea Marie Talks Building A Brand And Creating Her Biggest Sales Year Yet

Shea Marie’s Same swimwear is handmade in Los Angeles and crafted from the highest quality Italian fabrics, with a fabulous design you can wear in and out of the water. Marie has traveled the world as an influencer and stylist, but always remains in touch with her California roots. She set out to create a line of swimwear that was versatile and chic — something to be respected as not only swimwear, but ready-to-wear fashion, too. With 1.3 million followers on Instagram, her background as an influencer has given her an incredible platform to share her beautiful designs. But regardless of how many followers you have, you can’t succeed without great design, hard work, and perseverance. She tells us about her journey. 

What inspired you to start Same? 

Growing up in California, I spent my entire life in bikinis. I felt the market was missing unique and beautifully designed swimwear. I wanted to create swimwear that was fashion forward, trendsetting, and a statement on its own, as well as pieces that are as good as the rest of your wardrobe. In the past, swimwear was meant to be covered up unless you were in the water. I always design for women who appreciate the same things as me: style and quality. Since launching six years ago our goal has always been to create beautiful, high-quality pieces that are wearable for all women.

How did you launch Same and what are the challenges that came with it? 

We launched in 2015, mainly through social media and with a few high-end retail partners. Our small team of three spent two weeks in New York City rolling around a carry-on suitcase full of swim samples to meetings with buyers. Six months later we were sold at Bergdorf Goodman, Barney’s, and more. I didn’t really know a lot about building a business at the time, it was a very makeshift operation. But, the beauty, quality, and class of the swimsuits spoke for themselves, and nearly everyone we met with wanted to carry the line. There was so much interest that we had to turn retailers down because we couldn’t produce enough in our first season. The first season (and honestly the first few years) of any apparel brand are extremely difficult, from figuring out timing between factories, buyers’ schedules, how much product to produce, delivering on time, etc. We made many mistakes, and it took a good two years to get into a flow.

How has your job as an influencer helped you in branding your own company? 

Having a loyal following of millions undoubtedly gives you an incredible head start in marketing a new brand. However, to sustain that momentum, the quality and authenticity of the product needs to be there. Many “influencer” brands die out after the first year or so after the hype is gone and consumers realize it was just an endorsement to make money. When we first launched Same, I was involved (and still am), every step of the way — working morning to night on every aspect of the business. I needed to make sure the pieces were perfect and, of course, beautiful. I put in the work and people saw that. That’s why nearly six years later we’re in a really great place.

Why should someone buy from Same instead of another swimwear company? 

As of now, we still produce everything in Los Angeles which is extremely expensive to do and very hard to sustain. We are one of the only swimwear brands left still producing in the US. It has always been extremely important to us to produce in a clean, safe environment with fair wages. Also, as a part-woman-owned, part-black-owned business, Same was built on a foundation of diversity. We employ and contract many minorities and have always strived to be diverse. Consumers today really need to research and learn about the brands they are supporting — who are you giving your money to? What are you actually supporting? Do those people have the same values as you? Consumers are realizing this more than ever are more conscious shoppers. 

What is the inspiration behind the name? 

It’s the first and last letters of my name SheA MariE!

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your business and what advice would you give to small business-owners during these trying times? 

The pandemic not only changed our priorities but also shifted our business plan greatly. As stores began to cancel their summer orders in January and February 2020 (orders that we already had produced and paid for production) we were left with a lot of inventory and didn’t receive payment for any of it. It was an extremely scary time, and our main focus was how we were going to keep our employees employed and how we could protect our team. What was really incredible for us, was that despite everything the swimwear industry did really well. I believe it’s because after being trapped indoors for so long and not needing to buy clothes and shoes and all the things women typically spend their money on, the one thing they could look forward to was summer — even just laying out in their backyard or on a roof. We were able to not only keep all our employees employed in 2020 — we had our best year ever! For 2021, we are putting all of our resources and energy into our own direct-to-consumer sales, leveraging our huge social media following, and relying less on retailers.

What has been your pinch-me moment since starting Same? 

There have been quite a few! Seeing our designs on nearly every celebrity and in every magazine is one. Also, Same was the first swimwear brand (and I was the first influencer) to do a design collaboration with Victoria’s Secret. That was a big moment for me, realizing one of the largest and most well-known brands in the world wanted me to design a collection for them under my brand name.

What do you envision Same (or a future venture) looking like 10 years down the line? 

For Same, we are working on expanding into other categories. We recently launched men’s and children’s swimwear and are moving into women’s knitwear. We hope to continue building the brand and exploring other categories we love, hopefully resort wear as well. Outside of Same, I’ve launched a skincare and beauty company called The Feelist. The Feelist is based on the East Coast, and Same is based on the West Coast so I typically work from 9am to 9pm every day. Between being the founder/CEO of two brands I don’t really have any free time left so not sure where I’ll be in 10 years — I’m taking everything a day at a time!

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.