Here at Cottage Life, we realize how hard the COVID-19 pandemic has hit local businesses. To do our part, we’ll be highlighting the stories of different businesses in cottage country. This week, we spoke with Rachel Miller and Sierra Neudorf who run Skoka Swim out of Huntsville, Ont.
What is Skoka Swim?
Rachel: Our objective was to create a swimwear brand that was representative of everything that is Muskoka. We found that during the travelling we’ve done, there were a lot of niche swimwear brands for different areas. And then we were surprised to find that cottage country didn’t have its own.
In doing that, we also wanted to ensure that we were making something that was sustainable and ethically produced because those are values that most Muskokans love.
How did the business get started?
Sierra: The business actually started in 2018. I went on exchange to Australia that year and that’s where I saw all of the different types of swimwear, all of the options. Each community had its own brand. I was so surprised to find that Muskoka didn’t have anything of its own. So, I started drawing our pieces—all of them are custom designed—and slowly, over the years, it started to come to be.
I met up with Rachel at university, and she was all in having grown up in Muskoka. It was a perfect fit. And then with COVID, we had a bit more time on our hands, so pretty much since last January, we’ve been working really hard on it. We launched our website in April of this year.
What inspired the name?
Sierra: We basically thought that it was a catchy name that everyone would understand right off the bat, especially if you’re from Muskoka.
Rachel: We also like to use the hashtag #mySkoka because it’s one letter off of Muskoka. So, that’s what we try to use for all of our hashtags and social media.
What’s your most popular product?
Rachel: We started off with merchandise to get Skoka Swim going, but our main featured products are swimwear. We have two tops that are the most popular right now: our Fairy Top and our Kahshe Top. And definitely, our blue colour and our black are our bestsellers.
How are your swimsuits designed?
Sierra: I’ve custom-designed them all. They started as drawings and I worked with the manufacturer to make them come to life. And, again, they’re very Muskoka-based, very comfortable. We consider Muskoka a very relaxing place and our fabric reflects that. It’s super soft and very simple and chic.
Rachel: We use a fabric that we sourced from an Italian manufacturer. It’s 78 per cent recycled plastic from the oceans—that’s fishnets and bottles and things like that. So, we source it from this company in Italy and then we’ve partnered with a small family business in Bali that manufactures for us. Our packaging is also all made with solar power and recycled limestone.
Do you offer any other products?
Rachel: When we originally launched, we started selling crewnecks that were embroidered at Portage Promotionals in Huntsville. So, we started selling those and they kind of took off. We branched into getting some hoodies, some hats and now we sell little beach backpacks. We’re also just about to launch a new line of merchandise.
Where can you buy your products?
Rachel: Ecommerce is going to be our main platform with our website and social media, especially with how things have shifted during COVID. But we currently do sell at Muskoka Wake in Bala because we sponsor their female instructors. And we are looking at some wholesale opportunities. But right now, we don’t have a brick and mortar store lined up.
We’ve also done two pop-ups this summer. One was at Eight Park Drive in Huntsville, and then we also did one at Mortimer’s Marina in Port Carling. And we are having another one back in Huntsville at Eight Park Drive. But after that, we will be at some other locations that are in the works right now. And I believe we are also going to have one down in Toronto at some point.
How has the pandemic affected your business?
Rachel: We’ve had pros and cons. One of the pros was that whenever our schooling switched to online, Sierra and I—we were roommates—had a lot of time to just sit down and grind out the work and focus on the company.
But a major challenge for us has been all of the international delays in the supply chain. So, whether that’s the actual production of fabric or shipping delays, we’ve definitely had a few products or launches that have been delayed due to shipping and the supply chain.
What does the future look like for Skoka Swim?
Sierra: We’re hoping to expand into men’s swimwear. It’s been a huge request in the community. We’ll definitely be doing more merch. And every year, we’re going to release new styles of swimwear. Also, new prints, which we’re working with a local artist on, and we’ll be revealing that soon.
Rachel: We’ve also partnered with some small businesses. One of our goals is to try and support small and local as much as we can. For example, our hangtags are all produced by a girl named Chelsea who owns a company called Inky Press where she hand presses the tags in an old fashioned press.
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