Two summers ago, Emma Grayson decided to start the online swimsuit company Lilikoi Bikinis with her sister. I had the chance to talk to the young entrepreneur about the challenges of starting a business and her advice for other aspiring business owners.
Her Campus American University: Tell us a little bit about Lilikoi Bikinis. When and why did you start it?
Emma Grayson: Well, my sister, Charlotte Grayson, and I started the company in the summer of 2015. We lived in our bikinis, but couldn’t find any brands or patterns or styles that fit with exactly what we wanted. We knew it was a competitive market, but there were no brands based on the East Coast that we knew of, so we wanted to differentiate ourselves by not only starting this company as sisters, but by providing people on the East Coast unique bikinis.
HC AU: What does the name “Lilikoi” mean? Why did you choose this name?
EG: It means Passionfruit in Hawaiian. We were looking around for some good names and so much of our inspiration came from Hawaii and tropical places. We thought of the lifestyle we imagined there and wanted to incorporate that into our brand.
HC AU: How did you actually go about starting your company, logistically?
EG: First, we contacted different U.S. based manufacturers and compared prices. After deciding on one, we reached out to the New School to find a graphic designer for our logo. We prefered a student because we ourselves are students and knew someone with a younger eye would have a better idea of what we were looking for. After that, we talked to lawyers about our name and logo getting patented to protect our rights and ensure we were the only owners of our brand.
HC AU: Who designs the suits? How would you describe the company’s style?
EG: The design of the suits was a collaborative effort between me, my sister, and our manufacturer. My sister and I knew we wanted cheeky-cut suits of good quality with reversible patterns inspired by our travels. The style of the suits are brazilian, cheeky-cut, low rise suits with just the right amount of coverage. Our style is modern, appealing to women who are looking for fun, comfortable suits at an affordable price.
HC AU: What was the biggest challenge of starting the company?
EG: The biggest challenge of starting the company was probably getting the support from our financiers, as well as finalizing the cut of the fabrics and the actual style of the suits.
HC AU: How did you find your first customers?
EG: We work mostly on Instagram and through word-of-mouth. Luckily, we also have a very large family with a lot of female cousins who were more than willing to support us in this endeavor. Our first customers were actually cousins and friends.
HC AU: What is the hardest part of owning your own business?
EG: The hardest part of owning your own business is not let things get you down, first of all. It is so easy to start slowly and think that it won’t take off, but it definitely takes patience. The other largest part was sorting out creative differences and sticking with your gut when there was a tough situation. We had a problem with our manufacturer at one point and my sister and I had to make a decision regarding what we thought was right versus what the manufacturer strongly advised us to do. While we were only 17 and 18 at the time, it was easy for us to be swayed, but our parents (who are also entrepreneurs) told us not to let another company or person tell you what to do with your own company.
HC AU: What is the biggest thing you have learned from starting your own business?
EG: I think to work with other people and to recognize that a compromise is often the best solution to appease everyone. These skills are applicable in so many aspects of life. We were really lucky to have had this experience to drive these traits home for us.
HC AU: What is your advice for other young entrepreneurs?
EG: Never give up. It is such a cliche, but it really is so true. If you have an idea or a dream, stick to it and never let anyone bring you down or tell you you can’t do it. You can always do it. And I wouldn’t have thought this phrase would actually be true, but after going through this, I definitely say to anyone who wants to start their own company that you can do it no matter how long it takes, or what you have to go through. If you have a strong enough dream, it will come true.
HC AU: Besides Lilikoi, what else do you do in your spare time?
EG: Besides Lilikoi, my sister and I are really into painting. We cook a ton and love exploring the places we go. Even D.C. has some hidden gems that are really fun. School is the biggest thing taking up our time, but when we can, we love to be creative and being with friends or family.
All photos belong to Emma Grayson.