At just 27-years-old, Karina Irby has reached the type of success some can only dream of. She's already amassed a huge following from her swimwear label, Moana Bikini and continues to expand her offering (including a sister business - Bikini Body Burn). Her vivid prints and cheeky cut bikini bottoms have become a staple for the brand, so much so that girls all over the world are flaunting and LOVING her designs.
Being based on the GC means Moana Bikini is the perfect subject for our Gold Coast Fashion Spotlight series! I had a chat to Karina to get to know about her journey to success, life as an entrepreneur and her favourite GC spots (of course!):
Was choosing to design bikinis always locked in for you? Had you considered designing any other type of clothing?
Oh gosh, designing bikinis… even designing other products or clothing… was never really a locked in plan for me… it just, kind of, happened! First and foremost, I just love bikinis. I have always lived, travelled to and wanted to be, at the beach. Bikinis are my favourite item of clothing.
Armed with an $800 loan from Dad, I entered the swimwear industry with 20 pairs of bikinis I sourced from overseas in a wholesaling arrangement. That agreement didn’t last long as I wanted to create my own designs and leave my own mark on the swimwear world. And now, seven years on, I guess it wasn’t a one-off thing! Dad has only just let me pay him back three months ago.
While it was a combination of weird and random occurrences that led to me starting Moana, looking back it all seems like it was meant to be.
With so many swimwear labels popping up, how do you make sure Moana Bikini stays relevant and ahead in the industry?
Gosh, there are SO many of them nowadays, aren’t there!? To be honest, we don’t consider 90% of the newer, start-up brands as competition.
While we admire that they’re having a go and following their dreams, the majority of them are doing the exact same thing. It’s very easy these days to find a manufacturer, or purchase bulk, wholesale product online and sell under a new brand you have created.
Plain, neutral colours and simple, skimpy cuts are all the rage and are what the majority of the newer brands sell. This is because it’s easy and without much challenge or risk associated to it. It also doesn’t take a great deal of talent, to be honest.
Unfortunately, a lot of these new brands don’t realise this, and haven’t done the research – they’re selling almost exactly the same product, just under a different label. In many cases, the wholesaler or manufacturer they are purchasing off has fraudulently copied prints and patterns from other well-known brands (ourselves included).
Moana have always, and will always, design our prints and patterns from scratch. We have a very hard working and dedicated design team, and an independent, respected manufacturer and materials supplier. This ensures that our designs are uniquely Moana and our customers can wear them with pride with this knowledge.
And that’s just the physical product element! We’re constantly reviewing and refining our marketing activities to stay ahead of the curve and effectively connect with our beloved Moana Babes in the best way possible. We consistently test new marketing channels, and refine those we see value in; from Social Media Editorial and Advertising, to eMail marketing, to Retargeting, to print and digital editorial, and more… all of which are powered by our constant and continued development of high quality imagery and video content. We don’t rest until it’s all working and working well.
How do you come up with such different designs? Where does your inspiration come from?
We are constantly being inspired and every, single day is considered a part of the design process. We’ve some really exciting developments coming in 2018, which we can’t mention just now, but let’s just say they’ve placed even more of a focus on our design process and ensured that the design team are focusing on new prints and patterns on a daily basis.
No idea is too silly or out there and we ensure that a cycle of constant improvement and refinement is in place. As soon as one range is complete, the next is being worked on – sometimes often two or three ranges at once are being tinkered with. It’s a very exciting and inspiring process and we can’t get enough of it!
Obviously, being a swimwear label, we’re very inspired by the ocean and beautiful coastal environments and everything that comes with them. But as our design style has grown and matured, we’ve begun to find inspiration in different areas; abstract geometric designs, flora and fauna, colour and light… inspiration truly is everywhere! We can’t wait to show our Moana Babes what 2018 is going to bring
How would you describe the Moana Bikini girl?
Moana Bikini is more than just a swimwear brand. We represent a carefree, fun and active lifestyle. Moana Babes feel comfortable, confident and carefree in their own. They smile, laugh and live life to the full, supporting and empowering each other along the way. Moana Babes truly are a global Moana Army; they don’t follow trends, they create them, and all without a care in the world about what other people think.
Bikinis, sea blankets and Bikini Body Burn are now all part of Moana. Do you see yourself expanding on your current product range? If so, what do you think is next for Moana Bikini?
2018 will bring our Moana Babes some exciting developments. There won’t be any more additions in terms of new product lines in 2018, but there will be some HUGE developments within our current product lines – we have to keep those secret for now though ;-)
In terms of the current product offering, we’re constantly refining and perfecting and we know that our Moana Babes are going to LOVE the new Sea Blanket designs and, of course, our bikinis. As an aside Moana Bikini’s sister business, Bikini Body Burn, continues to go from strength to strength, helping girls become the best versions of themselves they can be. BBB will be launching a new Nutrition Guide, as well as some fun and exciting physical products to keep girls motivated and inspired in their fitness journey.
What’s your current personal favourite piece?
Oh gosh, it’s so hard to decide! It’s like asking someone who their favourite child is! I think I would have to say that it is our Tangled Tarzan Set. It has an amazing, vivid print and a unique cut/pattern with some cute, distinctive added elements. It looks amazing on everyone!
What were some of the initial challenges you faced with starting your own line? How did you overcome them?
There have always been, and I am sure there’ll always be, challenges along the way… without them, it would all be too easy, and achieving success wouldn’t be as worthwhile!
In the past 12 – 24 months, one of our largest challenges has been being able to keep up with demand… which obviously isn’t a bad thing! But the struggle of pushing our manufacturing capabilities to match our growing demand and customer base was something that’s taken up a lot of ours, and our manufacturers, time. I think we’re now, for the 2017/2018 ranges at least, on top of this and we won’t have too many customers missing out. This is a constant research, monitoring and planning task at our end to overcome and it becomes more challenging each year… but as I said, it’s a great challenge to have!
Also in the past 12 – 24 months we’ve seen a marked increase in the amount of cheap, Chinese factories purchasing our products, copying and selling them as either ‘Moana’ or another brand with cuts and prints attempting to replicate our range. Obviously, imitation is flattery, however the real negative part of that is when girls mistakenly purchase something they think is Moana but then receive a really poor quality copy. We actively hunt these factories out and send cease and desist letters, as well as continuing to remind our customer base that the only place they can buy real Moana Bikinis is through our site. Unfortunately for us, and the other brands this happens to, there’s not a great deal you can do… unless you’re into complicated and expensive cross-border legal proceedings. We just aim to stay ahead of them, continue to come up with prints and patterns they find it hard to replicate, and ensure that our customers know they can only buy Moana FROM Moana.
What advice would you give to Gold Coasters wanting to start their own business?
This is something that I am asked a lot! And I always have the same advice. But, specifically for Gold Coasters, there’s never been a better time to grab hold of your dream and chase it like there’s no tomorrow. We are truly blessed to live on the Gold Coast. The unique combination of our natural environment, our educated and active community, our affordable cost of living, our accessible location – it’s beyond par! There isn’t a better place to run your own business, in my mind.
Firstly, do it for yourself.
Don’t do it for profits. Don’t do it for the image. Don’t do it because someone told you to. Don’t do it just because you don’t like working for someone else. There are going to be incredibly long hours, soul-destroying hurdles and long periods of time before, or during which, you might not turn a profit. If you aren’t personally and internally motivated, then you won’t make it through these struggles. Find a problem that you, personally, want to solve, or a gap in the market that you, personally, have experienced… and go and solve it, for you!
Secondly, know your customer.
If you don’t truly know your customer, then you can’t effectively market to them and, in turn, you’ll have trouble selling to them, or anyone. Thankfully, in 2017, this has never been easier - with real time metrics across all online eCommerce and marketing platforms, if you don’t know your customer and how their product, marketing or media consumption works, then you’re not doing your job properly.
Thirdly, have fun.
Isn’t that why you wanted to be your own boss in the first place!? Enjoy it and make it your own, and it’s true, you’ll never ‘work’ a day in your life.
If Moana Bikini hadn’t started, what do you think you’d be doing?
This is a really tough question! It’s so hard to imagine my life without Moana! After seeing what my father has gone through with his injury, however, I would like to say that I would find it rewarding to be helping people. I am a huge rescue animal advocate as well. I can’t stand to think of animals being neglected or in pain. So, helping people or animals would most likely be high on my agenda if Moana didn’t take up all of my time.
Where is your favourite place to shop on the Gold Coast?
I love shopping at The Beach in West Burleigh and in Bundall. Their homewares and furniture are so beautiful and suit my personal style to a tee.
Where’s your go-to spot on the Gold Coast?
Home! Currumbin. Beautiful, quiet beaches. Crystal, clear water. Great food and coffee. A tightknit, village feel. I love it there.
Skimpy, Cheeky or Booty cut?
At the moment, I am loving our booty-cut, runch bottoms. They’re cheeky but tasteful and really help to fit to the curves of each Moana Babe and accentuate their assets.
If you could have anyone wear Moana Bikini, who would it be?
Luckily for Moana, one of the girls I’ve ALWAYS wanted to wear Moana is the new face of our brand in 2018. I can’t mention too much right now, as we want to surprise our Moana Babes, but let’s just say she’ll look AMAZING in Moana.
And, of course, it wouldn’t hurt the brand too much if one of the Kardashians wanted to rock Moana ;-)
Steph Claire Smith and Eryn Krouse, photographed by Trent Mitchell
Karina Irby, photographed by Richard Kotch