Moana Bikini

“Would you like to dress up in the hog outfit and stand out on the highway?”

These are the words every part time employee has heard in one variation or another:

“Can you pick that food up from the floor?”

“Would you please stay on later today… I actually have to go.”

“See those difficult customers over there who are demanding a refund and to speak to the manager? Yeah, they’re your table for the night.”

But how many of us can say we have ever become so passionate about leaving our jobs and making a change, that we save our money, move 456kms across the country and start our own boutique bikini line?

Karina Irby has, all before she was 21.

Moana Bikini is a home-grown line of cheeky cut swimwear, aimed at women from around the world who are searching for that perfect style.

StartUp Creative sat down with Karina to find out how a 21-year old Port Macquarie high school leaver said “hell no” to the hog outfit and took the leap to the Gold Coast and into her own business.

How does an ex-waitress, former surf coach and qualified student of sports management and exercise science go into business with herself? 

I always thought that whenever I wore normal sized bikini bottoms, they would always droop. So I went out of my way to get the right pair, but at the time no one really sold small bikinis. Friends always joked: You should design bikinis, because I was forever searching for ones that fit well. But I didn’t know anything, I didn’t sew, I didn’t know anything about fabric, I was completely uneducated.

Then one day, when I was working at Rip Curl I got a phone-call from my boss. He fired me because of a rumour he had heard. At the time I was paying rent, I had a car loan and I really couldn’t afford to be fired. I lived by myself. I got really angry and decided that I wouldn’t work for $17 an hour for someone else. I would start my own business. That same night I decided to do bikinis like everyone told me and I started to research.

When life throws you a career curveball, what are you meant to type into Google? 

I’m pretty determined, if I have something in my head I want it done. I had recently come back from Hawaii and over there I stocked up on so many tiny bikinis and since I didn’t know how to make bikinis, I thought ‘I can wholesale’. I started googling companies and if they did wholesaling and just started emailing them. One small boutique got back to me and said yeah sure let’s do it.

Did you register Moana straight away?

No, I put it off for the first six months… I started with basically nothing. My dad was fantastic and loaned me $800 so I could get started, with just 8 different styles. Then I advertised for models and my partner at the time was a photographer, so he did a shoot. It was very basic.

How long until you had everything online?

About a month? I had created hype before I launched. I really love the marketing aspects of my business. I had a lot of teasers on Facebook and so when followers were finally able to buy, the whole line sold. So then I ordered more bikinis, and again they sold out.

So how did you manage to market a bikini wholesale job into an online brand that would soon become fiercely in demand? 

It was all on Facebook: sharing, likes, competitions. There was no way at the time that I would pay for marketing I could do myself. I would sit up until 2am, marketing on Facebook.

Karina has fought her way through her share of challenges: designing her own marketing, rebranding the products that were being shipped to Australia for her business and setting up her own online store. She even switched from the Hawaiian wholesale factory to a manufacturer in Bali in order to design her own line from scratch. 

I basically learnt as I went. I was selling so many bikinis, the company in Hawaii kept putting the wholesale prices up, and I was never happy with their prints. Then the company wanted me to change my name to their company name, and to become their Australian distribution channel! While flattered, I decided it was time to stop taking orders from a company I didn’t believe in. I researched manufacturers and figured Bali might be a good place to start. I didn’t know anything about the process but I just flew over, then asked hotel clerks where the fabric shops were! I eventually found a contact who I trusted and believed in. I showed him my design and we worked together to generate some samples.

So all of this was done in one Bali trip?

Yep, in two weeks! It was crazy… I really didn’t know what I was doing and sometimes I still feel that way! (Laughs).

And then you came home with samples?

Yes, I worked on the samples from home on the Gold Coast and once they were approved between the Gold Coast and Bali, we launched the first collection. Prior to the launch of the first collection, I sold the last of my Hawaiian wholesale range to make way for my own personal collection. In recent years on separate collections I have spent more time in Bali to foster a good relationship with my manufacturer.

Were you worried about their reaction?

Not really. I hadn’t done anything wrong. But at the same time I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. I sent them emails explaining politely that I was pursuing my own dreams.

Is the production pretty seamless now?

Yeah, I am well versed in my customers demand and always ensure I have enough stock on hand to keep everyone happy. In the past there had been instances where my supplier couldn’t keep up with the market’s demand and thus we were disappointing people. It’s nice now to be able to meet my customer’s demands, whilst also spending some time and money on interesting marketing initiative and future planning of new ranges.

So you raised all your capital by yourself?

Yes. I’ve never gone to a bank.

What can we expect in the future from Moana?

I don’t do business plans. I feel like any time I try to do one it becomes about the money. For me it’s about making people happy. I just want to create something fun for my customers.

Can we hear any tips for all of the young entrepreneurs out there who are daring themselves to do what you have done with your brand?

1.    Never let anyone tell you that you can’t do it.

2.    Follow your own trends.

3.    Surround yourself with positive people who encourage you.

And the biggest payoff for Karina?

Taking care of the man who got on the phone and fought with her manager to get her job back and then paid for the first eight pieces of the Moana Bikini line. Her best friend and her inspiration: her Dad.

And the manager who fired her?

“What a legend.”

By Jess Mackay