By Tricia Young-Leus
In 2015, Tricia went home to Cebu after resigning from her second corporate job, feeling so lost and unfulfilled. At first, she just wanted to clear her head. What she didn’t know then was that trip home started her journey as a swimwear designer and eventually, a girl boss. One fateful night in Cebu, she created Salt Swim.
Today, she shares how her locally sourced and locally made swimwear help people “stay salty”, one swimsuit at a time.
Isak Dinesen’s quote, “The cure for anything is saltwater: sweat, tears, or the sea” really resonated with me as well and it speaks so much truth.
I named my business Salt Swim because every time I start missing the beach, I smell saltwater out of the blue. The smell of saltwater is very therapeutic to me and I wanted a name that best describes my passion and how I feel about the business and the beach. My business now runs in an office in Parañaque that I nicknamed “The Oasis” because it feels that way to me.
Salt Swim’s swimsuits are locally sourced and made. They are meant to be trendy yet timeless at the same time. They are made to enhance the experience of every island girl’s adventures from sunrise to sunset. That’s why quality and comfort are integrated into our standards. It is Salt Swim’s ultimate goal to give you an experience—through the products, service, and lifestyle. With our famous tag line, “Stay Salty”, Salt Swim shares with everyone our immense love for the beach through our swimsuits.
What do you believe makes your business stand out?
I believe that first and foremost, service makes Salt Swim stand out. Being an avid online shopper, I make sure that I treat my customers the way I’d like to be treated. I’ve experienced bad customer service when ordering things online and I wanted to change that. I don’t treat my customers as transactions. I like treating them as though I know them personally. I also keep in mind that they buy our swimsuits with money they worked hard for, so I make sure that they get their money’s worth.
Apart from service, Salt Swim’s standards when it comes to quality are also something we take seriously. Being someone who loves wearing swimsuits, I always make sure that the quality is something that would make me want to wear them myself.
Another thing that makes Salt Swim stand out is how I’m truly passionate about what I do. I love the ocean. I’ve loved it ever since I can remember. Growing up in Cebu where the beach is just an hour away, it’s always been a part of me. My fondest memories growing up were at the beach. Swimsuits have always been my fetish as well. It’s just a really nice feeling being in a bikini the whole day under the heat of the sun, feeling my skin getting tan, seeing coconut trees and the ocean in the distance, and most of all, smelling saltwater. It’s the best feeling ever.
Tell us your story. What ignited the spark in you to start this business? When did this happen?
How I stumbled upon this industry never fails to amaze me. In October 2015, I went back to my hometown in Cebu to clear my head. I just resigned from my second corporate job in a span of 15 months and I felt so lost. I honestly didn’t know what to do with my life and I felt like a failure.
All my peers seemed to know where they were going and yet there I was, feeling stuck. That was honestly one of the lowest points in my life. I wasn’t doing well in my previous jobs and I felt like there was something wrong with me when in fact, I was just unhappy. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life stuck in a job I wasn’t passionate about all because I had to make a living. I have always been drawn to having my own business so after my second corporate job, I decided to take that leap of faith and go down the entrepreneurial path.
The night I created Salt Swim was fate. I was on the dining table, with a notebook, a pen, and my laptop in front of me praying for an answer. I was tired of jumping from one corporate job to another. I wanted something I was passionate about that when I hit 40, I can look back and happily say that I chose this life.
I was watching a video on YouTube which was circulating at that time called Why Some of us Don’t Have One True Calling. It was a talk given by a woman named Emilie Wapnick. She was talking about a term called “multipotentialite”. Basically, it’s about how you don’t have to stick to one path your whole life and that you can combine all of your passions and create something with them. This made me think about all my interests and passions and what I wanted to do the rest of my life.
All of a sudden, out of nowhere, I heard a voice in my head saying, “Why not swimsuits? You love swimsuits and you definitely love the beach! Why not combine the two?” I heard that voice so clearly that sometimes I tell myself that my guardian angel was probably brainstorming with me. After that, my brain started working like clockwork. I did a lot of research about that industry, which I knew nothing about, and did the initial stages of planning. I slept at three o’clock in the morning and woke up at 6:30 that morning and ran to my mom to tell her all about it. I always look back at that night and think about how it’s really true when they say that there are years that question and years that answer. I am extremely blessed to have gotten my answer that night.
How did you obtain capital? Were there investors? If yes, how did you entice them into believing in and investing in your idea?
When I started Salt Swim, it was a given that I needed capital. I remember putting some of my savings in UITF (Unit Investment Trust Fund) a year before. I told myself that the money would grow much more and much faster if it were placed in a business I was going to work hard for. I took that money out and made a separate account for Salt Swim and that was my first investment.
I started small and made sure that I tested the waters first. When I saw that there really was a market, I knew I needed to inject more capital to expand. So I went to my grandfather, who we fondly call “Papalo”, for help. I asked him if I could come over on Sunday to talk business with him. I remember preparing for the meeting. I wrote everything down in detail, including the budget needed and for what. I placed all this information in a PowerPoint presentation and drove to their house, feeling anxious. They greeted me at the door and my grandmother prepared some snacks and we had the meeting in their garden.
I told them that I had prepared a PowerPoint presentation and he told me that it wasn’t necessary, that I was their granddaughter and that they were willing to invest either way but I insisted. I wanted to make sure they know where their money was going. So I gave my presentation and they were impressed. I love the fact that my Papalo treated me like an adult. He even told me that I had guts. I’ll never forget that he believed in me when I didn’t even believe in myself.
The third investment came from my then boyfriend Patrick, who is now my husband. He saw how hard I worked and he believes in me and in Salt Swim. I love how we complement each other. Where one is weak in a certain area, the other fills in. The fourth investment was from my dad. He also sees how hard I work and how far Salt Swim has gone since I first started.
How did you build your customer base? What form of marketing has been most effective for you so far?
Salt Swim’s customer base was built organically through social media. So far, social media and word of mouth have definitely been the most effective. Social media taps a wide range of audience since everything is right on your screen and right at a touch of a button.
What kind of company culture are you implementing/would like to implement? What are your core values?
The kind of company culture Salt Swim is implementing is one focused on service, love for the ocean, and sense of adventure. It’s about excellent customer service as well as sharing and letting customers experience the passion and enthusiasm we have for the beach. It’s allowing them to create fond memories while wearing our swimsuits. Salt Swim’s core values are integrity, social responsibility, enthusiasm, respect, sincerity, and service.
What skills do you believe are necessary in handling a business?
For me, it’s the ability to make decisions on the spot. Time management and problem-solving skills are also very important. You also need to know how to deal with people from different backgrounds.
What would you say are some dos and don’ts in starting one?
I believe that in starting a business, it has to be something that you love, something that will make you want to get up every morning and look forward to your day. Make sure that this is something that you really want, something that you’re willing to put your heart and soul into. Having a business is not necessarily about the money but it’s about creating a solution to an ongoing need. Also, it’s important to do some research and ask around. Make sure to have a mentor and a support system.
Was there ever a time you felt afraid that this might not work? How did you manage this fear?
Definitely. During the early stages of the business, I was still adjusting and working out a system, so whenever something didn’t go my way, I felt discouraged and anxious. I lost sleep and I cried my eyes out. I managed this fear by developing a mind over matter attitude. I constantly reminded myself that it will work if I wanted it to. I just worked harder. I would also talk to Patrick, my favorite support system and cheerleader. It’s good to have a strong support system, be it your family or friends. It’s always good to get another person’s perspective so you can see the business holistically, from another angle.
Describe a typical day for you.
A typical day for me would include answering customer inquiries and making sure that the orders have been shipped out and received by our customers. It also includes thinking of marketing strategies that will contribute to Salt Swim’s growth, going to meetings, and running some errands.
How many hours of work a day do you put in? How many days per week?
It would really depend on what I have to accomplish for that certain day. Since I basically work in my own time frame, the hours could stretch from one aspect of the day to another. I can work as early as 7 or 8 in the morning or finish as late as 2 or 3 in the morning. I work every single day. On weekends, I still try to work on something even if it’s little. I feel more at ease that way.
What sacrifices have you had to make to get here?
I remember the first few months of doing the business, I only took a Php5,000.00 salary for myself and got just a little more when I really needed it. But as much as possible, I tried not to. I always felt guilty and reckless whenever I’d give myself a salary. I ate the microwavable meals from 7-Eleven every day in order to save money. If I wanted a nice, home-cooked meal, I’d go to a mall’s eatery, usually located in the basement area, to buy meals that were Php50 or Php60. As much as possible, I didn’t want to take money from the business. I wanted to nourish the business first before nourishing myself.
Before I was finally able to employ our Inventory Management Assistant, I used to check each swimsuit’s quality, label, and pack all of the items one by one. Sometimes, I would start at 8:00 P.M. and finish at around 2:00 A.M. I remember the back pains but Salt Swim is my passion. I would always just keep in mind that passion in Latin means “suffering”. But even in the beginning, Patrick helps me with the packing, which I’m always grateful for.
What can you consider is your greatest success?
My greatest success would be the thought that Salt Swim is starting to be known in the industry and also expanding. I honestly would love nothing more than for people to have fond memories at the beach while wearing the swimsuits I put my heart and soul into. But most of all, what I consider to be my greatest success is the fact that Salt Swim has definitely made me a much better person and I’ve grown and learned so much. I am more confident than I was before starting the business and I have more faith in myself. I’ve accomplished things I’ve never thought I could do, things my insecure and unsure 15-year-old-self thought she could never do. I was able to prove myself wrong. If Salt Swim were a person, I’d hug the living daylights out of it.
What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
It’s the fact that the state of your business lies solely in your hands and how you can create something in your head and make it a reality. Seeing my designs come to life and people telling me how much they love them really makes my day. I love helping people through what I do as well as sharing my love and passion for swimsuits and the beach with everyone else. I also love the fact that I own my own time and that I am my own boss. I love the challenges that being an entrepreneur brings. It feels like one big adventure.
What motivates you?
Being better today than how I was yesterday. I always look back to where I began and seeing how far I’ve come always makes me want to do better.
Who has been your greatest inspiration?
My greatest inspiration has been this entrepreneur on a show called Shark Tank. Her name is Barbara Corcoran. She is the epitome of the phrase, “If you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen to you.” She’s a very genuine person and she’s not afraid to speak her mind. She worked 22 jobs (some she was fired from, one being a waitress) and built a real estate empire in Manhattan and became known as the Real Estate Queen. She is creative, resourceful, hardworking, and humble. Whenever I’m stuck in a rut, I’d always ask myself, “What would Barbara do?”
Where do you see yourself and your business in 10 years?
I have my plans for Salt Swim and in 10 years, I see the business expanding. My vision for the business is for it to never stop evolving, I never want it to settle.
What piece of advice can you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Go for it despite the fear and uncertainty. Don’t think, just do. Go deep and listen to your heart. If you do everything in your power to make it work, it will work. Create something that you’re passionate about. It’s not going to be easy, but it will be worth it. You won’t be seeing results right away but they will come when you least expect it. It’s also okay to feel discouraged and lost, you’re only human. Lastly, and most importantly, pray. He always listens.
Edits: Kath C. Eustaquio-Derla | Image Credit: Tricia Young-Leus