You're not going to believe but the Bikini Bitch has just had a bit of a lift, thanks to Facebook. Yes, Facebook. For a long time, I've been quite content maintaining friendships the old fashioned way - visits, calls, letters, emails, not really using Facebook for anything more than a post or like. [I am pretty shy too]. That all changed with the social serendipity of stumbling into my university friend Helena through that trickle down via mutual friends, and the "confirm" button. Next thing, I know I'm wearing Helena's bikini.
Wait a second. Back it up.
Helena's name appears on the screen and out of character, I make a friend request and suddenly, I am full immersion in a world of gorgeous photos: family life, sunsets and surfing, and a never-ending parade of sexy, kick-ass bikinis. Helena, a pre-Med midwesterner, was not just living pura vida in Costa Rica, it turns out she was making it and putting it on your body as designer and founder of MI OLA, Sexy Bikinis that Stay On- Mind-blowing and awesome, so of course I had to try the bikinis. I spent the entire summer in her bikinis. I tested them out in every scenario- from sunbathing and cocktails to paddle boarding and rock jumping, they don't lie. MI OLA suits stay up, even with a six-year-old pulling on them. My summer was also all about the underbum- it was me and the flirty Super Cheeky bottom. I loved how tiny it was, but yet covering up the butt perfectly.
If you've heard me talk Bikini Bitch, you know that bikini shape is key for whatever your body type is. It's all about cut and confidence. Helena totally gets it. She has an incredible eye for body types, which she shows off with the MI OLA range of styles and fun palette of colors and prints meant to mix and match. But I am old school and was caught up in Pescadito (black metalic fish scale pattern) for both the Pin Up top and Super Cheeky bottom. I felt sexy, sporty and ready to make some mischief. Maybe I just loved the bikini or maybe the bikini just loved me...
The Q & A: an email interview with Helena to find how she went from Ivy League and Chanel to bitchin' bikinis.
I know we were out of a touch for some years but weren't you a biology major? And then you worked with Chanel? How did that happen, what's the story? All true! When I was a kid, I dreamed of being a fashion designer or an architect. But growing up in the Midwest, with a lawyer as a dad, I wasn’t really sure how to make that happen. So, I got into Penn and went. And, because I was at an Ivy League, I felt like I should be Pre-med, Pre-law or business. That seemed like the the thing to do. I took art classes on the side… and tried to find my way towards a career. I am not from a wealthy family…so practicality won over! Ultimately I decided I’d be a terrible doctor, so I finished my degree in Neuropsychology and got a job in medical publishing. How fun is that? Hey, it paid the bills and got me to NYC. I sang in punk bands on the side and had fire engine red hair, before I shaved it all off, that is.
**fast forward, Helena springboarded to an interactive agency where she led Avon and Bloomingdale's businesses. She launched the first e-commerce site for Avon, won several awards, which brought her to Hearst Publishing, where she was led the digital team on Harper’s Bazaar, CosmoGirl, and a few other magazines and TV shows. She got an MBA and hit high fashion...Chanel.
I was always working on the business and marketing sides, though, never actually in design…until now. And I’m only doing it now, because there’s a need for chic, sexy bikinis that stay put… what we stand for with MI OLA. Our goal is get more women feeling good and empowered, and doing more of what they love (without worrying about losing their tops!)
I'm guessing Costa Rica was a getaway, when did it become The Destination? Gradual evolution or epiphany? I went to Costa Rica a long time ago and thought “been there, done that.” Then, I learned to surf in Maui after my MBA, and became obsessed. NY beaches were flat that summer, so I booked a trip to Costa Rica (to Witch's Rock Surf Camp – my FAVORITE place). I loved it. I went down to WRSC a month later with friends. Then again. And again. I returned approximately 17 times over 3 years.
In late 2008, I thought I was getting promoted. Instead I got laid off. I threw a killer New Year’s Eve party, and then headed to Costa Rica for a few weeks. My travel buddy was trying to convince me to stay in Costa Rica, at that point. Instead I went back to NYC and there were no jobs or interviews to be had. At all. So I booked a trip back to Costa Rica for a month, to see if I could actually live in a town of 3000 people. Loved it. I went back up to NYC and packed my stuff into storage, rented my apartment, and moved down to Costa Rica with my pooch. I wasn’t sure how long I would be here. And I wasn’t sure if I would stay in Tamarindo. But 4 months after moving here, I met my husband… and here I am.
Tell me about completely switching gears to MI OLA and bikini: when did you start? When I moved down to Costa Rica, I was surfing 4 hours a day, every day. And I was constantly adjusting my bikinis. You get into a rhythm… paddle paddle paddle, duck dive, pull up your bottoms, paddle out to the break. Get to the break, make sure your top is in the right place before sitting and waiting for a wave. Then catch a wave. Adjust your suit. Surf, and do it all over again. Every time I went out to surf I was thinking “dude, why aren’t there better sexy, chic bikinis?” I didn’t want to start a bikini company. But I had to. I had to make bikinis that would free up women to do more of what they want to do, with less stress and worry.
When you think about it… we’ve been pulling up our bottoms and pulling down our tops since we were 18 months old. Believe it. I have a 4 year old and this is when she started. Why do women put up with such an inferior garment? To look cute? Well… with MI OLA, you can look and feel terrific without having to adjust your suit.
Do you have experience in design and sewing? is that a bad question? Ha! It’s not a bad question! I do not sew! And I did not have experience in designing clothing, but sometimes you need someone from outside the industry to come in and think about making things a different way….to really change what’s being done. Each time I work with a new factory, they question what we’re doing and think they can do it better. But we’ve actually considered and tested every stitch and material, and we’re making our suits this way for a reason. Making swimwear the way it’s always been done is not working well for the women who wear it. So we’re doing things differently. I am the designer. I sketch every style. I also work with a great team of people that are able to translate my sketches and my direction, into actual suits that we can test and fit, who are experts in garment construction and sewing.).
What are you bikini-swimsuit inspirations? Our baseline requirement in MI OLA is that our styles must make our women look and feel terrific. I’m more inspired by fashion, than by other swimwear. I’m always inspired by Tom Ford Gucci and Alexander McQueen. Add in there a color palette that’s heavily influenced by my tropical environment and an obsession with layers – whether we’re talking armor, mermaid/fish scales, birds feathers, etc.
You had me at Sexy Bikinis that Stay On. I have this working theory I call "Bikini Bitch philosophy". Part philosophy and part way of life that comes from spending most of my life around Italian women who know that to love your body doesn't mean it has to be perfect but a bitchin' bikini and great accessories help. Do you think Mi Ola bikinis fit the bill? (I do)I love the Bikini Bitch Philosophy! From working in fashion, I know if you’re going to wear something, you should own it. And being in Costa Rica… and being a mom… I don’t have time for body shame and not wearing a bikini. I do it and expect that my confidence, happiness, awesome bikinis and accessories will outshine any extra lumps.
Women pretty much rule the world. So let’s stop worrying about the basic stuff: “Am I the cutest?” “Does my butt look big in this?” “Am I sexy?”… and focus on what’s important…. Living the best life. It’s very “Oprah” but seriously… who’s having more fun? Let’s care for ourselves (inside and out) a little bit more. And when you go to the beach, put on a great swimsuit!
I just have to tell you, both my sister and I tried your bikinis this entire summer and in every element. We paddle boarded, rode waves, kayaked, rock jumped, sunbathed and fought of small children who pulled every string they could reach. Your suits really stay on. I absolutely love this. Thank you for letting me know. That makes me proud.
We're the same age, do you think I could still learn how to surf? Better yet, do you have room for me and my 7 year old mini-me later this year? Yes, and yes. I would LOVE to have you two visit. I’m serious.
If there is one thing I love more than an incredible bikini, it is an incredible woman who does her thing, and in Helena's case, that thing just happens to be making the world a better place for bikini wearers. And I am not the only one who know this. MI OLA has been a guest star in Sports Illustrated, Elle, Seventeen and Self magazines, and are the tops (and bottoms) for professional athletes (and wannabes like me!) in and out of the water. In fact, MI OLA's Instagram gallery is filled with on-site and in-action photos from a gang of ambassadors who are #MIOLAwesome, just like the suits.