A surfer cool, ultra–lux beach bikini brand has stormed New York shopping posts from Barney’s to Anthropology with a collection that’s exclusively manufactured in the heart of the Big Apple's Garment District. Founded by high school friends, Megan Balch and Jamie Barker, FLAGPOLE has found a way to reinvent the beachwear market with its active-inspired swimwear pieces that bridge the gap between trend yet functional beyond-the-beach aesthetics. And with 100 percent New York pride, Balch and Barker are showing locals how to dive into warm winter vacations with a suit that's modern, meticulously crafted and customized to fit every women’s needs.
So we sat down with these up and coming designers, to hear the story behind curating one of the most sought after swimwear lines, collaborating with internationally recognized designers like Oscar de la Renta, staying true to form and manufacturing inside New York’s garment district, and tips for finding the perfect suit this upcoming season.
Tell me about your journey, pioneering your luxury swimwear line, Flagpole. JAIME BARKER: The journey really began in Earth Space Science class freshman year of high school in West Palm Beach. Megan Balch, and then Jaime Barker, sat right in alphabetical order, and it was love at first sight.
MEGAN BALCH: From our first group project we realized we were great collaborators. From there we worked together to coordinate our daily outfits. In reality, by age 14, we started talking about how we were going to start our own business one day.
JB: We were never sure what that business would be but we had already had a few ideas that got us excited, so we knew it was possible, we just needed to find the right idea. And then, I thought of the right idea. I wanted us to make swimwear based off of leotard construction because we both grew up dancing. I called Megan from work and we both knew this was our Oprah "Aha Moment."
What was the first swimsuit you ever made together? JB: The Charlotte! Named after a girl that Megan nannied for here. She is kind of the reason why we were able to start our company. She is why we were both in New York at the same time.
And catering to all silhouette’s, how were you able to build a brand where finding the perfect suit is made easy? JB: Well, we really wanted to focus on one-piece suits and we saw that one of the biggest problems in finding a well fitting suit was torso length. We wanted to make sure we had a variety of styles that would fit different shapes. Also the more popular we became, the more women would reach out to us requesting specific wants in suits that didn't exist. This was incredible. We love feedback the process of trying to solve as many problems as we can with each new suit we create.
You also launched exclusively at Barneys. MB: Barneys picked us up our second season, being the first major retailer to have our brand! It was the store we wanted to partner with as a New York Brand. But that same season Net-A-Porter became the second big retailer to picked us up. It was a dream come true.
You could have easily manufactured your swimwear line anywhere, so why New York? JB: When we started out we only knew how to manufacture in New York, and we also knew nothing about producing swimwear. We had to learn the entire process for ourselves so doing it in our backyard is the only way it made since. We also didn't have the budget you need to produce the high minimums you need to make when you are looking overseas.
MB: The Garment District actually enabled us to meet with vendors and learn the process so actually build a company. We could not have done this without the Garment District, and now it has just become part of our DNA. We are really proud to be a company that is now able to give back to the system and help sustain it for the next generation of determined designers to learn the trade.
Are you also planning to partner with brick-and-mortar stores? MB: Definitely, but we are hoping to work with more stores that have a clear concept and connection to their customers. The way people like to shop is changing and I think the idea of specialize boutiques is a more enjoyable shopping experience that customers are gravitating towards.
And Jaime and Megan, what are your plans for the future, to continue to dominate the swimwear market? JB: So many things. This year is our five-year anniversary and we have some really exciting collaborations in the works that will likely go well into 2020. For design we have talked about branching into kids and expanding men’s.
MB: My main goal is to one day buy an island that we can turn into a boutique hotel, where everything from the sheets on the bed to the dinner cuisine and the workout class will be a fully emerged experience of the Flagpole world we create. This will not be happening anytime soon but its fun to have a goal like that to work towards.