Founderoo caught up with Becky and Kip on how they created Winki Suits.
This is no ordinary startup story. It's is a story of two good friends, a passion for the ocean, and creating surf suits with a pretty special purpose.
Becky & Kip, what's your backstory?
Kip was raised on the Sydney's Northern beaches and was raised by the ocean, learning to surf in her teens. I was brought up in New Zealand, then Queensland and came to Sydney when I was 22 years old.
I took up surfing later in life! Kip studied primary education and went into teaching (she has only finished this year, partly to work on Winki and partly because she is having a baby).
I studied fashion and business in Brisbane and spent some time living in France and London throughout my degree. Both of us grew up loving the ocean and nature - as well as creativity, fashion and people!
Tell us what your company does?
We create functional, timeless and vintage-inspired surf suits for women. We were so sick of getting wedgies every time we went swimming, body-surfing or surfing, and we realised there was a huge gap in the market for beautiful, retro and functional suits.
We’d always loved people and wanted our business (if we ever started one), to have a bigger purpose behind it. We really wanted to change the women’s surf culture and make women feel comfortable in the surf.
So many times, we’d both surfed with suits that made us feel awkward and uncomfortable (especially when there are so many men in the water).
Modesty was a key thing for us as well - we wanted to stick to that value. Our suits are all ethically produced in the Philippines and here in Sydney. We had to move some of our manufacturing onshore due to COVID. The suits are made from our signature 1mm, buttery neoprene.
How did you come up with the idea?
We were both on the ferry home from work (me) and uni (Kip) one day when we thought of creating a business right here in Manly.
We often spent long times trying to source surf-suits (like the brand Seea) from the US, as there weren't any in Australia that fit our brief of functional, timeless and vintage(y).
So we thought, hey, why don’t we design some suits?! We also really wanted our business to serve and look after other people. We wanted our business to make an impact.
So we prayed together about it, and crazily both got led to the same lady in the Philippines, who helped run an organisation called Honor1000. Honor 1000 partner with the International Justice Mission to rescue women and children from sex trafficking in the Philippines.
Honor 1000 created ‘The Blessed Project’, a safe-house and rehabilitation centre in the Philippines where these women and children can go to heal and learn about God. Some of the women learn how to sew through The Blessed Project’s sewing program.
Through sewing, the women can earn an income and learn a new skill while going to school or university and figuring out what they want to do with their lives. It’s amazing to see how they flourish when they’re given the support and a second chance at life.
How did you come up with the name of the business?
The name Winki came when Kip and I were sitting in her van with our two husbands (who happen to be brothers).
We were thinking of something funky and iconic to surfing and Manly (where we live) when my husband came up with the name Winki. It didn’t stick at first, but after a while everyone loved it, and now it’s iconic to us.
Winki is a surf break in Manly, just between Bower and Deadmans.
How did you go about building the business?
Our product took a LONG time to produce. The fact that we’re dealing with another language and country to produce our suits made something more complicated than it should be.
We had no experience or idea what we were doing when it came to sourcing fabric, pattern making, print design etc., but we had a lot of passion and drive.
The quality control was another thing, as the women sewing our suits were just learning to sew and they’d never made swimsuits before (swimsuits are hard to produce!).
So there was lots of back and forth for about 16 months before we had our final product. My one piece of advice would be to start somewhere, then you have something to go off, then you can keep improving.
Even now, two years into launching our business we’re constantly improving our patterns and styles of surf-suits.
What did you need to do for the launch?
We had a relatively easy launch. We’ve grown very organically, so we didn’t start with much - just a product shoot, samples, a website on Shopify and some awesome content for Instagram.
It’s been a slow and steady growth for us, but we wouldn’t want it any other way.
How have you grown the business?
The business has grown 250% year on year since starting, which comes down to creating a product that meets a need and demand.
When we started, there wasn't much out there for women - specially made from neoprene. So that’s how we’ve grown - consistent branding, content, producing a great product and being true to who we are.
The surfing culture and community in Australia is quite tight-knit, so many of our referrals have come through word of mouth. We continue to do paid marketing (ads) on social media and a lot of influencer marketing, but apart from that, it’s just been slow and steady growth.
What have been some of your biggest failures along the way?
I think not taking our time when creating new products has been a massive lesson for us. We often (me particularly) rush into things and don’t spend enough time getting it right.
Rushing things means that when it's created and sampled, we spend even longer going back and forth trying to make it right. Don’t cut corners. Do everything well.
We’ve had many products and samples come back to us completely different to what we wanted, and that’s partly due to the language barrier and because we weren’t clear, organised, and thorough in our preparation for creating the new products.
What’s your biggest selling product?
Our biggest and best-seller is our Lola or Penny suit. They’re the signature designs that we re-create each season in new prints.
Lola and Penny are made from 1mm neoprene, which is amazing to surf in.
What day to day digital tools do you use?
What book has been a great inspiration to you as a founder?
George Mueller biography is my favourite book. It’s about a man who set up the first orphanage in England way back in the day. He was so faithful and honest, and it really inspired me.
How I built this has amazing entrepreneurial stories about business founders and owners - I love this one so much.
Otherwise, I always love looking at other brands to see what they’re doing and how they’re being innovative in their marketing and branding.
What are the biggest pieces of advice you’d give to other founders?
Start somewhere, anywhere. Don’t talk or dream; just do it. Even if it’s super small and insignificant to someone else, it could be the start of something big! You’ll never know until you try.
What keeps you up at night regarding your business?
Honestly, most things can keep you up - the fact that if you don’t do it, no one will is a bit stressful at times.
And yes, definitely how we can be more profitable often keeps me up as I know how important cash flow is.
Surviving the winter season is a tough one, but as we’ve grown more internationally, this gets easier.
What's the biggest surprise you've had as a founder
Freedom is the biggest surprise.
Just being able to be your own boss and being in control and independent. Kip and I have really different ways of working, but we’ve figured out how to work well together.
I love innovating, working, and coming up with new ideas, so this has been the biggest joy and surprise as a business owner, working whenever and however on new projects and overseeing various things.
Variety is a big thing too, being able to meet new people and do various things (whether it's a school talk to students, meeting our manufacturers, print design or accountant meetings).
Everything is more exciting when you’ve built your own business.
Have you ever felt like quitting, if so why?
Yes, I think being in a relationship with family in a business can be tough at times.
You do have disagreements, and it hits close to home when you’re family. But to be honest, I’ve never thought about quitting. I believe God gave us this business to help other people, so the journey isn’t over until he says it is.
What quotes do you live by?
“The Lord has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love and soundness of mind” 2 Timothy 1:7
In a few words what does it mean to be the founder of a business?