Persona Swimwear: Sitting Down with Local Artist & Business Owner Emily Sanders

From left to right: Erica, Alexa, and Designer, Emily Sanders

From left to right: Erica, Alexa, and Designer, Emily Sanders

It isn’t easy breaking into the business world, especially for women, but Emily Sanders, creator of Persona Swimwear, just sort of “fell into it.” She combined her passion and skills as an artist with her desire for comfortable, sexy, and supportive swimwear, and the result is a swimsuit collection that has a little something for almost everyone. Emily’s business was voted  “Best ‘Real Women Have Curves’ Swimwear” in City Weekly’s Best of Utah 2013  issue.

We sat down over tiramisu and coffee in downtown Salt Lake City to talk about what it means to listen to your instincts, run a business, and create beautiful works of art for women to wear on their bodies.

Did Persona start with friends and family asking you to make them suits?

No, not at first. Most people thought I was insane. Cause you’re in Utah, and then, just to go making swimwear. My family could see me using bra cups, and I was using black material to make the mock-ups, so it looked like I was making yarmulkes.

Is this your first business venture?

I sold my art, which was a good learning lesson to sell that.

I’m kind of the type of person who just jumps off of a cliff without looking. I didn’t really look at it as a business. I just wanted to make stuff that people like and put it out there, so I guess it is a business. (She laughed here, as though she just realized that she is a kickass business owner!).


If you put too many labels and expectations on it, that’s where you lose the joy in the whole process.

It seems like you have a good mix of styles, some might call it a mix of modest and sexy. Is that intentional for the Utah audience?

I just design for myself. If I wear it, and I would like it then I feel good about it. It’s too hard to design with everyone in mind. So, I start with something I would wear. Something that would work with my body. So if it doesn’t have straps. I’m like, um, I’m not into the swimsuits that are strapless. I appreciate them aesthetic wise, but I know if I put one on it’s going to keep falling down. It’s either flash people or came toe. I wanted something that fit well.

The sizing has been a lot of trial and error. My small sizes work well in Taiwan, but in Utah for some reason, we’re bigger here. We just are.

Does the role of the media in body image influence your designs or choice of models?

I get a lot of flack if my models are too skinny. I think most of them are just average, but the interesting part is if I put a swimming suit on someone who is thin or fit, I don’t hear as many complaints. I did have one lady complain that I needed curvier models. So, I’m a double D size 8, and to put my name to the brand, I put myself out there. When I put that picture out there of me in my swimsuit, my email went crazy. People said it was too sexual. Curvy I was surprised to learn, they don’t see it as full-figured, they see it as sexual. All they saw was my cleavage and hips–not the swimsuit. I took the pictures down, because it was that bad.

How are you received as a woman in business?

A lot of the time you’re the only woman in the room, and you know, people will come up and ask if you’re making a craft of some sort, or if your dad’s helping you, or if you have a partner, or if you’re all “by your little lonesome self.” Sometimes it’s amusing, but you have to really work hard for respect. My advice would be to follow what you want to do.  Find your own voice and stick to that. Because you will have people telling you that your idea is dumb, “no one will buy it,” “it will be too expensive.” You can pretty much find criticism anywhere you go. Some days it gets to you, but that’s where I sort of become a loner, and I just go get creative in response.

Do you identify as a feminist?

It depends on the terminology, because people define it differently.

What definition of feminism are you comfortable with?

Being confident in your abilities and yourself. Being able to take care of yourself and be confident in whatever you want to do. I don’t think you have to be in a certain role. I think we have a lot of choices, and you should be confident in your choices.

If you could invite any three women over to dinner, who would they be, and what would you eat?

CoCo Chanel, just because she was so revolutionary. And then–it’s usually fashion people or designers–probably Georgia O’ Keefe, and Frieda Kahlo. They were so strong for their time period. They were brave women. Dinner depends on my cravings, probably a long drawn out feast. Crab with butter, and then a lot of sweets. I have a sweet tooth. Anything with carbs. Probably funeral potatoes, which probably sounds weird.

Sitting down with Emily was an amazing experience. She is a smart and talented local business owner, and we highly recommend checking out her suits and new line of women’s clothes!

Comments

  1. Excellent interview with an interesting person! Good luck to Ms. Sanders.

  2. A fun interview and a great photo! I like the colors she chose.

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