To say we are a little obsessed with bikinis is an understatement – especially ones that are designed to stay on when surfing. So when I ran across the stylish and fashionable bikini brand MI OLA we wanted to know more. We talked with Helena Fogarty, CEO and founder, about how the brand came to be and what sets their bikinis apart from the rest.
You are living the dream of every NYC surfer by living in Costa Rica to surf. How difficult (or easy) of a decision was it to move away in chase of waves?
The day after Christmas in late 2008, I went into work for a big meeting. One that I thought would end in a promotion, as everyone was telling me. Instead, I was unexpectedly laid off. I thought I was going to run this company eventually, with one of my best buddies who worked there. The rug got totally pulled out from me. It was a total shock and I wasn’t sure what to do. I threw my normal annual New Year’s bash, and then booked a trip to Costa Rica for 2 weeks.
I had always had a lot of reasons keeping me in NYC, though I always wanted to live abroad. I had been in a long relationship that had broken up a year earlier. My job went away. I had been learning Spanish for an eon, and even dated my Spanish instructor to get the full “immersion” but it just wasn’t taking. When I was down in Costa Rica surfing, my friend who came with me tried to convince me to stay for another month (Her live-in boyfriend had just broken up with her via email while we were there).
I wasn’t ready for that, but I did go back, tie up loose ends and decide to move for a month to CR in March. I live in a tiny surf town, and it’s a big change from Manhattan, so I wanted to see if I’d like it. I did, and then came back to pack up my stuff in storage and look for someone to rent my place.
When I first moved here, I surfed 4 hours a day and took Spanish 4 hours a day. Now that I have a business and a 3-year-old named Mini, I surf a little less.
I wasn’t sure how long I’d be here in Costa Rica, and it’s turned permanent. Luckily, I get to go back and forth between NYC and Costa Rica, so I get to experience both the ying and yang of a small town in CR and coming to NYC each month for good friends, good wine and lots of meetings. If I didn’t get to come back, I don’t know if I could live in CR 100%.
Can you tell us about the first wave you caught?
I learned to surf at a surf camp called Swell Women in Maui. It’s an all female camp that also is vegetarian and incorporates yoga, journaling, a visit to a psychic and other cool things. I was there to surf. I think the other participants were there for more of the overall experience.
My first wave was such a rush, that all I wanted to do for the rest of the trip was surf. There were days when no one else wanted to surf, and I was the pain in the butt camper that made them go out so I could catch a wave.
After that, I returned to a cold, flat June in Rockaway and made my buddies come sit with me in the cold rainy days looking for waves.
After the flattest summer I can remember (and I’m from the Rockaways), I booked a trip on Labor Day weekend to Costa Rica – to Witch’s Rock Surf Camp, and had an amazing time! And then I came back, and came back and came back and came back… about 17 times in 3 years until I moved here. You could say I was obsessed.
What makes MI OLA surf bikinis unique?
We are what happened with surf function met high fashion, and fell in love and had a baby. We focus on the four Fs: Fashion, Function, Fit, and Fun.
My background prior to MI OLA was high fashion. I worked for Chanel, Ferragamo, Zac Posen, and Harper’s Bazaar in the past. Through that experience I know there is a difference between luxury clothing and cheap fast fashion. It’s hard to describe generally, but you can find clothing that fits better, is more durable and feels better when you pay more. I remember the first time I had a pencil skirt on from Chanel. It didn’t turn around on my waist – like every single skirt that I’ve every had does. I can wear Christian Louboutin shoes all day – no matter how high they are and how far I need to walk – because they are well made and fit my feet perfectly.
What we do with MI OLA is create swimwear that works. It looks great and it feels great. We think about everything and we want to make bikinis that are a force of good, not evil. We test everything in the waves – in action – to make sure we stay covered without needing to adjust. We’ve removed extra seams. We won’t stand for hardware that could bruise you when you surf, or which is guaranteed to give you a muffin top. Instead, we mold our hardware (in the US) to fit the body, and we place it on the sides so it won’t bruise you when you get on your board. We have a label that is made to be cut out and removed so it won’t rub sensitive skin or stick out.
Our fabric is fast drying Xtra Life Lycra with Chlorine resistance and UPF 50+ You won’t find our prints everywhere. We design exclusive prints and have them made in the USA. Our fit is exceptional. You would believe how many fittings go into these tiny garments!
Lastly, with MI OLA, you don’t have to worry if you’re covered. Go out and have more fun! – without constantly adjusting.
You sponsor a few team riders, can you tell us what makes them brand ambassadors?
First of all, I want someone who’s nice. And then, we’re looking for women doing really cool things who are jazzed by MI OLA and want to spread the word. We actually had too many amazing applicants for ambassadors this year. We’ve got a list of women, who’ll we be asking if they are still interested…as soon as our budget allows.
What’s next for MI OLA?
We’re showing our 2015 collection to buyers now from boutiques and major department stores. We’ve unveiled a 1 piece, which is so excellent. I’m not a 1 piece wearer, generally, but I’m putting this baby on to surf.
We also launched a fuller coverage bottom and an X Back Top for a fuller bust.
And we have some amazing new prints that I can’t wait to wear. Accounting says I’m not allowed to “get high on my own supply”, but … at the same time, I’ve got to do quality control so I get a couple suits each year.
Thank you so much for talking with us Helena. The suits and your spirit are amazing. Please check out more about MI OLA here.