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The Swimsuit Solution

Stymied by a dearth of choices for full-figured women, a frustrated shopper became a successful merchant selling plus-sized swimwear on her own Web site.

May 31, 2000|FRANCINE BREVETTI | ASSOCIATED PRESS

Juliet Bais was furious. The time for her long-anticipated Hawaiian vacation had arrived, but she could not find a swimsuit to fit her womanly frame.

When she got home, she explored online sources of swimsuits for full-figured women. She found nothing.

"I had a choice of Bikini Bimbos of Barbados or X-rated sites that had little to do with swimming," she explained. She found it ridiculous that with all the commerce on the Internet, there didn't appear to be a site specializing in plus-sized swimsuits.

With the help of a small-business loan (and an understanding employer), she started her own e-commerce Web site. A year later, she was running a small but profitable business helping plus-sized women find bathing suits that fit and at the same time helping them avoid the often unpleasant experience of trying on suits in stores. ("You know the store with the bright fluorescent lights in the dressing room," she writes on her Web site. "They should give you Prozac as you enter!")

Bais, who lives in San Leandro, Calif., and works in the technical support department of a dot-com company in Fremont, researched manufacturers, trade associations and trade shows in the swimsuit industry. Bais settled on a list of plus-sized labels including It Figures!, Carol Wior and Jantzen.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday June 6, 2000 Home Edition Southern California Living Part E Page 3 View Desk 1 inches; 20 words Type of Material: Correction
Incorrect name--The name of Juliet Bias was misspelled in an Associated Press story Wednesday about the Web site swimsuitsjustforus.com.

She learned how to create a Web site and named her company Swimsuits Just for Us (http://www.swimsuitsjustforus.com). It is now in its second year.

Before she could seek financing, she had to demonstrate consumer interest in the proposed site. Bais conducted a survey by registering her Web site on search engines including Yahoo!, Alta Vista, Excite and Lycos. She asked women their sizes, the brand names they preferred, and what they wanted in construction, fashion and sizing.

Within two months, she said, "I got over 300 responses. . . . And I knew I had a business."

She presented a business plan to the Oakland Business Development Center, which had just launched a "micro-loan" program for the Small Business Administration.

Bais used $3,000 of a $10,000 loan for inventory and the rest for working capital. She started slowly, first accepting payment by check and then manually processing credit card information.

Her first Web site was "hokey," she acknowledged.

But she did $30,000 in sales in 1999. She expects $100,000 this year.

"I've been profitable from day one because I have no overhead," she said. Single, with no children, she works from home and squirrels away swimming suits in boxes and closets.

Her sizes range from 14 to 26, and she hopes to persuade manufacturers to make sizes 28 through 32. The Web site offers a sizing chart and pictures of samples. Eventually, she hopes to add a line of beachwear accessories and a print catalog, and hopes to launch a direct-mail campaign as well.

"For some women with very large breasts, I may have to direct them to custom-made suits at http://www.plusshop.com," she said.

Bais is very maternal toward her customers. She has a sense of mission.

"I listen to my customers and respond to every single e-mail. . . . So many thank me for providing this service. [A sampling of responses can be found on the Web site.] It can be traumatic when the only thing left on the rack is a frumpy thing from the '50s."

She is not interested in proselytizing about weight reduction and vows not to encourage her customers to change their eating habits or their appearance.

"I will not have anything on the site related to diet," she said. "This is not about image. It's just about finding the right swimsuit."

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