By Jane Bartnett
Strolling the white sands of Siesta Key often brings people inspiration. For entrepreneur Chad Ramsey, founder and owner of the year-old Siesta Key Bikinis, a walk on the beach during the dark days of COVID-19 gave him the inspiration to launch a business in a brand new field.
Newly relocated to the Sarasota region from Hawaii where he ran a successful scuba business called Dive Buddy in Maui, the Oklahoma native was searching for a new start.
“Living in Hawaii changes you. It gives you more respect for the earth,” he said.
While finding his way in Sarasota, Ramsey made the decision to start an online business based on sustainability. Unsure what kind of business to launch, the beach and the water gave him the answer.
What could be a more perfect match than bikinis and Siesta Key?
Bikinis, he decided, that are made of sustainable fabrics created from recycled fishing nets. And thus, a new business was born.
As the pandemic dragged on, Ramsey began to research manufacturers. While working in real estate sales to support himself and drawing on his past experience as a mortgage broker, he found the time to build a website and created the foundation for his new business. He discovered a large number of swimwear companies in Bali, Indonesia.
His goal was to “find a company that paid fair wages, treated their employees well and used sustainable fabrics,” he said of a desired manufacturer. “The fabrics were extremely important to me.”
Working from his home office, he spent time determining pricing for the cost of the fabric, manufacturing, and shipping costs while also interviewing women about what they want in swimwear. He tested various fabric options and worked on creating content for the company’s website: siestakeybikinis.com.
“I built the brand from the ground up,” he said. “Keeping the cost down was important. I wanted to make sure that Siesta Key Bikinis were competitively priced.
“I also brought in local talent for the photo shoots and developed content for social media which is key for an online store.”
Meanwhile, he paid tribute to his family’s Schlotzsky’s delis in Oklahoma as a part of his business passion.
“The entrepreneur is in my blood,” he said proudly. “We had 15 before selling them to a corporation. I was an entrepreneur from an early age, starting with my lemonade stands as a kid.”
As Siesta Key Bikinis prepares to toast its first year in business this month, Ramsey is proud of what’s been already accomplished during some trying months.
“Our suits are made from Nyalon, a fabric that is also used by the pro surfer Kelly Slater in his own line,” said Ramsey. “The Nyalon material used in Siesta Key Bikinis comes from recycled fishing nets and ocean plastic. Almost everything we use is eco-friendly or sustainable in some way.”
While the suits are handcrafted in Bali, the designs are created in Sarasota.
The materials in the bathing suit fabric are pulled from the ocean and then taken to a facility where they are sanitized. The plastic breaks down into small microfibers that are woven together to create a durable, soft, high-quality fabric.
“Reducing the carbon footprint is very important to us,” Ramsey said.
He urges people to be aware of the fact that some eight million tons of waste end up in the world’s seas every year.
“There are 640 thousand tons of fishing nets abandoned at the bottom of the ocean. Saving our seas is something that matters to us all,” he said.
Ramsey is not alone in riding the wave of using sustainable, recycled, eco-friendly fabrics in swimwear. Recently, the fashion trade newspaper Women’s Wear Daily reported that national brands such as Speedo, Next and Panache are also created bathing suits from recycled fabrics.
“We’ve had a good first year despite the pandemic,” Ramsey said. “Sales are going well. We did have some delays but that gave me more time to refine the brand and research.”
For now, Ramsey plans to stay with his current line as he experiments with more one-piece designs and accessory items.
A new product line of men’s swimwear, and a resort line of eco-totes and T-shirts all made of recycled materials, may be on the horizon.
And those beach walks stay on his mind.
“Siesta Key inspires me and reminds me of living in Hawaii and the importance of the natural world,” he said.
What lies ahead?
Ramsey reports that the possibility of pop-up shops and a physical store on Siesta Key may be in the future.