The swimwear brand that has taken hold over Australia, Styelle Swim is the holy grail of ethical and sustainable swimwear and I got to sit down with the CEO and founder. Charys Caldarella. Have you ever wondered what it takes to produce sustainably or a swimwear founder’s thoughts on body image? Well, we have all that and more…
“Sustainability isn’t a selling point, it needs to be the norm.” “We want to create balance in our swimwear to celebrate every size, it’s important to display every woman of every size.”
Joining the online call, Charys’s warm presence and kind, outgoing energy instantly made me feel relaxed in her presence. At home with her family facing the precautions of covid, the house was filled with her children's laughter as Charys sat down to chat with me. As her heartfelt smile filled my laptop screen, I could instantly tell this was one powerful, motivated and genuine woman.
What was your initial motivation to begin Styelle Swim?
“Well, it’s actually a pretty big answer. So, as a child, I was actually a child of the state, which means I was in and out of state care. We were grossly abused and neglected. So advocacy for children is huge for me because of this experience.
So, they approached me with the idea of producing in Thailand. Once we ventured and began to look at production over there, this one image of a little boy around seven years old sleeping on top of a pile of fabric stuck with me forever. I honestly just wanted to burn the factory to the ground because they were enslaving children. And it really hit home for me, being a child of state and now being a mother of five myself. I can’t even explain the feeling of seeing a child that way.
Apparently, that’s the norm for them, children are sent away to work very young when they should be out getting an education. I know that’s a first-world point of view. But it is the reality of today, and if we don’t ethically source and sustainably source then we are actively contributing to these children having to work, not going to school, or not having food on the table. And when we shop fast fashion that is what we are actively contributing to. I know it’s an age-old saying now, but people really do vote with their dollars without even realizing the impact it’s having on the other end. Every bikini we sell will actively set a child up for school in Brazil for 3 months with all the recourses.”
How did Styelle Swim come about?
“ I was approached at a BBQ by my husband's friend about creating a swimwear label, I at first actually laughed as I was at FBI Fashion College at the time. But then I thought that’s actually not a bad idea because I understand the female form really well being in evening wear for so long and my teacher was Celyna Ziolkowski, who was one of the most prestigious and awarded wedding designers in Australia. So it made sense to create something that would fit all body types, which is what I have created.”
When launching Styelle Swim was it always your goal to be sustainable?
“Yes, definitely. It was always in the works. One of our first models (- Lyndl Kean - ), even just won the title Miss Earth the day before our first shoot. Back in 2016 when we discussed our goals with her, I remember she mentioned that they were such big goals. I just can’t believe how far we have come. As an advocate for the earth, she proudly wears Styelle Swim.”
I love that within your website meet the founder page you mention: “Sustainability isn't a selling point, it needs to be the norm.”, do you think many fashion brands try to use this to their advantage?
“Yes oh my goodness. I think they call that greenwashing! The problem with these brands is they go out and scream sustainability but don't back it up, they think just writing on their website gives them all the leverage to be sustainable. But are you really though? How much are you looking for new ways to be better? No one is 100% sustainable, so what are you doing? It aggravates me as they don't actually do anything about it.”
How important do you think it is in 2022 to be transparent with your consumers?
“It's incredibly important, consumers are actively looking for transparency now and they are asking the questions, are they sustainable and they ethical? The problem is that the word sustainable or ethical are such broad terms, and what is sustainable or ethical to you might not be the same to me. So you might look at ethics as homemade, is it made in the UK or Australia, but someone like myself sees ethical sourcing as no child labor, women paid real wages, being given sick or maternity leave, to me that’s ethics because that's what I grew up without.
So, because it is so broad, a lot of people are perceived it as greenwashing even though in their mind that is how they might view sustainability, but in the broader community's mind what really is it? So I try to review the sustainability pillars of the UN or look for certifications.”
Why are biodegradable fabrics so important to Styelle Swim?
“This is all we use now, because well it closes the loop. A lot of the younger generation is not informed about recycling or refabricating, so we wanted to end the cycle. So if they can’t be active in the ways of recycling etc they can actively through Styelle in the bin. It greatly reduces the environmental impact.”
As the first company to produce biodegradable fabric in Australia, what message do you hope this sends to the younger generation?
“I wanted to propose the question, I wanted to initiate that thought for them to seek out more, seek out better. If we don’t educate the next generation we are actively securing the death of our species. I’d like to leave a planet for my children to live on.”
Is there a particular design within Styelle Swim you're attached to?
“The long sleeve is probably my favorite, to be honest, it’s actually a top seller as well. I think people are becoming more and more sun conscious and because this piece is UPV 50 it’s great, and it always runs off the shelf.”
Are there any new style innovations you’ve got in the works for 2022?
“We actually have a really beautiful two-piece coming out which is very exciting! So, we are breaking into revisable swimwear now, so the beautiful soft external fabric will also be the internal fabric now, and you will get multiple wears. So the average life expectancy of a Styelle swim piece is 3-5 years before you see the biodegradation. Once it starts to biodegrade you can even refabricate or discard them.”
Charys even went on to show me an exciting sneak peek of the custom print she just received for this design from Brazil. And I can tell you this exclusive peak will be worth the wait…
With having your own 5 beautiful children, does society's current stance on body image and judgment on social media scare you?
“One unfortunate thing I have noticed here in Australia is people still aren't quite accepting of foreign ethnicities. So they have trouble grasping the beauty in darker models, as we are quite strong advocates for all women. When we had women of color model for us and display this on buses around Melbourne, we were shockingly the only swimwear brand back then in 2019 with a model of color.
We want to represent everybody. We are diving into models now with blemished skin to represent all women in every aspect. A really big driver for inclusivity for me was being an Italian descent, we were racially segregated here. So it’s very important to me to represent every woman and make them feel seen by us.
We want to create balance in our swimwear to celebrate every size, it’s important to display every woman of every size. You know I’m not a ‘perfect’ woman, I’m a size 14 myself. What is perfect these days? We can’t all be Miranda Ker. Even she has spoken openly of her body confidence issues.”
As a lover of swimwear and the beach, as well as the CEO of Styelle Swim, are there ever moments that you feel insecure or the pressure of body image that surrounds us all today?
“ I wish I could say I don’t feel it, but I think every woman feels this way at some point. I’m 36 turning 37 in a few weeks and I take great pride in being a mum and what my body has done for me. I look at my children and I know it’s worth it, I don’t even question it. I actually have a saying, if you don’t like the look of me then don’t look at me. It’s that simple and I really wish women would have more of that attitude. I understand where women's insecurities come from, with social media. It’s important to learn to feel comfortable in your own skin.”
What would you tell any young women today struggling with body image and the ‘beach body ideal’?
“Delete Instagram. Problem solved. Watch and see how much of your anxiety is reduced. Stop comparing yourself to others. Everyone else is taken, there really is so much truth in that. Stop looking at others. We all ask ourselves the same questions, is my waist small enough, are my boobs big enough, these questions play in every single women's mind. I see these women, no matter how perfect they may be, still adjust themselves in their bikinis because they are not 100% confident. We are all in the same boat, we all just need to be a little bit kinder. Too many people are judgemental.”
What does body positivity mean to you?
“For me as a brand, it means representing all types of women. As a person, it means giving women a voice and showing them they are beautiful. It pains me so much when I hear women say oh no that won’t look good on me because I’m x,y, z. If you want to wear it! If you like it wears the bikini!”
Charys even spilled some exciting and exclusive news on where the brand is heading next and we couldn’t be more excited!
“We are about to launch onto Zalando. We are just jumping through the final hoops right now. Zalando is very excited to have us. Adding a new fabric filter to Zalando, being the first biodegradable brand for them.”