Hand-sewn suits gain cult following
written by Mackenzie Wilson
Things that sell out in a matter of minutes: the newest iPhone, tickets to an Adele concert and CeaBikinis.
Hand-sewn by 24-year-old Christina Evert, CeaBikinis are almost impossible to get your hands on. A cult following swarms her Etsy store whenever she opens. Evert sells thousands of her bikinis on the site and only opens her shop once every month and a half.
“For the past year, I’ve been selling out in fifteen minutes,” she said.
A true one-woman operation, CeaBikinis are all designed, sewn and shipped by Evert out of her home office in Bend. She started the business while going to the University of Hawaii at Hilo. That’s where she first experienced the thrill of the sale. During a test in marine biology her senior year, Evert’s phone wouldn’t stop buzzing.
After class, she opened her phone and saw the notifications were from Etsy. “I had pages and pages of orders and I was like, holy crap,” Evert remembered.
She’d only really been trying to sell on the site for about six months. In 2015, her grandmother passed away, leaving sewing equipment to Evert’s family. She spent the summer in Oregon before her senior year of college teaching herself to sew.
Evert wanted to design a bikini that would fit her body. “Everything was made so tight. I have a pretty curvy body. I wanted something that looked seamless and smooth and didn’t just fit those tiny, surfer-girl bodies, as cute as those are,” Evert said.
CeaBikinis don’t have any wires or padding. Her bottoms were what she first created and are still her best-seller. She credits their popularity to how they fit the natural shape of a body. Most bikinis have elastic around the bottoms, but Evert’s designs are more like seamless underwear. “The bottoms are my go-to,” Evert said. “It’s like your favorite jeans. I don’t want to do much to change them because I haven’t reached for another pair of bottoms in three years.”
The tops are where she experiments—she described her design process as “trial and error”. Evert didn’t go to fashion school. She studied business at the University of Hawaii before switching majors to communications so she’d have more time to surf and work on CeaBikinis. The company was growing so quickly, the lessons she was learning in business school seemed intangible.
“I was doing things on my own and the numbers were real,” Evert said. “The marketing had an end point, not just a grade to it.” In 2015, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in communications. “It made me realize every sale was going to a real person,” she said. “I still e-mail every single person back.”
While many companies have a dedicated social media person, Evert sees posting on outlets like Instagram as a break from work. Laying out pieces and photographing them reminds her why she spends hours hunched over her four sewing machines. “It gives me a little bit of pride of ownership to see it (bikinis) actually laid out. I get excited the way the customers do,” Evert said.
The way she sells her bikinis is unconventional. Instead of making a bunch of bikinis ahead of time, then opening her Etsy store, Evert lets her customers choose a style and fabric then custom-makes them. “It keeps it exciting for me because it’s always something different.”
Big brands dream about her extremely loyal customers. Evert said some are so dedicated that they tell her when lookalike suits pop up on Etsy. “They probably have as many or more swimsuits than I do,” she said. She’s thought about hiring people or outsourcing to keep up with the demand, but neither felt right. Her current situation gives her the best of both worlds. “I get to be creative, clock in and out when I want and sometimes that means working on the weekends, but sometimes it means taking two weeks off to go hike the Inca Trail with my sister,” Evert said. CeaBikinis is experiencing a classic, entrepreneur conundrum—the tug between business growth and lifestyle, where sewing bikinis is a long way from wearing one on a beach vacation.