By: Mariana Bockarova
Let’s admit it: We’ve all dreamt of wearing the perfect swimsuit. We are conditioned, as women, to want to play the lead role in an iconic bikini moment, whether it’s a onesie, à la Pamela Anderson’s Baywatch days, or a full-out version of Halle Barry’s ‘Bond Girl’ look. As the swimsuit season approaches, two Canadian designers, Tatiana Paratchuk and Julie Khinkis, have created a label to make those visions a reality. I sat down with the makers of VENAO Swimwear to get at the heart of their own swimsuit dreams:
How did it all start?
Both of us grew up watching our mothers design and create garments, not only as a creative expression, but also out of necessity. We both had the most interesting wardrobe from our peers and grew up with the notion that fashion is an image. VENAO was born out of that passion for creativity and desire for a challenge since fashion design has always been part of our lives. One night we started sketching swimsuits that we wanted to have but just couldn’t find anywhere. Many hours later, we decided to create a few samples so we booked a trip to New York to shop for fabric and created our first few suits. A few weeks later, we heard there was a fashion show in Toronto which was short a designer. We scrambled to create more pieces and completed a photoshoot to submit our collection for review. Once the shots hit social media, the response amazed us and we booked the show. It was the perfect way to transition from a hobby to a business.
Is it ever testing to work as a team?
We work really well together. We are both super persistent. We aim high and there is never a dull moment. People love our energy and offer to collaborate. We wear all the hats in the company, from design to production, from marketing to distribution…Tatiana is the creative designer and focuses on creating the product. Julie is the brand manager, dealing with marketing, distribution and events. We discuss every project together and do not proceed unless it fits within our plan. We both sketch out the idea then Tatiana works on the pattern, which sometimes takes a few tries to get the fit exactly as we want. She makes a sample piece and we bring in a few girls for fitting. When the fit is just right, the design makes it into the new collection.
I’ve seen your swimwear on the runway – they are definitely distinctive and garner a lot of attention. In your opinion, why?
Our swimsuits are meticulously designed to hug a woman’s curves elegantly. When we design an item, we do so with a particular body shape in mind and we market it appropriately. We import our fabrics from North America and Europe, as it holds the color better and therefore will last longer. We are also very selective about the hardware that we use. This season we are moving towards more rose gold-plated accessories to prevent rusting. We strictly monitor production of each garment and hold the factory to the highest standards. Each piece that leaves our factory is a gem and will make a woman feel like a goddess.
“Goddess” is definitely the right word: Everyone I’ve seen wearing your swimwear looks like a supermodel. What does the typical VENAO customer look like to you?
Our target customer is a confident, fashion-affluent woman aged 20-50 who is a socialite in her community and therefore strives to always “turn heads”. She makes an effort to take good care of her body and enjoys showing it off. This woman spends time vacationing at resorts and summer destinations, where she must look her best. She follows designer trends and seeks out exclusive pieces to stand out.
From your own collection, what “stands out” for you?
Julie: My favorite piece is the Aria. It is classy and luxurious with braids and a golden clasp. I also love the cleavage it creates and the overall design is so unique, totally me. This was the first VENAO suit I wore.
Tatiana: My favorite piece is the Bandeau. It was the very first piece I made and it got the most attention. It’s fun and playful because of the various ways you can wear it. Also its multi-structural for different body shapes and different bust sizes can wear it with confidence. I’ve always been fond of smaller bottom so I love the Brazilian trio bottoms, which gives minimal tan lines.
From an outsider’s perspective, I’ve always been curious to know what it takes to become a designer: In your opinion, what do you need to ‘make it’?
You need good intuition and a great team. There are many costs in the first year, lawyers, materials, and equipment and of course the cost of trial and error. As long as there is passion and some startup capital, launching a label can be exhilarating.
What would you say is the most challenging aspect of your profession?
The most challenging aspect is the lack of time we have to put towards this business. We both have full time jobs and juggling to keep everything moving. We love the challenge that comes with every area of the business and thrive on accomplishing every step.
Have you found it difficult to start a fashion label, particularly swimwear, in Canada?
Both of us have lived in Toronto since our early teens and we are fortunate to be in such a diverse city. The eclectic mix of creative minds propels ideas into reality. Simple conversations over a coffee turn into business ideas and collaborations make it happen. As a business, swimsuit prices are commonly really high digits, while the amount of material needed is small. This cost difference allows us to produce in Toronto, at a premium price, use gold-plated hardware, and purchase high quality fabrics. This is why we’re fortunate that VENAO was born in Canada, and this is where we will continue to make all of our products.
What’s next for VENAO?
There are so many ideas for VENAO going forward. We are entering the international market in distribution and are invited to be a part of some really interesting events. New products will be launching and we are working on creative partnerships that are sure to make a buzz. Details cannot be revealed!