Rana Good is the founder of Naïra NYC. A writer for publications such as Forbes, Travel + Leisure, Coveteur, Mens Journal and others, she created her own platform celebrating women of color.
Getting a piece of clothing that’s subpar quality is a bummer but in the case of Jemina Ty, getting a bad swimsuit ended up being the launch of an extremely successful career. After receiving a flimsy one-piece, she decided she could do it better which led to the creation of Blackbough Swim, a global swimwear brand known for its colorful prints and sexy silhouettes. Beloved by celebrities and with fans around the world, Ty has brought her brand from her bedroom to the global stage with no signs of slowing down.
We spoke to Ty about building a business from scratch, Blackbough Swim’s bestsellers, and her tips for aspiring women of color entrepreneurs.
You founded Blackbough Swim from your bedroom, can you tell me why you decided to launch a swimwear brand and some of your first designs?
Jemina Ty: I bought a one-piece from another swimwear brand when I was in college with the allowance I had saved. I was so excited to wear it to the beach because the brand was known to make unique prints and have great quality. However, when the suit finally arrived, I was disappointed as it was see-through, ill-fitting, and flimsy and I knew I could make something better.
Because of that, I started creating small batches of bikinis designed by myself just for my friends and I. Surprisingly, strangers started coming up to me in school asking me if they could buy a piece or two. Bikinis started filling out my bedroom, my living room, my dining and kitchen, and from there, I knew that this small business of mine could eventually become bigger if I worked hard and focused on it.
I eventually decided to take that risk. I chose not to continue my studies in university, and instead pursue growing my business instead. It definitely took a lot of hard work, time, and grit for Blackbough to become where it is today. I’m incredibly proud of myself and of course my team, for bringing my small bedroom passion project into the worldwide and well-loved brand that Blackbough is now.
Some of my very first prints when I started Blackbough were tropical florals and fun, pastel flowers which we still feature in our designs today, but definitely with more complexity and depth from the creative growth we’ve had over the years. A few of our first styles like the classic tona twist top, underwire willow top, and cheeky stassy and billie bottoms which I created years ago are still with us today.
Can you tell me about your collaboration with Amazon Video?
Designing bikinis for Amazon’s The Summer I Turned Pretty was such a dream for me and the rest of the Blackbough Team. I first came across The Summer I Turned Pretty last year when the series was initially released. The Blackbough team was buzzing in excitement about the first season, and this piqued my curiosity. Once I looked into it, I was immediately hooked. There was something about ‘The Summer I Turned Pretty’ that reminded me so much about Blackbough — its youthfulness and sunny outlook, as well as the essence of summer, feeling like forever.
Sometime last year, Our PR team decided to take a chance and reach out to The Summer I Turned Pretty cast for a Blackbough gifting initiative. In October 2022, we were so surprised to see a TikTok video from Jenny Han of Gavin Casalegno (Jeremiah) and Sean Kaufman (Steven), wearing our swim shorts on set. From then on, I knew that I wanted to create a swimwear collection for this show. To our good fortune, the stars aligned, and that opportunity presented itself to us.
The Summer I Turned Pretty series is something close to our team’s hearts as it is a big part of our childhood. Seeing it being brought to life through Prime Video is something nostalgic for us, and our team.
Describe Blackbough in three words.
The brand continues to grow every year so this may change over time but for this year I would say the three words that represent us are, youthful, refreshing, and limitless. We’ve been expanding our product line especially this 2023 and we’ve been continuously creating new, refreshing, and youthful designs for our customers, who remain the heart of our brand.
You originally sold to your friends, then friends of friends, and are now sold worldwide. Can you tell me how you grew your brand and what some of your proudest milestones are?
Social media definitely helped Blackbough grow into the brand it is today. When we decided to finally make ourselves available internationally, our online website became the biggest tool to help accommodate our international customers.
Aside from our online website, the different social media platforms such as Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, and now Tiktok, make it possible for us to further market our products. Through these platforms, it is easier for us to adapt to the current and latest trends, which we can also further utilize when marketing our products.
Using social media has also been a big help for us in getting customer feedback — through their comments, personal messages, our market research stories, and their overall engagement, something we take very seriously. And apart from that, it has been rewarding and fulfilling to see our customers genuinely interested and also engaging with our brand and our team, apart from them just buying our products online.
Seeing celebrities I look up to in their own Blackbough bikinis and getting to work on collaboration collections with some of my favorite female personalities and well-loved brands have been such great achievements for the brand. However, I think my proudest milestone would still have to be seeing my vision come together – from print-making to the final execution. Knowing that I’ve built something like this has kept me motivated throughout my journey as Blackbough’s CEO and Creative Director.
Which celebrities have worn Blackbough Swim?
Some celebrities who have worn and have posted in our bikinis are Vanessa Hudgens, Miley Cyrus, Kendall Jenner, Lucy Hale, Elsa Hosk, Hailey Steinfield, and Brettman Rock. Seeing them in my prints for the first time was honestly such a dream for me, especially because I look up to them.
You’re from and based in the Philippines, does the country inspire your work at all?
My Filipino identity has definitely helped me in my entrepreneurial journey because I was able to instill my Filipino values in my everyday work and also bring my heritage and culture into some of the products I make, whether it be the print or style.
Aside from my goal of building a worldwide loved brand, I want Blackbough Swim, a Filipina owned and 97 percent women-led brand, to be an inspiration to all Asian, POC women, and all women, in general, to dream big, take up space, do great things and lead.
What inspired your 2023 Blackbough Swim designs and what have been some of your bestsellers?
My designs are almost always inspired by my interests and the world around me. For the designs of our 2023 bestsellers like Buttermilk, Venice Spring, and Nantucket, my inspiration was my travel locations, interiors, friends, and some specific memories that I’ve made.
There was a point in time when you were doing it all from design to e-com to logistics. What advice do you have for women of color entrepreneurs looking to launch a brand?
Running a successful business is pretty straightforward – you have to first believe in the product you sell and then put in the hours to do everything that must be done, regardless if it is out of your comfort zone.
Taking care of the two most important groups of people, your customers and your employees is also very important. My business will not be where it is without the people who gave it a chance, either by willingly paying their hard-earned money to try my products, or choosing to dedicate their time to work with me. I’ll never take that for granted and will always be grateful for that trust.
What’s next for Blackbough Swim?
I won’t spill too much about what we’re currently working on but in short, you can watch out for even bigger and more exciting things for Blackbough!