Chéri House: This New Carnival-Inspired Swimwear is Chic for Every Destination
New swimwear label Chéri House is a love letter to the Caribbean and Carnival culture, two important themes in designer Moneifa Murray’s life. After years of having Carnival designs made for her, she learned how to sew her own base silhouettes which later turned into designing her own swimwear collection. Her first collection is inspired by some of the most popular travel destinations in the world, distilling the colors and ambiance into sexy bathing suits.
We spoke to Murray about what it was like to launch during a pandemic, how she juggles a 9 to 5 with running her swimwear label and what advice she has for budding fashion entrepreneurs.
What inspired Chéri House?
Moneifa Murray: Chéri House was inspired by my love for travel, Carnival, and swimwear. Growing up with Caribbean heritage, I was exposed to Carnival at an early age. Over time, I became interested in the intricate details of Carnival costume designs (the base of these designs is mostly swimwear silhouettes) and I became a costume designer myself. I started by designing Carnival costumes for Brooklyn’s West-Indian American Day Parade (also known as “Labor Day”) then expanded to custom carnival pieces for Trinidad Carnival and made-to-order costumes for other Carnivals in the Caribbean and Europe.
After a misunderstanding with a local seamstress regarding my Trinidad Carnival designs in 2017, I decided to learn how to sew the base silhouettes myself. In the same year, I planned to go on my first Euro trip and could not find swimwear that I could see myself wearing. I decided to sew my own swimwear and this is how I started designing based on travel destinations. My first ever, handmade swimwear line was called the Monaco collection, based on the most anticipated stop on my Europe trip which was Monte Carlo. I continued hand-crafting swimwear for my travels and until I decided to start a business and have my designs professionally produced.
Why the name Chéri House?
Chéri means “darling” or “sweetheart” in French and some Caribbean creole languages. I found that very fitting for my brand aesthetic. Chéri is also short for my middle name Cherice, which many would say is my fun-loving alter ego
You recently had a launch exhibit which featured five locations, what were they?
Despite all that happened this year, I thought it was important to commemorate the start of this new venture so I held a private launch event that took guests on a much-needed vacation. We transformed the loft into Chéri House Destinations by decorating it with destination-inspired installations. Each installation displayed one of the five Sandra Monokinis which each represent a travel destination in the launch collection. The destinations are:
Cape Coast, Ghana: Made of shimmering bronze fabric representing the golden sand, warm skies and rich complexion of the people of this city.
Bahia, Brazil: Made of yellow, orange and white tie-dye print representing the embracing, vibrant, rhythmic culture and people found in the state of Bahia.
Santorini, Greece: Made of shimmering white fabric representing the dazzling white facades that sparkle in the rays of the sun.
Tahiti, French Polynesia: Made of green and pink print over the white base representing the variety of unique natural landscapes available at this destination.
Saint Barts: Made of a lustrous and vibrant pink fabric representing the glamorous and elite island with a Caribbean flare
After not being able to travel for six months it was a great way to experience travel through my beautiful swimwear exhibition. I am grateful for the turnout, for continued support. We can all agree that the experience was much appreciated during such an unrestful time and I am happy to be open for business despite all the uncertainty.
You’re in finance during your day job and design at night. How do you juggle your two gigs?
This continues to be a challenge for me. I was so used to prioritizing work over my own needs that when I tried to achieve balance in the beginning it felt like neglect on both ends. Now that we are mostly working from home due to the pandemic, I am able to do more in the day. I maximize downtime, wake up earlier, and take real mental breaks when I can.
Does your day job help finance your business?
Absolutely. Starting a swimwear business with my own designs (rather than wholesaling, white labeling or drop shipping) is costly. It takes tens of thousands of dollars to not only professionally produce my designs but to also build a new brand and its operations from scratch. As I am far from rich and reasonably priced financial products are not readily available to my very young business, I do not have a choice but to foot the bill myself. I can only do this by maintaining my 9-5.
How has COVID-19 affected your business?
COVID-19 has been the most interesting challenge I’ve had to navigate to date. It delayed my production, and completely changed consumer behaviors that had a direct impact on
my business (for example, lack of travel and therefore lack of swimwear purchases). Global lockdown was a time of reflection and rededication. I had already invested so much time and money into the startup that once COVID hit, I decided to double down on my commitment to myself and my company and not let the pandemic deter me. If anything, it has exponentially increased my work ethic. People of color grow up knowing that we must work twice as hard, black women maybe five times as hard. So, to have a black woman-owned start up in the middle of the pandemic, I am working ten times as hard but this is my passion so I enjoy every minute of it.
What celebrity would you like to see wearing Chéri House and why?
I would love to see Ashanti wearing my swimwear. Besides the fact that she embraced my culture with open arms, she strikes me as a warm, sincere woman that has grown to become a fashion influencer by just being herself and loving herself. This is the kind of woman I think about when I think of the Chéri House woman.
What tips do you have for people wanting to launch their own fashion line?
I would advise others to aspire to become a subject matter expert in your market and stay abreast of industry and product updates. I do not have formal education in fashion and while I did not need school to teach me how to design my swimwear, I thought it was so important to learn everything about the product that I am looking to develop from fabric to machinery. This is why I started a certificate course in swimwear design and manufacturing at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. Learning more about the technical elements of swimwear was critical to my production negotiations and processing.
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