How Solkissed Founder Alejandra Boggiano Gives Back to Women in Peru
For every girl that goes off to study fashion, there are people who make comments like, “she should’ve just gotten a business degree, that’s more realistic,” or “what do they do in fashion school? Read Vogue?”
While the fashion industry is becoming increasingly competitive, the use of social media has also allowed smaller brands a shot at the spotlight. If you’re active on Instagram, you’ve likely seen some of Alejandra Boggiano’s designs. Her brand, Solkissed swimwear, which was recently featured in Sports Illustrated, boasts daring cut-outs, lacy details, and cool graphics on a variety of suits.
What’s even cooler is Alejandra’s position as a female entrepreneur, and her commitment to giving back to Peru, her home country, by allowing native women to become “micro entrepreneurs” under the brand. We spoke to Alejandra about swimwear trends, life as a female entrepreneur, and how Solkissed’s manufacturing model is especially unique.
You’re based in LA, which seems to be the new hot spot for entrepreneurs, why do you think LA is the perfect spot to base your company?
I love being it LA, it is really an exciting city that is great for networking and making connections. And it doesn’t hurt that it is always beautiful outside!
What are some hurdles you’ve had to overcome as a female entrepreneur? Do you feel that the fashion industry is unique because it is more female-oriented?
Being a female entrepreneur is fun, but at the same time it can be really tough, especially if you have a happy bubbly personality. I think that as a woman in business, you always have to prove yourself and how capable you really are, and sometimes you aren’t taken seriously. In fashion, as a designer it is easier to gain respect if you have talent. But, [at the] end of the day; it is still a business, so the hurdles in the fashion industry are the same. As a girl you have to have thick skin and always stick to your intuition, if you see any red flags, always speak up for yourself and take action!
Fashion design is arguably one of the toughest industries to make a name in, how have you distinguished yourself and made your brand into what it is today?
It took me a while to figure it out, but I really began to distinguish my brand as soon as I became true to myself. I discovered what was unique about my brand was me and I used that as inspiration for my designs. With Solkissed I use a lot of Peruvian and Latin American details in my swimwear, which directly reflects my roots and heritage. I am most inspired by traveling, talking to people, and learning about different cultures.
What advice do you have for aspiring fashion designers?
To follow whatever they want to do; whether designing for your own company or working with an existing brand. It is also important to always learn, education yourself, and understand every aspect of the industry. Also, make sure to keep up with technology!
You’ve also had your mother join the Solkissed team full time, what is it like technically having your mother work for you? How did your mother influence you to become the woman you are today?
Yes, my mother oversees our production in Peru. My mom is a huge influence on me and what my business has become today. [Growing up with] a single mother, as a young girl I saw my mom struggle to work and take care of us kids, so when I saw some of the ladies that work for us going through the same issues, I wanted to find a solution so they didn’t have to struggle the way my mom did.
Can you tell us about how your company gives back to Peru?
We work with women micro entrepreneurs in Peru, who manufacture the beautiful Solkissed suits out of their homes. I saw some of the women that we initially worked with struggling to get to work on time and managing that mother/work relationship, so I decide to create a more accessible way for them to be able to work from home and at the same time provide flexibility so they could take breaks and be able to care for their children.
How were you able to create sewing stations in artisans’ homes so that they can create their own hours and work in comfortable conditions?
We began with a couple of ladies and a couple of sewing machines and we are now up to 24 at-home sewing stations. All of our women are super excited about their stations because at the end of the day, it is their own business, so most of them have expanded on their own, added professional lighting, purchased extra machines, and keep a beautiful and clean setting.
Do you believe that this model is realistic for larger companies as well?
This model works great for us and I think that it could be implemented in many different companies. How it works: we cut the suits in house and deliver them to our artisans at the beginning of the week. When they are done manufacturing and sewing; we pick up the suits and individually check them for quality control. We pay our micro entrepreneurs per suit, so they are extremely ambitious and will ask for large quantities! And, although they create their own schedule, they move very quickly. A majority have extended their sewing stations and have hired their friends and neighbors to sew with them.
You were honored by Hillary Clinton as one of 12 businesses recognized as “La Idea,” can you tell us a little more about what that award meant for your company?
Yes, it actually happened very early on. I entered a business pitch while I was living in NY and had been working on Solkissed for about 2 years. Out of over 5,000 applicants, the government chose about 300 business owners to come and pitch their businesses at the New York Times building. The purpose of the competition was to show how brands are creating a positive trade between the US and Latin America. I was extremely nervous to speak in front of a panel of eight business leaders including government officials, investors, and bankers. The event took about three days and on the final day I received the news that Solkissed had won as a finalist of the business competition. My mom and I were flown to Miami where we spent a week learning new techniques and training to help us further develop Solkissed as a brand.
When you were younger, did you see yourself becoming a fashion designer? What advice would you give your eighteen year old self about career choices?
I have always been into fashion my entire life, but most of the time I could only fantasize about it. Growing up, my mom could afford very little, so I had to think very hard before I purchased any clothing. I spent a lot of time going through magazines and circling things that I loved, so I think that helped to give me an eye for design.
I’m not sure if I would do anything differently as far as a career choice. I went to SDSU for Broadcast Journalism and it wasn’t until after that I decided to go to the Fashion Institute of Design in NYC to really follow my passion for design and fashion. I guess my advice to myself would be to follow my path. I believe having a second skill set really helped me out in the long run.
What are some of the upcoming trends in swimwear for summer 16? Where do you see swimwear going in the future?
This summer is all about off the shoulder and keeping a very 70’s vibe. It is exciting that swimwear is one of the fastest growing segments in fashion. The category as a whole is becoming more accepted; wearing a bathing suit has extended past just the beach! I know social media has created a huge part in all of us flaunting our vacations and lifestyle.