Image courtesy Flapole Swim
Interview

Megan Balch and Jaime Barker

12.17.15

Megan Balch and Jaime Barker, friends since high school, came together after graduating college, to launch Flagpole Swim, a high-end, sophisticated swim and resort wear line. The women basically lived in swimwear growing up in South Florida, so developing a brand that offers function and interesting design comes quite natural. When I tried on my first Flagpole Swim suit in the Barneys dressing room earlier this year, I expected it to be just ok, like every other swimsuit I had ever owned. Probably wouldn’t fit perfect, but would get the job done. Flagpole Swim could not have been more different. The suit fit like a glove and the strong, breathable, Italian fabric each suit is made from, felt durable, like it would withstand the sun and surf. The brand, carried by Net-a-Porter and Moda Operandi, is an editorial dream, the unexpected color combinations and use of color-blocking has set apart Flagpole Swim as a leader in the swim market.

Interview

How did the two of you meet?

We actually went to middle school together and knew who each other were, but it wasn’t until Earth, Space Science class, 1st period our freshman year of high school, where our teacher made us all sit in alphabetical order, that Balch and Barker officially met.

Was a swimwear brand always something you wanted to do together?

Since high school we always wanted to work together but we didn’t know in what capacity. We have always had very similar and complementary taste and would always casually discuss business plans, but nothing really stuck. It wasn’t until Jaime was in a factory one day and saw swimwear being made that it dawned on her, growing up in bathing suits together in South Florida, that we would be good at this.

Flagpole really reintroduced sport into swimwear, were your surprised so many women were looking for more functional suits?

That is actually the niche we set out to fill, so perhaps we were more hopeful than surprised that women would react to our functional suits. We grew up being very active on the beach and we always felt like the suits you wanted to be seen in where not usually the ones you wanted to be active in. We wanted women to feel just as confident in our suits on the sand as they would be doing paddle board yoga.

Do you find more women buying one pieces or two?

It is probably about even, but we were surprised to find that a lot of women were going for our one pieces. Our first collection had a single one piece suit and now we have a pretty even amount of one and two pieces in each collection.

How do you stand apart from other swim lines in your price point?

Our suits are becoming known for the color palettes, our architectural inspired color blocking and cutout design details. Our suits are all made in NYC with Italian fabrics so the quality really is something we are proud of. It has also allowed us to be very hands on in fittings to ensure that all our suits fit well for all types of activities.

Only two years old, and you’ve grown pretty quickly. What has been the key to your success?

It is hard to point to a single thing, but it might ultimately be that we have always been driven by a passion to constantly improve. When we are told “no” we always have to know why, because it could be something we can better and sometimes it is not. People will often say that in business you have to listen to your gut. You have to be able to hear good ideas, but also shake off the ideas that you know are not right for you.

When you first launched the brand you were roommates (sharing a bunk bed, is this true?) when is the last time of day you communicate now?

We did live in a bunk bed for 5 years, for 2 of which our living room was our office. It literally surrounded every waking moment and our first and last meetings were held everyday from our bunks. We still spend most of every day together working on Flagpole, and will still text each other every night until someone falls asleep. Thankfully now though, sometimes it’s cat pictures instead of work.

What role do you each play?

We are still so small that our jobs overlap a lot, and we are constantly checking in and discussing things before decisions are being made. Jaime really is responsible for directing the design work load though, and Megan deals with a lot of the business development and strategy.

For 2015 you began showing at NYFW and added a fourth collection. What’s in store for 2016?

There are a lot of things in the works, we are both really excited and slightly intimidated by everything we have planned for 2016. I will say though we have officially started working on something that a lot of people have been asking us for.

Are you guys traveling someplace warm for the new year? How many of your suits will you pack?

We are lucky that our parents still live in South Florida, so we are both going home to spend the holidays with them. We usually bring 4 or 5 suits home with us because we also wear them as body suits under pants or skirts, but because of the unseasonable warm weather this year we will definitely be packing more!