February 2, 2020

Creating Swimwear for the Rest of Us

After several years in the making, Gabrielle Haywood displays the first prototype of the Kneekini—her company’s premiere product—on her work table. Exploding with color and bold patterns, the Kneekini’s design provides an alternative, modest style that’s just as vibrant as a bikini. Customers are highly anticipating the refreshing new swimsuit that’s making big waves in the fashion industry and beyond.

After several years in the making, Gabrielle Haywood displays the first prototype of the Kneekini—her company’s premiere product—on her work table. Exploding with color and bold patterns, the Kneekini’s design provides an alternative, modest style that’s just as vibrant as a bikini. Customers are highly anticipating the refreshing new swimsuit that’s making big waves in the fashion industry and beyond.

office desk with sign that reads Girl Boss
Amidst wires and gears, Gabrielle’s desk is a colorful standout at AlphaLab Gear.

As a successful playwright and creative, Gabrielle relocated to Pittsburgh, PA from Atlanta, GA without any plans to become a swimsuit designer. But when she resorted to wearing black leggings underneath her one-piece swimsuit for her aqua therapy classes, the idea for a knee-length swimsuit squirmed into her brain one afternoon. At first, she resisted, convincing herself that even though she was a successful creative, swimwear design was outside of her lane. But the idea persisted, and finally, she surrendered to sketching the initial outlines of a new product that would become the Kneekini.  

Over the next five years, Gabrielle’s company, Virginia Dere, LLC, brought on more designers, researched American swimwear manufacturers, and tested fabrics that wouldn’t fade from stretching, chlorine, or sun exposure. After collaborating with other fashion designers and finding a U.S. manufacturer that aligned with her vision and integrity, the first prototype of the Kneekini was brought to life. In 2019, Gabrielle wore the prototype to her water aerobics class, and when she emerged from the water, women gushed over the suit, wanting to know where they could purchase one and how much it cost. Despite all the struggle it took to get her product to that place, she says, “When women were asking about it, I felt like, okay, we’re on to something…let’s keep going.”

A person sitting at a table using a computerDescription automatically generated
Gabrielle Haywood (center) meets with her crowdfunding team at AlphaLab Gear to brainstorm crowdfunding video.

The Pittsburgh-based eforever group Impatient Entrepreneurs welcomed Gabrielle in 2018, and during her membership, Gabrielle continued working with manufacturers to produce the Kneekini prototype. She also joined AlphaLab Gear’s 2019-2020 cohort, where she cinched up final designs and PR campaigns to launch her product. Even though Gabrielle’s eforever peers aren’t familiar with the particular ins and outs of fashion design, her group creates a supportive space where Gabrielle  

“When you’re surrounded by other business owners in your eforever group, you’re invested in their businesses; you want them to make it because you know it’s hard. You start to see answers to their problems, and while you offer practical insight and support, you also start to find solutions to your own issues. So that’s a key too–it’s not just about getting advice but giving it.”

Gabrielle Haywood, founder of Virginia Dere Swimwear

In the last few years, as Gabrielle shared her story with friends and other entrepreneurs, she discovered that her product might also have a great cultural impact for the black community, who experience a much higher risk of drowning due to a long history of exclusion from public swimming spaces. Gabrielle is also inspired by her mother, Virginia Dere, who toted Gabrielle and her brothers to the beach every summer and ensured that her children could swim, even though she never learned how. Now, with Virginia Dere Swimwear and the Kneekini, Gabrielle also hopes to empower anyone who wants to learn how to swim with a comfortable and beautiful swimsuit that makes them feel great.  

On many fashion and cultural levels, the KneeKini is making big waves. Now, there is a suit for anyone who prefers a more modest outfit for the pool or beach; struggles with body image anxiety, skin cancer concerns, cellulite, skin graft scars; or just wants a comfortable swimsuit that pulls their curvy silhouette together. Gabrielle Haywood says, “I want you to feel comfortable going swimming or learning to swim, and have something pretty to do it in.” You can reserve your KneeKini now at https://www.kneekini.com/pre-orders.  

Gabrielle Haywood

Entrepreneur: Gabrielle Haywood

Business:  Virginia Dere, LLC

Website: www.virginiadere.com

Social: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter

Pittsburgh, PA

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