President and owner of Swimco, Lori Bacon, wants you to feel good half naked.
If you’ve shopped with Swimco — whether online or in person — you have Lori Bacon to thank for that. It was Bacon’s foray into water sports as a nine-year-old that led her mom Corinne Forseth to start the Calgary-based swim wear business in 1975. “I joined a swim team part way through the year, and I couldn’t get a suit to match the team. My mom felt so badly that I didn’t look like I belonged that she searched one out for me,” says Bacon.
One search soon became a passionate hobby as Forseth became equipment manager for Bacon’s team and the go-to source for local teams in need, too. With a nudge from a sales rep that she ought to get paid for her time, Forseth started a mail order business. Intent to leave her mark from day one, the “co” in Swimco is for Corinne.
In the early 1980s, 21-year-old Bacon, fresh from the University of Calgary, joined her mom’s business. “I went to work for her just because she had no one else, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do yet,” she says, “I thought I’d go help her for a while until I figured it out, and I just fell in love with it. For whatever reason she just left me, she was very good about giving me the opportunity and backing out. I found I loved it and we just never looked back.” In 1982, Swimco opened the doors of its first of 24 retail stores, and began offering fashion swimwear. In 2014, an e-commerce shop was added with a live chat function to assist customers.
Making a splash in the swimwear industry
In 2015, Swimco celebrated four decades of business. Now, with that 40th anniversary in the company’s rearview mirror, Bacon is focused on shaping the future of the swimwear industry and redefining what it means to be a #swimsuitmodel. “There’s such a disconnect between what the brands are offering and the market,” says Bacon, “We keep asking for D-cup sizes, and D isn’t even big. For years we had to yell for mastectomy styles, sometimes they’d be offered one year then discontinued the next because it’s all about sales numbers. But as we grow, we buy more, and we have a louder voice,” she says. In a three-way tug-of-war between business demands, supplier offerings and customer needs, Bacon sees only one champion. “We represent our customers, we’re on the floor with them, and we know what’s required.”
The brand’s current campaign packs a joyful punch, putting forth the belief that all bodies that live their best life are beautiful, and showcasing aspirational individuals of all shapes. (Find the best swimwear for your body shape.) “We’ve said this for a long time: for everybody and every body. Now we’ve hit the nail on the head, choosing the sentiments that people are ready to listen to and really identifying with. It’s not new for us, it’s a better way of describing it to people.”
The company’s goal — to make you, in their words, feel good half naked via outstanding customer service — is serious business. “It’s very freeing to just have a swimsuit on. As Canadians, we spend so much time in clothes. And it bothers me when I hear someone say ‘I want to go on this trip, but I don’t want to take my clothes off,'” says Bacon, “We take people figuratively and literally by the hand. Women, especially, are excited about where they’re heading but dreading this in between part [of bathing suit shopping]. And we want you to feel fabulous, where you don’t even think about it, and you just have that amazing time with family and friends. If we can just get that little seed planted in your head, that the swimwear is just the doorway to that experience.”
Bacon knows firsthand that the road from working for the boss to becoming the boss isn’t easy, but it can make success taste that much sweeter. When I met her in Toronto last March she was in town for her company’s media preview. Against a backdrop of the east-end skyline, editors and influencers oohed and ahhed over the collection of stylish rash guards, ’80s-inspired cuts and bra-cup friendly designs. It was a moment for Bacon to meet and mingle, and she loved it. “An event like that is one of my favourite parts of the job because I was told when to be where and what was going on, but I had nothing to do with it,” she says.
It’s a stark contrast to her many years of multi-tasking, being the one doing everything from getting product to finding models. “I’m so proud to have a team put together something I feel so good about. I appreciate it so much because I’ve been in the day-to-day.”
Cultivating a strong team has become a focus for Bacon as her role in the 40-person strong family business has evolved over the years (her husband and brother are partners). Keen on coaching, guidance and support, Bacon takes an egalitarian approach to leading. “We very much work together to figure out where we’re going, what our strategy is and where people see opportunity from all different perspectives. As opposed to saying, this is what we’re doing, hope you like it.”
Let’s get physical
Steam — it’s both required and necessary to blow off when you run a business. For Bacon, getting moving is always the answer. She credits her childhood, growing up in a family of swimmers, for her love of staying active. “I know what it’s like to be in shape and to not be in shape, and to know how good you feel after,” she says. “After my swim on Saturday morning, and then a Starbucks coffee, I am so happy! I feel great because it’s physically a great workout, and then mentally there’s something that feels so good. You’ve worked every part of your body.”
Her current routine rotates between strength training moves (Here’s your beginner’s guide.) at the gym to preserve bone density, conditioning swimming and yoga. “Those three things really work for me and feel good together. There’s something about getting out there and moving, it washes off the day. If there was something that was kind of meh in the day, after my workout it’s gone, it resets me. And there’s nothing better than being wrung out after a hot yoga class.”
Bacon is also cognizant of the long-term benefits of keeping fit. The practical side of it is that you’re better equipped for gardening or going on a hike because you’ve done some yoga and balance work, she says. In the future, slowing down is not on Bacon’s agenda. “A 73-year-old woman who water skis with my husband told me you have to work out harder and push yourself more when you get older, otherwise you start slipping backwards. I realized she’s so right.” It’s sage advice that’s rated E for everybody, and every body.
What do you wish you knew then that you know now?
“If someone had said to me that in 35 years I’d have stores across Canada, this many employees and media events, I’d say no way. I know that’s how my mom feels, she’s so proud and amazed by what has happened. It goes to thinking big and not limiting yourself to what you can feel today. Never feel like you can’t do something. Everyone who is doing something is just a person, they’re doing it, so it could be you. That’s important to realize.”
What’s your best advice?
“Don’t be so hard on yourself. I recently found a picture of myself in a swimsuit at 23-years-old, and I recall at the time thinking I had big thighs. Everyone is so hard on themselves and then you look back and you think, “What was my problem?” It’s perspective, it’s recognizing that we need to stop being so critical, to enjoy the moment, the day, and give ourselves a break. Recognize how awesome you are — even when you don’t think you’re awesome, you are.” Check out these brilliant clap-backs to body shaming from empowering celebs and everyday women.