Updated: Feb 1, 2021
Scrolling through the Tiller Swim website, browsing the many swimsuits colored in earthy tones and sustainable, comfortable material, sends off a peaceful, calming feeling - which are not unlike the feelings that come from the calm and peaceful ocean waves, something that Tiller Swim Founder, Kathleen Sheppard, is extremely familiar with.
Growing up on (and in!) the water - jumping from sailing regattas, to swim meets, to pool games with her friends - Kathleen is an expert when it comes to pretty much anything you need a swimsuit for. And, because of her own experiences spending full-days in a bikini, she quickly realized what was needed to identify “a well-made, comfortable and flattering swimsuit.”
“Not only that, but I also know how many cheap and unsustainable swimsuit options there are on the market,” Kathleen said. She went on to explain that most swimsuits last only about two seasons, and that she “wanted to be a part of the solution to less consumer waste when it comes to swimming products.”
When Kathleen first learned about the amount of waste and pollution that the fashion industry causes, it was in the initial stages of starting Tiller Swim.
“When launching a clothing company, it’s almost impossible to brush over articles about fast-fashion being one of the top polluting industries, and one of the most horrific causes of extremely poor labor conditions - like buildings collapsing, child labor, unsafe environments, and so much more,” Kathleen said.
“The most ungodly part is that when you’re buying a five-dollar T-shirt from a fast fashion company - thinking about the cost of the actual materials, plus the labor and the shipping costs all over the globe - there is absolutely no way to make that without someone being exploited in the process.”
As she continued her research, she found that when someone supports fast fashion, they’re “promoting extreme, excess degradation of natural resources” which puts humans at risk and creates clothing that is cheap and fall apart quickly, causing someone to need to buy more clothes and continuing the vicious cycle of pollution, human abuse and the mishandling of waste.
“Once you learn about this, it’s really hard to ignore,” Kathleen said.
So, she didn’t ignore it: instead, she fought it, and created her own sustainable swimsuit line that does everything ethically - and everything right - and continues to speak up about everything that’s wrong within the fashion industry.
Kathleen’s idea about starting her own swimsuit line had been “brewing in her mind” since she was a Business school student at Babson College. Its entrepreneurship program is well-known - which was a huge reason why Kathleen was drawn to the school in the first place. And, as she sat in those noteworthy business and entrepreneurship classes, the ideas and the inspiration grew bigger and stronger, and pretty soon she “couldn’t get it out of her head.” “Tale as old as time, I was sitting in my dorm room doodling in my notebook - and the idea of sun and beach were in my head - so I started thinking about how badly I wanted to start a swim apparel brand,” Kathleen reflected. “Then, later that same night I began learning Adobe Illustrator and creating designs of swimsuits and apparel and different logos.”
From there, her plans moved quickly, and a new business - and a new and passionate entrepreneur - was born. In 2019, Kathleen started her Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign, and after exceeding her goal, Tiller Swim was officially launched later that year.
But, the most important part and a huge priority for Kathleen while launching the company was that she was “staying true to the ideals of the brand” and “making every move in stride with the mission statement of delivering high quality, sustainable and ethical products.”
She also wanted to #DoShitDifferently, and ensure that she was NOT “another fashion company contributing to the poor labor conditions, unethical treatment of workers and tremendous amount of waste that the industry produces.”
So now, in her everyday work with Tiller Swim, Kathleen continues to work hard to create bathing suits that are not only ethical and sustainable, and that uses repurposed materials - but that are also unique, trendy - and of course - comfortable and practical, for those who are like her and are total water-lovers.