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.
The first two collections that Tiller Swim has come out with “utilized a performance fabric made from repurposed nylon and spandex” that’s “double lined and reversible” so that it “holds its shape, holds everything in place and is also extremely flattering.”
“For our upcoming 2021 collection, we’ll actually be using a fabric made from material that will decompose in a landfill - if disposed of properly, of course - and is super buttery and smooth, Kathleen said. “This collection will be extremely versatile with multiple ways to wear each suit so I’m really excited to drop the collection.”
Beautiful greens, blues and peaches rule the colors of the suits, and original patterns like giraffe and cheetah print can all be found on the website. Each product is photographed beautifully, carefully and naturally, with backdrops that could be found on postcards, and unedited models who look genuinely happy, comfortable and confident to be wearing the suits.
It’s an entirely cohesive and classic vibe that matches the overall aesthetic and branding of the company, and the messaging of using natural resources, and creating comfortability and practicality. The branding and the brand itself are also both totally timeless.
“One huge part about sustainability that isn’t spoken about as often, is a sense of timelessness,” Kathleen said. “Being sustainable is obviously about using thoughtful materials and ethical practices, but a huge part of it is also how long a product lasts and can be of use, so when fast fashion items go out of style as quickly as they came in, all of the design and thought and labor put into these pieces are as good as gone.”
Kathleen continued and said, “As we expand our product line and grow the brand, this will be a really important piece to keep in mind since we want to remain authentic and timeless so that our pieces can be an investment.”
And, what an investment Tiller Swim products truly are. In addition to being sustainable, they’re comfortable, beautiful and timeless - just like the ocean is.
If you take a step back and think about where both Kathleen and Tiller Swim are today, it all leads back to the ocean. The comforting, beautiful, timeless ocean - where Kathleen spent her entire childhood and is something she fell in love with - is continuing to inspire her designs, her products, and her fight to protect the Earth. So, as you, too, scroll through the Tiller Swim website, you’ll feel that peaceful, calming feeling, especially knowing that you’re buying an ethical swimsuit created by someone who knows the product better than most...and who makes them better than most. Sustainable, comfortable, beautiful, and timeless.