A banker with no design training wades into the luxury swim-, active- and resortwear industry and hits global success within four years. How did Lyn Rosmarin do it? Wong Sher Maine finds out
It might have ended up another pipe dream: A trained banker drops her cushy office job of 12 years and tries to design and sell luxury swimwear. What makes Lyn Rosmarin’s story different is that not only has her company KBlu succeeded in Singapore, she has also succeeded beyond it.
Through a mix of sheer ambition, careful listening to her clients and pro-active seeking out of opportunities, she has tapped into a lode of opportunity.
Her apparel has been flaunted on runways in New York and Paris and is now being sold in the US, Maldives and Indonesia.
Sink or swim
She quit her banker job in 2013 and started KBlu in 2014 simply because she was facing a problem she decided to solve herself: she just couldn’t find nice swimwear, which she had to wear a lot of during her younger days as a sailor.“I wanted swimwear which would fit well and look pretty. But most sold in Singapore were neither,” said Lyn, who loved art and design in school.
The K in KBlu was inspired by the name of her first child, Kenzi, who was born in 2013, while Blu was inspired by one her favourite movies by French director Luc Besson, Le Grand Bleu.
Without any design or retail experience, she visited a trade fair, got to know people who helped her to churn out some sample pieces and asked for her friends’ opinions. It helped that she personally had a good idea of how she wanted her swimsuits to look.
As I’m not a trained designer, and carefully listening to my users have always helped me to overcome this.
From selling mainly through social media at the start, she went on to pop-up stores and major retail outlets like Isetan and Robinsons before finally set up shop at the Mandarin Gallery in 2016.
KBlu’s classy, exotic prints – like a swimsuit with intricate turquoise porcelain patterns on it – and comfortable cuts clearly had an audience in Singapore who craved quality; even though KBlu’s prices, at over $200 per swimsuit, were considerably steeper than mass-market suits.
The story might have ended there. But Singapore’s tiny domestic market wasn’t enough for Lyn.
Said Lyn, who had also diversified into selling workout gear, bags and hats to extend the reach of the brand: “I always wanted KBlu to be an international brand, sold all over the world.”
So when Caucasian women, who may be bigger-boned, and plus-sized women, asked if she sold suits in their sizes, she realized it was a neglected market. She did not sell their sizes yet, but she was determined to.
She came up with samples and eagerly solicited user feedback by inviting women who wore swimsuits in size XXL and above to come in to her shop to exchange their old swimsuits for kaftans, and give their opinions about what they liked or disliked about her samples. They would tell her how, for instance, they were happy to show off their sides or back, but they preferred to cover up their tummies.
“As I’m not a trained designer, and carefully listening to my users have always helped me to overcome this,” said Lyn. She finetuned her samples and came up with her Curve collection in 2017. It was such an untapped market that she had to recruit four of her own friends to model the swimsuits. All the other available professional models were stick-thin.
Diving into the global market
The Curve did not only target a niche market, more importantly, it attracted international attention.
An Instagram post showcasing one of her Curve swimsuits attracted the attention of the US-based Flying Solo, a fashion co-operative of emerging designers. They were drawn to the KBlu prints and knew that the Curve cuts would attract American women.
KBlu apparel started appearing in the US, stocked in the Flying Solo store in New York, and American clothing retailer Anthropologie. Getting noticed then opened the door for KBlu to score an invitation to exhibit at New York Fashion Week, one of the most prestigious fashion events in the world, where models wearing KBlu apparel walked down the runway in August 2018.
A month later, KBlu was invited to show off its collection at Paris Fashion Week. Said Lyn, “By extending my size range, I tapped into a market I had very much forgotten. And it is these big sizes which helped me to go international!”
The show has paid off: The spotlight on KBlu has resulted in a contract to sell its wares in six hotels in the Maldives. She is also selling her products in Bali and Langkawi.To other local designers who want to sell globally, she has these words of advice: “It’s not a bad idea to extend your size range, beyond Asian sizes.”
She is dreaming bigger. She now aspires to penetrate the China market of nearly 1.4 billion people, and which is projected to overtake the US as the world’s largest fashion market in 2019.