Interview: Summersalt Founders On Building An Ecommerce Community With Content
Swim and travel-wear brand Summersalt is rolling out a new content platform, The Forecast, to enhance its community by speaking to customers in an authentic way
Millennial consumers are increasingly spending on experiences, with travel becoming an especially important status symbol in the age of Instagram. Recognizing an opportunity in the market to deliver swim and travel-wear to experience-focused millennial women, ecommerce site Summersalt uses an authentic voice to better reach its target market.
To further build its community, co-founders Reshma Chamberlin and Lori Coulter have developed the Forecast, a home for original content related to women and travel. PSFK spoke to Reshma and Lori about how an authentic voice and feedback loop with customers helps build loyalty and drive sales.
PSFK: Could you describe some of the trends that you're seeing impacting today and the trends that you're leveraging in your work?
Lori: We continue to see millennial women, which is really our core demographic, preferring to shop online and to shop digital brands that share their personal values.
Initially, the genesis for Summersalt was to fill a need in the swimwear market, but also to own travel in the mind of the consumer and to pair her preferences for experiences over things. In swimwear, that means adventuring, having fun in your swimsuit, evoking that sense of childlike joy.
For our Travelwear collection, that means cementing Summersalt as a go-to brand for all things travel as she's traveling the world. It's this combination of a brand that's paired with her experiential values, as well as her preference for shopping digitally—meeting her when and where she wants to be met.
Reshma: There's another trend in retail that I think Summersalt innately is: Just being really authentic and straightforward. Our consumer doesn't want to be “sold to.” We really want to create and develop a true sense of communication with her, which stems from the way we speak in our customer happiness channels with our consumer, how and why we created the Forecast.
It is very authentically who we are. We put diversity at the forefront from the get go, not just because it is cool or interesting to do so now. Lori and I could not come from two more polar opposite areas of the world, if you will, but share a common goal, common values. That's who we think our consumer is. She could have grown up in Missouri and Arkansas, or grown up in India, like me, and live in the U.S., since we currently sell in the U.S.
That authentic sense of communication, being our true selves, and having that childlike joy—those are the trends we're seeing in retail. Summersalt really has been at the forefront of being that authentic self.
PSFK: What led you to found Summersalt and what gaps did you noticed in the marketplace?
Lori: In June of 2016, Reshma and I met for lunch. We're both serial entrepreneurs. We had not worked together, but I had admired her work from afar and we knew each other loosely from the entrepreneurial community.
I expressed my views in regards to the disruption we continue to see in the retail market place. I did not see a path to scale for brands emerging, pursuing what I consider the traditional wholesale model.
Reshma had been doing work on the agency side with several of the large direct-to-consumer brands. She really challenged me to look hard at the space. I went away from that conversation, wrote the initial business plan and strategy for Summersalt and developed a collection that I thought would appeal to women like us—women who are interested in adventuring, having fun and traveling the world.
It's swimwear that really speaks to women in a way that they haven't been spoken to before. So much of swim had been done in this over-sexualized approach. We really thought there was a unique opportunity to offer freshness, newness and products that countered that viewpoint.
In December and January, we ran into each other again. I somehow convinced her to be interested in the brand and the rest is history. The gaps were around products that spoke to the consumer in a fresh, wearable, authentic kind of way, but still elevated from a style perspective.
PSFK: What led to the creation of your editorial platform, “The Forecast?” How does it help the Summersalt brand grow from a swimwear brand into a lifestyle brand?
Reshma: Travel has always been at the foundation of the business we've been building. From the very get-go on Instagram and in our messaging, travel was part of the swim experience. Whether you're going to a lake in Missouri or Arkansas, or you're going to Morocco and Bali, you usually buy swimwear ahead of a fun experience.
As we started thinking about our consumer, what she wants, her preference for experiences over things, we wanted to create a platform that could house all the content we all want, but often have a hard time finding.
I took maybe 60 plus flights in 2017. When I start planning for a trip, I'm really stalking people on Instagram, I'm trying to find bloggers. I'm trying to dig around. There really was no hub for content for millennial women. We wanted to create a place where women like us could find what they were looking for. We have tips on traveling with a budget in mind. We have tips for how to be mindful when you travel. We have itineraries on Morocco and Ojai.
We have this incredible column called, “Women Who Are Going Places,” where we interview incredible women we all admire and learn a little bit about their travel hacks as well. It' about creating a platform that brought all the content together that we needed, that our consumer wanted—she was exploring the globe, so she wanted more experiences.
We're here to service her. We're here to create better swimwear that fits, that works for her. We're here to create content that she can actually find useful and find inspiring. And then, of course, create other garments that make her experiences that much more seamless. It was a very natural progression from where we were to building a true content hub that serviced our customer.
PSFK: How does the Summersalt brand come through in this editorial content?
Reshma: We think about Summersalt as a travel brand. We also want the travel content to be incredibly authentic. It's The Forecast by Summersalt. It is not a Summersalt blog. I think that was important for us. It's a true editorial hub and content platform.
We want Summersalt to be known as that inspirational, yet approachable, yet aspirational friend you can go to for those kinds of items and advice around travel and experiences. We want the content platform to be truly a content hub and not biased.
PSFK: We've seen a lot of media companies that are expanding into commerce and vice versa. Do you have any thoughts about why that's happening and why it feels necessary to expand from a retail brand into a lifestyle brand?
Lori: In today's climate, community is so important for all brands, not just lifestyle brands. Travel lends itself well to that, from both a content perspective as well as from the perspective of finding like-minded individuals.
We can speak to our consumer from that unique brand point of view and voice. Really be that content hub, that destination for all things travel for her. Make it easy for her to sort through and find the information, the content, the product that makes her experiences better.
It really is about the consumer: speaking to her, creating dialogue both from the brand to the consumer and back. Also, creating that community around women travelers.
PSFK: Could you speak a bit more about how the brand connects with community, and how The Forecast helps strengthen the community that you've established with Summersalt?
Reshma: We really want to create that dialogue. I will speak to our Customer Happiness team and how that relates back to The Forecast and the rest of the brand.
The way we think about customer happiness—what normal companies would call it customer service—is we really wanted to create a safe place for individuals to talk about sizing cup size, boob size, butt size. All of those things make swimwear fit a complicated subject and is why we're building our fit technology, our 10,000 women's body scans, and 1.5 million measurements.
In our Customer Happiness team, the way we think about our brand, and the brand speaking to the consumer, is she's the best friend you're willing to take in the dressing room with you.
We all have a friend to whom we can say, “Hey, does my butt look OK in this?” She's also that friend who is a little bit more chic than you are, so you are like, “Hey, where is the next best place to eat? Where should I be buying a new sweater?” You're always looking up to that friend for advice. That's really how we think about the brand we've created. It's a bridge between being incredibly approachable but also aspirational.
Then that translates to how we think about The Forecast, the content there, and then that feedback loop. We have discussed commenting on The Forecast where we encourage people to share ideas and other itineraries.
We share the content on social. Some of our best performing posts are around incredible and inspirational content. It's that 360 feedback loop. When we do launch product collaborations, like Power Suits, which we did last year, that content will also continue to live on The Forecast. It really is one feeding the other, continuing to keep that ‘best friend in the dressing room' narrative going, and being really open with each other.
PSFK: Could you talk about how you involved the customers in the research and development process?
Lori: My background is I had a made-to-order business where we actually scanned 10,000 women and actually made 10,000 swimsuits. Really, we had that one-to-one feedback loop that allowed us to optimize our fit and our product for the Summersalt launch. We're uniquely positioned to really be able to own not only swimwear, but also wearable, comfortable swimwear in the mind of the consumer.
PSFK: Could you explain how the commerce angle is embedded in The Forecast if at all? How branded is it with Summersalt?
Reshma: It's not very branded with our products because, one, we want to feature other incredible brands and products. We already did an incredible article on ThirdLove and many other wonderful companies.
We really think that it's a place to create the best and brightest in terms of incredible minds in our community, as well as the best hotels, the best itineraries. That's really how we think about it.
More often than not, a lot of the women who we're speaking to already are wonderful customers of Summersalt. The founder of ThirdLove had one Summersalt with her kiddos, the Mommy and Me collection.
It's a very organic relationship. We are loving hearing their incredible insight on travel. Sometimes, they'll share with us their favorite Summersalt suits during that. We have some posts that will be shoppable eventually.
That will include Summersalt's products, as well as other products that we admire, and that we think is incredible. We have really strong relationships with other brands. For us, it's really the size of the pie as opposed to the piece of the pie.
Brands like M.Gemi, who has incredible product, ThirdLove, or any of those other brands who we interact upon a day to day basis, as well as ones that we admire from afar, will make their way on The Forecast. They will be something that's beneficial to our consumers.
Our bottom line is, is it product and content that our consumer would actually love and engage with? If the answer is yes, it'll find itself on The Forecast.
PSFK: Do you think that travel has become more important for this younger generation of consumers? If so, why?
Lori: I really believe travel is the new status symbol. Many women are preferring experiences over things. During the holiday season, you see that more than ever.
PSFK: Where do you see your company expanding in the future, either in terms of the types of products or content that you offer?
Lori: We want to own swimwear in the mind of our consumer. We have a lot of growth opportunity there. We just launched our Travelwear collection. We're very excited with the traction to date and can see us continuing to optimize.
Then we see The Forecast as digital product. Over time, we can see that becoming more important to the business.
PSFK: It seems like you're really inviting the customers to contribute to The Forecast, as well as soliciting their opinions in development for products for Summersalt.
Reshma: Absolutely. We love our consumers. We DM with them. We email with them. We share selfies. There's a lot happening behind the scenes that creates that truly wonderful relationship.