Getting salty at the fashion industry with Charlotte Cheong, the brains (and beauty) behind Cecile Swim.
With a Singaporean background and a childhood spent by the poolside and the beach, Cecile became inspired at the ripe old age of 18 to express her individuality and creativity through swimwear. However, after discovering the damaging aftermath that comes about from fast fashion through her Conservation Wildlife degree, she decided to create swimwear a little differently.
What made you start Cecile Swim?
The idea of starting my own swimwear label sparked when I was 18 but I only created Cecile Swim at the age of 20 (I’m currently 21). I view creating my own swimwear label as part of expressing my own individuality and creativity. I love the idea of being able to grow and nurture a brand I can call mine and shape it to how I want it, such as its visions, values and beliefs.
The reason I chose swimwear is my love for the ocean. I grew up in Singapore where I spent my weekends by the pool or the beach and I also engaged in water sports with my dad in my early teens, which was something that always bonded us. One of the main reasons why I chose to move to Perth at age 17 was because of its beautiful beaches!
What has been the most challenging thing you have uncovered since the beginning?
Time management. There is so much more than meets the eye when running a small business (especially with being a university student full-time). At the moment, Cecile Swim is pretty much a one-man show. Other than the manufacturing of the products, I’ve pretty much done everything on my own – designing the products, quality control, website design, emails, accounts, online marketing, and handling/postage, amongst other stuff. However, at the end of the day, I’ve learnt so much since starting Cecile Swim and I cannot wait to continue to grow and learn together with my label.
Within the ethical fashion community, there’s a big question that we ask which is ‘who made my clothes?’. In the scope of Cecile Swim, who made your swimwear? Can you tell us a bit about them?
All of Cecile Swim pieces are currently being made in a factory in Indonesia. I strongly support small factories that allow their tailors to work in an environment in which they are comfortable. Therefore, all of our pieces are produced in limited quantities and are paid for fairly. As the factory is based in Indonesia and Cecile Swim is based in Perth, Western Australia, this gives me the opportunity to be close by and make trips to the factory to guarantee transparency and that rights are met for all workers.
Why did you pick the fabrics or materials that you have chosen to work with?
The fabric that’s been used in the “Aries” range was sourced in the same city as the factory, which means saving on travel resources, as transport is often a big source of a company’s carbon foot print. This fabric is made to last and so are my designs – minimal and classic, which goes against the typical values of the fast fashion industry. More research is being done to improve our materials for my next range as I want to ensure that I’m providing the best products for my customers while living up to our sustainable and ethical values.
Best piece of advice you have ever received?
“Believe in yourself and never give up!”
Why was it important to you to make your brand ethical?
I feel that it is basic decency that people are paid fairly for the work they produce. I would not promote a label that exploits people for their efforts.
What is something others wouldn’t know about starting an ethical business that you think they should?
A lot of research goes into creating an ethical product and business. I feel that creating an ethical business requires a lot of passion and dedication for the products as the production line is complex – more than you’d think. A lot of time and effort goes into ensuring every aspect of the product is at its best, from sourcing the materials to the tailoring and manufacturing of the products, and even the marketing! Setting your realms of ethical is extremely important when planning out the values for your business, and sticking by it is equally as crucial.
One tip you’d give to others who are wanting to start their own business?
Quitting is never an option. Remember why you started it in the first place and always follow your dreams, times will get tough and there will be moments when you may doubt yourself, but when those moments arise, take a step back and breathe. Everything will be fine.
Where do you envision Cecile Swim in the future?
My dream is for Cecile Swim to continue growing and flourishing, while never losing sight of its values and to continue working towards its mission everyday: “Our mission is to use our label as a platform to raise awareness for sustainable and ethical fashion and bring about change for the environment, while encouraging girls to feel confident in the skin they are in”.
One documentary everyone should watch? Why?
“Daughters of Destiny.” This Netflix Original is based on a group of girls entering a school called the Shanti Bhavan School, a school for children in poverty. There, they are raised and educated by teachers and staff and empowered to change their families’ futures.
Aside from ensuring ethical and fair rights are met throughout our production line, portions of our profits are donated towards projects such as the building of schools and classrooms. I strongly believe that education is the root to solving our problems, thus I feel that it’s incredibly important to contribute what we can to coming generations to educate them and empower them.
Are there any other Movers & Shakers out there in your world that you think people should know about?
My uncle, Ben Cheong – the founder and executive director of Magical Light foundation. Magical Light Foundation is a humanitarian foundation that focuses on lifting the disadvantaged out of poverty in places around Asia. Some of their projects include building schools, classrooms and medical centres in rural parts of Asia and assisting with community development. At any second of a day, a new school is being constructed.