Foundr Magazine publishes in-depth interviews with the world’s greatest entrepreneurs. Our articles highlight key takeaways from each month’s cover feature. We talked with Erin Deering, co-founder of Triangl, about building a multi-million dollar swimwear movement envied by celebrities and iconic brands alike. To read more, subscribe to the magazine.
“The best thing about Triangl that I took away from it was that it does not matter what your material successes are if inside, it just isn’t working.”
In 2012, Erin Deering and then-partner Craig Ellis launched Triangl, a women’s swimwear company born from a discussion they had on a Melbourne, Australia, beach, the location of their second date.
“I went to find a bikini because a second date at the beach is a little bit nerve-racking,” she says. She wanted something nice but not too expensive. She couldn’t find anything.
“We ended up chatting about it and pretty much then and there [said], ‘There’s a gap in the market. This could be really fun. Why don’t we keep talking about it?’ And Triangl was pretty much born that day,” she says.
It was the beginning of a whirlwind career that would take Deering to Asia and Europe and gain her a spot on the Rich List in 2019, her worth topping $35 million. Celebrities and influencers clambered for her bikinis.
“So it was all very quick. So we kind of fell in love and had our personal relationship going at the same time as the [business],” Deering says. “So they were always very intertwined and pretty much just the same.”
But Triangl would also stretch Deering to her limits.
“It’s really tough. It’s isolating, and you become your brand. And that is your identity.”
In an effort to recapture her identity and well-being, Deering exited the brand and her relationship with Ellis, with whom she had two children, in 2018.
But not before building an empire of the most sought-after swimwear in the world. The entire journey was a series of moonshots that would create incredible momentum.
From the beginning, Deering and Ellis kept their team small and their operations lean, which she says helped them manage the brand better. They worked out of their apartment for the first two years, only setting up a supply chain office in the latter half of 2014.
“It was Craig and I doing everything,” she says. “We were sending out the product. We were doing the social media. We were emailing the customers. We were doing it all. So we were really able to tune in to what was going on at every angle. And even though the growth looked small from the outside in the beginning, for us, it was huge.”
Their focus was on staying hyperflexible and close to the customer. One of their first staff spends was on a woman in Canada who could handle live chat on the website while Deering slept.
“We launched live chat on our website before any other fashion business would have ever done it because we knew that when you’re buying something as intimate as swimwear, you want to feel like you can ask someone about sizing straight away,” she says.
When they started seeing the money come in, they hired a photographer. Until then, Ellis had been taking the photos while Deering held the light reflector.
“It was all done in that way,” Deering says. “So when we got more money, it was just to put those few things in place to make the brand look better.”
Deering says their focus on being lean allowed them to stay cash-flow positive from the beginning.
“We borrowed to make the product. But once we sold our first bikini, we never borrowed money again.”
Deering and Ellis didn’t pay themselves salaries. Aside from rent and other bare essentials, every penny from the business went back into the product.
“We just kept growing our cash, really, and not spending it because we were loving watching it come in. The more we made, the more we put back into making more styles, doing better photo shoots, hiring better models, and getting better photographers.”
Up to her exit, Triangl was still very lean on staff, employing only six people.
Keeping things lean applied to their marketing strategy, as well. Deering and Ellis relied heavily on social media and influencers, to whom they gifted swimsuits in the hopes that they would wear them and post about them.
In fact, they were one of the first fashion brands to use that strategy, according to Deering.
“We would say, ‘We’re sending you this. We don’t need you to post it. We just want you to have it. We think you’ll love it.’ Nine out of 10, even 9.5 out of 10, would post.”
Deering found that this strategy led to more genuine posts that attracted their followers. The strategy would usually net them a few new followers per influencer.
In 2014, however, they sent bathing suits to Hailey Bieber (when she was still Hailey Baldwin) and Bella Hadid, two up-and-coming stars who, at the time, were mostly known for their friendships with Kendall Jenner.
Soon, Jenner herself sent them an email requesting some suits. The other Kardashians did, too—including Kim.
“They all really wanted [the brand], and they wore it,” she says. “They never tagged us, but the Daily Mail picked it up, other publications picked it up, and they would talk about us. And so it was happening, anyway. We didn’t need them to tag us in the end because then we would use the photo [from the media] on our page [and] tag them.”
That launched the brand into the U.S. market. The $25 million in sales from 2014 was eclipsed by their 2015 sales: $60 million.
Erin Deering on How to Deal with Copycats
By 2014, their product had gained so much popularity that copies became a big problem. Every bathing suit company was doing a Triangl copy, according to Deering. Even fashion juggernauts like Victoria’s Secret started copying their styles.
Here’s Deering’s advice on how to deal with copycats:
- Protect your brand early on with trademarks and copyrights.
- Hire a legal team with product and intellectual property experience.
- Send cease and assist messages to copycat products and businesses.
- But don’t spend too much energy watching your back.
- Instead, keep pushing forward, rely on your talent, and innovate.
“Even if there are still copies, [customers] still will want the original as long as you are still making other products and not getting too stuck.”