How The Founders of Summersalt Went from Independent Entrepreneurs to a High-Growth Startup
Editor's Note: Since publication, Summersalt secured $17.3M in funding in it's latest round. Read more about it in Techcrunch, published December 20, 2019.
“Lori absolutely cornered me, and it was fabulous.”
When it comes to the definition of shooting your shot, Lori Coulter is no stranger to the passion and courage it takes. So much so that after a lunch and a chance meeting in NYC with Reshma Chamberlin, the duo began their partnership and the beginning of a female-owned direct-to-consumer swimwear and travelwear brand.
“We actually were at an event and I literally cornered her. I had the pitch deck and a line sheet and I said, ‘Let's look at this.’”
This is how Lori and Reshma became co-founders of the modern lifestyle brand Summersalt based in St. Louis, Missouri. A disruptive force in all things travel-related for the modern woman, the high-growth startup is still relatively new and is based in St. Louis’ T-REX.
“Twenty-six months since launch, and things are great,” says Reshma. “We're rocking and rolling and are really excited to change the conversation around swimwear, and make sure all women feel represented, feel sexy on our own terms, and are empowered to dive into life with joy and embrace adventure.”
What makes Lori and Reshma such a dynamic duo is that they mastered the power of partnership: identifying strengths and bringing them together to solve a problem.
MOSourceLink: What was the journey to being founders?
Lori (L): We’re both lifelong entrepreneurs at heart, and a lot of times when you talk to founders, they typically have some sort of story about entrepreneurship. My story is I ran the concessions at a local stadium, I bought my own inventory and sold at the local baseball league, and then I had several other side things going. So I think it's pretty common that entrepreneurs have those markers early on. I always planned to get an MBA and to start a business - in some ways Summersalt was inevitable!
Reshma (R): I think it's about creating something from the ground up. Seeing something manifest from a kernel of an idea. In my case, I used to sell hand-drawn bookmarks to everyone in my apartment building.
Learning how to price it, how to create it, how to keep up a good inventory, and how to continue to get people coming back—entrepreneurship is about continuously solving problems and creating something from scratch.
MOSourceLink: How did the idea and brand Summersalt come to fruition?
L: More than 10 years ago, I started a business and partnership with a major retailer. We were doing full-body scanning and made-to-order apparel an early date. We'd scanned more than 10,000 women and we actually made a swimsuit for all 10,000 during that time, we developed what I refer to as “the most on-demand, quick-turnaround supply chain.”
From there, I started designing and producing for other mid-sized brands, large-scale resorts and some e-commerce brands. Then in June of 2016, Reshma and I met for lunch and discussed the disruption that we continued to see in the retail space. Reshma had already been working with some of the largest direct-to-consumer, venture capital-backed brands on the East Coast. She owned a digital agency that specialized in design thinking and business strategy. She understood the go-to market playbook and what it took to be truly disruptive. I went away from that lunch really inspired to write the initial business plan and strategy for what is now Summersalt.
In late January '17, we serendipitously ran into each other in New York at an event and I literally cornered her.
R: That is not an exaggeration. Lori absolutely cornered me in a dark bar with the deck and the line sheet, and shared with me what is now Summersalt, I got incredibly excited for three big reasons:
One is the true gap in the marketplace—there was no one doing swimwear in a direct-to-consumer fashion.
Second was the quality of the product for that price point. So with Lori's background, 10,000 women's body scans, 1.5 million measurements, and her incredible eye for design, the product was absolutely phenomenal.
The third reason was what Lori and I had already accomplished in our careers. We really had the two sides of the coin you need to create a truly incredible brand and business. And so I asked Lori what she thought of a co-founder right on the spot, and she said, "Yes, let's talk about it."
MOSourceLink: How did Summersalt end up being headquartered and ran from St. Louis?
R: Practically speaking, our families are here, and you could argue that we could start this business anywhere. But St. Louis has allowed us some incredible things that companies on the East or West Coasts may not have: access to space at incredible prices, a place for our business at a reasonable cost, and a tight entrepreneurial community. The talent pipeline is absolutely awesome. Also being located in the middle of the country makes it easy for us to go to New York and California for model castings, photo shoots, and press events. So with Summersalt, we can address the needs and tastes of a coastal customer as well as women like us living in the Midwest. It’s truly the best of both worlds. Most importantly, we believe that many of the most iconic brands of the last 30 years have emerged outside of the coastal hubs. There is something magical about building an emerging brand in a place where the entire team has a deep understanding of our consumer across the US market and the conviction to remain true to the authentic vision of the founders and the DNA of the brand.
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