I went to a real life body positive pool party, just like in Shrill. Here's what happened
Swimwear can be one of the most intimidating and anxiety-inducing garments that we own. On the flip side, it can also be one of our biggest sources of confidence. For many of us that grew up loathing our bodies, particularly if they did not at all resemble what was being marketed in swimsuit ads, swimsuit season comes with a lot of feelings.
As an adult, I have decided to reclaim the term “fat” as a personal identifier. It is just simply a descriptor of how I identify—fat, Black, femme, queer. Those are all descriptors for how I navigate the world. Identifying as fat or plus-size is important for me because it represents how I have to navigate the fashion industry in particular. Fashion is not at a point where they “don’t see size,” and it continues to prove incredibly challenging for fat or plus-size folks to shop for clothes that actually fit, both online and in-store.
The swimwear industry is notorious for being fatphobic and having a lack of options available for anyone over a size large. Not so fun fact: According to Dr. Deborah Christel, apparel design researcher and founder of size inclusive intimates brand Kade & Vos, only 10% of swimwear sold online is available in plus-sizes. Once the temperatures begin rising as summer months draw nearer, you begin hearing the phrases “beach body” and “bikini body,” and though no one may outright say that fat bodies are not included in those categories, it certainly has always felt implied. So if you are a fat or plus-size person who does not make drastic changes to your body during swimwear season, where do you go if you are not trying to put on a suit that makes you look like Aunt Carol going to water aerobics (no shade Aunt Carol, get your swim on, girl)? Where can you find a suit meant for the beach babe you were born to be?
Meet Kitty and Vibe, a swimwear brand that’s intentional about body positivity and size inclusivity. The brand created a new sizing metric that uses hip and inseam measurements to create the perfect fit. Each swimsuit bottom size comes in two size options for smaller booties and bigger booties. This eliminates the issue of sagging, bunching, or not enough coverage.
When I arrived at the party, which was hosted at a swanky rooftop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I found myself experiencing the same feelings as Aidy Bryant’s character Annie, thinking to myself, “I should have the confidence of a journalist with press access to this rooftop party, but I’m a little nervous, shy, and hopefully I can get away with standing by the snack table for the night.”
This is typically how I feel attending bougie press events as a plus-size person. However, when I entered the party and saw the diversity (pardon the buzzword) around me, I immediately felt at ease. Stretch marks, wrinkles, melanin, and all body shapes were in attendance to celebrate this brand that too was celebrating them. It was incredible.
I chatted with 25-year-old founder Cameron Armstrong about the ethos of Kitty and Vibe, body positivity, and “A Party for EveryBOOTY.”
HelloGiggles (HG): Was this the first event for the brand?
Cameron Armstrong (CA): Yes, it was. We’ve done a couple in-person markets, but this was really the first full on Kitty and Vibe brand event. It was really special because obviously Kitty and Vibe is all about inclusivity and diversity, celebrating each and every person exactly as they are. But it’s one thing to preach that message, and it’s another thing for people to actually buy into it and respond to it and love it and live it. And so when everybody showed up—and it was the exact kind of demographic of everything that we preach—it was so fulfilling.
HG: It was really cool for me to witness that myself, too. It’s like you said—it’s one thing to see it as a consumer or even read about it as a journalist. But to actually experience it is really nice. It’s great to see brands that actually hold up their end of the bargain.
CA: I was so giggly the whole night, just talking to everybody and saying, “I’m Cameron, I started it. This is crazy.” It was just the most authentic night. It was really special. I had some people tell me, “I came here alone and I was a little nervous, but I’ve made about six friends since being here.” I think that’s very telling.
HG: That’s awesome. So I have to ask, what is the story behind the name Kitty and Vibe?
CA: Yes, very unique name. So for me, when I created this mission for myself to fix all of the pains within swimwear, I really saw the biggest issue for women and swimwear being that, for a lot of women, nobody could ever find the perfect fitting bottom. It would either sag too much or be too skimpy. And then, also, the experience was so degrading and triggering for so many women. So it was these two issues that I was really focusing on finding solutions for: the fit and the experience. For me, I’ve always had a very small booty. And so whenever I would swim in the ocean, the water would pool [my bikini bottoms] and it would be so uncomfortable. So I took this real life experience with me being a woman in a swimsuit, and I started measuring anybody that would let me measure them. I found that the biggest differentiator across all these women was actually the inseam size, so belly button through the legs to the top of the tailbone. Which is why it’s called Kitty, because I couldn’t call it crotch. And from there, I developed these sizing metrics. In standardized swimwear, you have the small, medium, large, but in Kitty swimwear, within each of those hip sizes, there are two different inseam size options. That’s translated to the customer as S1 and S2. Then we ask, do you have a smaller booty or bigger booty? A smaller inseam or longer inseam? The simple questions really seem to work for the customer because our return rate is insanely low for e-comm fashion. It’s just giving her double the options; we’re not these one dimensional figures that can bucket into three size options. So that’s where Kitty comes from.
Vibe is taking a product [swimsuits] that’s been so historically worrying and depression-triggering, and flipping it on its head to make it something actually enjoyable. I wanted this product to no longer be an enemy of a woman, but a friend. I refer to each of the prints as vibes. So the way our business model works is we drop a new vibe. And when a vibe comes out, it’s available in every single size and every single style. So she can choose the perfect top that will fit her chest in her size and then the perfect bottom with the right coverage in her size, and then get it in that print. Whereas [for other brands], a print will come out that’s maybe only available in a triangle top, which is not supportive enough for someone with an E-size breast. So this really gives her the flexibility to curate the perfect suit for her. Then the suit’s delivered to your doorstep with a curated playlist that matches the vibe of your suit. …It really just personifies the product and it makes you so much closer to it, and it makes it less intimidating. So that’s Kitty and Vibe.
HG: What does the design process look like?
CA: I’m so glad you brought that up. Because I have no experience in design, I do all of the design decisions on Instagram polls. So if you go on our Instagram, you’ll see a highlight called “Your Vote.” And any time that we are creating new prints or new shapes, new styles, new upgrades to the suits, the decision is made through majority vote. So I throw it up on a poll and I say, “Do you want this or this?” I think it was a no brainer, especially since I’m really not the expert, and who better to ask than the people that are going to buy it… It’s important to note that it’s the highest engagement we get on social media. It’s a really fun way to engage and get the customer hooked at early stages because she’s designing it herself. She’s choosing it.
HG: What exactly does the term body positivity mean to you?
CA: I think it’s tough because obviously it’s a buzzword, for sure… I think body positivity is important to look at it as not so black and white, where it’s like you have it or you don’t. It’s a never ending process of accepting who you are… I really think that the Kitty customer is someone who is on that journey of accepting themselves, but I don’t think she’s dwelling in self pity or self doubt. I think she’s seeing the glass half full and is very encouraged to support other women on the same journey. And it’s really about about sisterhood and lifting other people up along the way. I think the most important thing to me is that it is a process. It’s a journey, it’s not you have it or you don’t.
HG: What does diversity mean to you and especially in fashion?
CA: For all of my campaigns that I’ve done thus far, I have never hired professional models. The people that are in the campaigns are friends of friends or people that have reached out to the brand to say, “I love your message; I would love to be involved.” …I think diversity just means “real.” It’s not photoshopped. It’s not perfectly curated. And something that I really want to be mindful of is avoiding any type of exploitation. I think we’re walking a fine line now where, it’s amazing that the representation is so insisted upon, but I think it needs to be done in the most organic and tasteful way possible. Luckily, within Kitty and Vibe, the people who love the brand are diverse. That’s something I am so proud of because I think it’s rare to be able to create a movement that has such a wide spectrum of souls in love with what you’re putting out there. That’s probably what I’m most proud of; the authentic diversity that is seen when you look at the Kitty and Vibe community.
HG: That actually leads me to my next question. As a straight-sized person yourself—meaning someone who isn’t plus-size or fat—what inspired you to create a brand that is size inclusive, body positive, and diverse—especially when it would be really easy for you to just create small, medium and large? Or, on the opposite end, you could have just tapped into the tokenization of the body positive and diversity movements in fashion. What inspired the movement behind the brand for you?
CA: I’m so glad you asked this because it’s something that I think about really often. To be totally transparent with you, it’s also my biggest insecurity… and when I close my eyes and put myself back at the beginning stages of developing this company, and why I was so fired up about doing it, it was really about the conversations that I had in my past with so many women. Everything that I’ve ever encountered where a woman feels less than because of the way she looks. When I developed the company, I was only two years out of college. I remembered so many conversations with friends where they would just be in tears because they didn’t want to go out that night or they didn’t want to go to the beach—simply because they didn’t like the way they looked. And it was heartbreaking. The one thing that I personally have struggled with in my life is acne on my back, so when I’m in a fitting room with the light beaming down on me, the acne scars on my back are what hinders me from feeling beautiful… And I thought to myself, “I need to give these women armor. I need to give them a suit that really just makes them feel beautiful, and that allows them to get out of their head and really realize that what matters is her confidence.” And so I think it was getting a taste of that triggering feeling. And I just decided that I had to do something about it.
HG: Would you say more of your larger sizes are being bought than your smaller sizes?
CA: You know, it’s really across the board. I am glad you’re asking me that because I would want to refresh the data and take another look at it. Definitely the most popular sizes were around an M2 or L2—which would be between a size 8 to 14. So it’s really in the middle—it’s not your size zero or the super stick thin that you see so often in advertising. But [the most bought sizes are] not only the highest sizes I offer. That’s why I really don’t ever use the term plus-size to refer to Kitty and Vibe. Because for me, [being inclusive] means every single size on both ends of the spectrum. And as I’m able to grow and as I’m able to hopefully start fundraising and really turn this machine, I have every intention of expanding sizes on both ends of the spectrum. I think we won’t settle until there’s a Kitty that makes every woman feel comfortable.
HG: When you first launched, did Kitty and Vibe always sell the range of sizes available now? Or did it start out smaller and then expand?
CA: At the very, very beginning, it went up to a size 16. Then, within 60 days, I was able to use the sales from the first batch to jump up to a size 20 and give another top size. And then this spring, with our one pieces, those go up to size 24. So it’s kind of like, as soon as I have the sales under my belt, we churn out more sizes.
HG: What do you see next for Kitty and Vibe?
CA: The possibilities are endless. The sizing is at the forefront—it’s just going to keep [expanding] on both ends. And then, also, I’ve had a lot of people say that the sizing metrics—your hips and your inseam—is so brilliant… So okay, where else can we take it? And I think there could be really great potential within intimates. Imagine if you had underwear that could do this, or you had leggings that could do this, or even jeans?! It really keeps me up at night… So I’m not sure what will be next, but I can’t wait to find out myself!