We recently connected with Keera Belviy and have shared our conversation below.
Alright, Keera thanks for taking the time to share your stories and insights with us today. Risking taking is a huge part of most people’s story but too often society overlooks those risks and only focuses on where you are today. Can you talk to us about a risk you’ve taken – it could be a big risk or a small one – but walk us through the backstory.
I always had the dream of a completely self-employed persona. Going straight from a vocational High School with a Cosmetology degree, I was shaped into a master hair stylist for 10+ years. Knowing I was making customers happy, and making a living wage at a young age of 18, I didn’t get to focus on what made ME happy, or really even think of it, until it started to affect my mental health. I knew it wasn’t normal to feel anxious driving to work every day and crying on your way home. It eventually became too much to continue serving people, without serving my own needs. When I had any free time, I would spend hours melting in the ocean, surfing in the waves, completely drowning my worries. That is where my true passion laid, was in the sea. I knew in order to feel good about my career choices, I had to make a shift. Inspired by surfing and lack of swim attire for tall, full figured women like myself, I reached out to a few non-profit business mentorship programs that were able to guide me in learning how to become a CEO of my now surf wear brand, Vital Wetsuits. I had zero knowledge of how to run a business, but having the internet at your finger tips, and some determination you can truly do anything. Being a tall full figured lady, it has always been tough finding a wetsuit that fit my body properly, and we know we are not the only ones! Other than making our wetsuits size inclusive, we made sure to source renewable materials like Yulex, a renewable textile made from rubber trees, to manufacture with to be mindful of our environmental impact.
We really saw a demand for inclusive sizing in the women’s surf industry, so we were determined to be that source! Founded in Sarasota County, Florida, we currently have a water apparel collection that caters to the warm gulf temps. Our signature product is our ‘Premium Wetsuit Leggings’ that are 2mm, have a key pocket, easy to put on, and ideal for paddle-boarding, snorkeling or surfing! I decided to step back from the only career I’ve ever known to take a risk, and serve myself, it is okay to chase your dreams! It is mine and Vital Wetsuit’s mission to highlight and represent all women in the surf industry and beyond, by providing comfortable, eco, chic, functional water apparel for all water adventures!
Awesome – so before we get into the rest of our questions, can you briefly introduce yourself to our readers?
‘Keera, the founder of Vital Wetsuits, was inspired to create a brand of surf attire for women, inclusive of all shapes and sized bodies. Being a tall and curvy surfer herself, it was extremely hard to find wetsuits that fit her frame. Determined to fill that demand, she started designing the ultimate wetsuit essentials she saw necessary for all lady surfers and water adventurers, ‘enjoying the outdoors should be for every body.’ Also Keera as an environmentalist, made sure her brand reflected a similar ethos, making sure to source sustainable or recycled materials for all of their merchandise whilst being mindful of their supply chain’s carbon footprint as well. Keera started this business completely by herself and hopes she can inspire other young women that ‘you can absolutely do anything you put your mind and energy into.
Okay – so how did you figure out the manufacturing part? Did you have prior experience?
We currently offer wetsuit ‘separates’ made from Yulex, as we saw there is a need for more sustainable, unique options when it comes to water apparel for women. We personally have a difficult time putting on/taking off a traditional wetsuit, especially when they are waterlogged. That is why we designed our ‘2mm Premium Wetsuit Legging’, to reduce the time it takes to put on/off and have other lightweight wetsuit options available when it is too warm to be wearing a fuller/thicker suit. Not only are we being mindful of the planet by using sustainable textiles for our wetsuits, we are being mindful of our inclusivity. Being a small brand it is hard to demand a variety of sizes, especially when just starting out, but letting our manufacturer know that that is the ethos behind our brand, was to be inclusive, they obliged, and so we offer sizes S-XXL, this has really helped our customers understand that we are trying to be transparent and comprehensive.
Securing a manufacturer is one of the most important things a B2C business can do for itself, and not enough people talk about this. I would be delighted to share my experience with overseas manufacturing, vs domestic and how to approach this daunting step initially. I actually had the opportunity right away to work with a ‘big-wig’ manufacturer in China, I got this contact by calling a local swimwear manufacturer, speaking with their in-house patternmaker who referred me to another patternmaker out in California, who was more than eager to help me with my ‘wetsuit legging’ design. This patternmaker had a preexisting relationship with the China manufacturer and generously introduced me to them as a potential client, which was a success! However, during this time was right around the Covid-19 pandemic, and unfortunately we were the unlucky ones that had a 3+ month delay in our initial shipment, right before we were supposed to launch. We persevered, and were able to open up our website for business. Now getting ready to place a second order with our China manufacturer, the minimum order quantities rose drastically, beyond a negotiable number, and already having extremely costly, shipping, duties and customs fees, we were starting to feel like maybe we should go back to the drawing board and re-evaluate where we do our manufacturing. We are currently in the works with a factory locally, which has its advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are, better communication, more personable interaction and lower costs of initial sample fees(usually). However the disadvantages tend to be extremely long lead times, and more expensive to manufacturer/source locally. It is hard to want to stick to all of your values as a brand/entrepreneur right away, however as long as your intentions are to strive towards your goal, people/consumers will see your effort and that speaks volumes.
What’s worked well for you in terms of a source for new clients?
Be organic. I did my own testimonials of how to get real, actual people to follow my Facebook and Instagram pages. I did this by testing a certain photo and caption together and posting it on particular Facebook groups, that were in my niche market(surfing, tall women, etc) and posting them a few months apart. To no surprise, the posts where I put myself in the position of ‘a happy customer’ I received a lot more engagement, than when I acted as if I had something to sell as a new business owner. Being mindful in how you interact with people and how you communicate shows that you are dedicated to your brand and creating solutions for your customers.
- Website: https://vitalsurfgear.com/
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/vitalwetsuits/?hl=en
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/VITAL-Wetsuits-107356014036473/
- Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/keera-belviy-312585193
- Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC33L8klZg6lsX84xEqS8ynA?app=desktop
Janet Rozo, Sally Ullman, Eric Nalpas