It's already difficult enough to shop for a swimsuit as a woman. But for plus-size women, the experience can be extra-hellish, thanks to severely limited (and largely unappealing) options. It wasn't something Alpine Butterfly founder Olga Caro, a former Guess model, had ever experienced first hand, but after taking her teenage niece — herself a plus size — bathing suit shopping for a family vacation, she saw firsthand just how traumatic it can be.
"I could not find anything for her. That was really discouraging," Caro says. "I did not know what to do. She was so upset in the fitting room, she was crying."
"I went straight home to try to find stuff online, and it was really hard to find anything that was worthy, and that would be appropriate for her age and cute," she says. "Then I was just so over it. It pissed me off — I felt like it was really discriminatory."
Caro, born in Colombia, had always wanted to start her own swimsuit range and knew she would eventually include extended sizes. That experience, though, changed everything for her and she decided she was going to launch her own plus-size swimwear line: Alpine Butterfly. For the next year, and with the financial support of her husband, Caro dedicated herself to learning everything she could about the plus industry — especially about getting the fit correct.
"I really kept in mind that plus size is not just one body type, it's different body types that fall into a category," she says. "It took me a while because I'm obviously not plus size, and it was so important to me that the fit would be good, and the material, the cut and all the straps were strategically placed."
Caro's sister-in-law, a stylist who works with the Black Eyed Peas, recommended she look on Craigslist to find experts in the area. Through that process, she found a recent FIDM grad who "really held [her] hand through the process" and helped Caro get a handle on the production end of the business. She didn't stop there.
"I was that girl sliding into everybody's DMs," Caro says with a laugh. "I can honestly tell you about 85 percent of people did not respond to me; I know they saw it, but they just did not respond. Then I had the five percent that was amazing and so helpful."
Alpine Butterfly doesn't shy away from the type of girly trends of which Caro is so fond; there are plenty of pastels and bold florals. But many of the styles are also remarkably sexy for a plus-size swimwear line. There are lace bikini tops with cutouts at the sides of the breast and cheeky bikini bottoms. Many of Alpine Butterfly's styles feature thick bands at the waist or ribcage to help cheat an hourglass figure (it also helps make the swimsuits more supportive).
The line launched at the end of the summer with a "Blue Lagoon"-inspired photoshoot. Mindful that not all plus size women are shaped the same, Caro made sure that each of the models had slightly different body types — and that she cast models who were truly plus size.
"I started reading, about six months ago, about padding — some [plus] models have padding. It's so discouraging, and it's taking so many steps back," she says. "I feel like with the girls I chose, I was able to give my customers a vision of what they could look like."
At first, Alpine Butterfly was exclusively direct-to-consumer, but the brand was recently picked up by Nordstrom. Caro is hopeful that will help her expand the business and help her reach more customers like her niece. But for now, she still runs much of the day-to-day operations herself — including responding to the feedback the brand has been receiving on Instagram.