Summer is officially in full swing. Temps are soaring and humidity won't quit, so if you weren't already itching to jet away to an island somewhere — or perhaps just your local pool — something tells us it'll happen very soon. With beach excursions come blissful downtime, (safe) baking in the sun, and that unbeatable sand-between-your-toes feeling. But unfortunately, for many of us, being bathing suit-clad on a beach can also elicit some negative feelings about our bodies.
This is precisely why we need more designers like Chloe Madison, a 21-year-old from Tennessee who launched her own L.A.-based, body-positive swimwear line called Rheya. Built to put an end to body negativity and to promote the power of self-love — no re-touched photos here — Chloe set out to create a line of chic, neutral-toned swimwear aimed at putting the focus on the wearer rather than the actual suit itself. This means when you browse Rheya’s online shop, you won't find suits in a variety of electric patterns and prints, but instead straightforward hues and designs meant for the ultimate minimalist lover.
Teen Vogue: Tell us a little about yourself…
Chloe Madison: I was born in Tennessee, but moved to Florida when I was six, and grew up on the beach. I spent a lot of time sewing with my mom as a kid. I made pillows, handbags, dresses... whatever I could get my hands on. When I was twelve, I won a radio contest and used the prize money to fly to Los Angeles to see my Aunt and Uncle for a week. I was then signed with a manager and an agent for acting before I left, which was totally by happenstance. I begged my parents to take a chance on me and move to California. Oddly enough, my dad lost his job that same week and the only new position he could find was in Los Angeles. So here I am. The country, beach, and city have been great environments to shape me while I grew up.
TV: What past experiences led you to wanting to start your own business and be an entrepreneur?
CM: About two years ago, I began working behind the camera in production. I had come up with an idea for a pilot and managed to pitch it to some big networks like MTV, NBC, etc. I loved the idea of being able to create something from scratch, something that came from my mind that I could make come to life. While working as a producer, I wound up constantly feeling looked down upon by my older male superiors. No matter what I did, I wasn’t taken seriously. The focus wasn’t on the music video shoot I had pulled together or the set I had created… it was on my blouse, my figure, my young face. I had a boss hire me, double my salary, and offer me an executive title. He later tried to tell me that I was far too young for that title and no matter what I did, I would never be as good of a producer as my older co-worker. He stripped me of the title before he even got the chance to see what I could do. Being underestimated gave me a lot of fuel to begin working on my own business.
TV: Out of all the clothing companies you could have started, why was swimwear something you felt passionate about designing?
CM: I started a swimwear line for a few reasons. I’m obsessed with traveling and a swimsuit is a staple in any suitcase. Trying to find the right one can definitely be taxing. A bikini can be a pretty difficult thing to feel comfortable in and it really takes the right design to make someone feel like a million bucks. I’ve owned many bikinis that have always had something off with them that I wanted to alter or fix, so I started sketching my own.
TV: Is this a side hustle while you are in school? Can you talk about what it is like to have a business and be a student?
CM: I’m no longer in school, but I did balance my business while I was working as a producer. I started from the ground up with Rheya while working a job that had insane hours. I had to be there 9-5 on weekdays, but on top of that, shoots would happen all week and weekends. Call times would be as early as 7AM and wrap as late as 11PM. I think the only thing that kept me going (other than coffee) was just a pure passion for what I was doing. I couldn’t wait to get home and figure out the next step was in building my business.
TV: Do you have any advice for other young girls who want to start their own business? What challenges have you faced?
CM: My advice would be to choose something that you would do for free. Fall in love with what you do, and make it your best friend. If someone comes along and tells you that you can’t do it, that you’re dreaming too big, work a little harder, that’s when you know that you’re onto something good. There will be obstacles, embrace them. Figure them out and move head on toward the next hurdle. What’s success without a struggle? If you stay persistent, one day you’ll get to the top of the mountain you’ve been climbing and the view will take your breath away.
TV: What does body image mean to you, and can you tell us why it is so important to the inspiration behind the brand?
CM: Body image, to me, is the beauty we see in ourselves. I’m a big advocate in loving yourself. You should never feel like you need to alter your body to be beautiful. As a swimsuit brand, I think self-love is a huge factor, and Rheya’s foundation was built on that. I had a lot of moments growing up where I compared myself to the prettiest girl in school, my body to the one on the magazine cover. It felt like a never-ending black hole of negativity of never being enough. I felt that way in a school uniform and I definitely felt that way in a swimsuit. As I grew up I learned to embrace myself. A bikini should make you feel the opposite. You should feel confident, stunning, and most importantly, like yourself.
TV: What has been the most rewarding part of Rheya?
CM: I’ve gotten some emails from girls thanking me for leaving stretch marks on the photos on our website, telling me how much of impact it made on them and how it helped them feel confident having stretch marks of their own. There really isn’t a better reward than helping someone turn what they thought was a flaw, into beauty.
TV: What is your favorite style from the line? And why?
CM: That’s like asking your mom to pick a favorite child. I’ve fallen in love with each style, there’s no way I can choose one. Lately, I’ve been wearing The Bali suit a lot. I love the hourglass effect I see when I wear it.
TV: Your swim line is supposed to be for everyone and all body types, can you talk about how your pieces accomplish this?
CM: I decided to take a minimalistic approach to the design. I stuck to three colors, black, blush, and white. I wanted to stay away from crazy patterns, so that the focus is on the person wearing the suit instead of the suit itself. All of the designs are meant to accentuate various parts of the female figure. The majority of the line focuses on accentuating the waist and giving an hourglass figure. Each suit is seamless, to avoid lumpiness and pulling, as a seam can easily pull a little too tight. The fabric is double lined and hugs the body. Every style was made with enhancing femininity and embracing all curves in mind.
TV: Do you see the line progressing in the next couple of years or will you stick to your body positive classic styles and colors?
CM: Rheya will definitely progress over the years. I’m not sure what styles I’ll add and if I’ll throw in some new colors but I am sure that body positivity will always be a part of it.