The Highs and Lows of Starting a Swimsuit Company in Milwaukee

We’re not exactly known for balmy weather.

Milwaukee may not have a garment district, but it is possible to obtain a locally made gown or handcrafted purse. Swimwear, however, is another story. Milwaukeean Kristy Kleist is trying to change that. After designing dresses and separates that were sold at Gallery Nights and in a couple area boutiques, the Web designer by day decided to get a degree at Parsons School of Design. When her goal of designing clothing for Kohl’s didn’t pan out, she went back to an idea from one of those summertime Gallery Nights: swimwear. The result is Swoon, which she launched online ( in March and sells women’s one- and two-piece swimsuits.

Swoon's lei one-piece suit and a bow bikini. Photo by Leah Kasper/Kasper Photography.
Swoon’s lei one-piece suit and a bow bikini. Photo by Leah Kasper/Kasper Photography.

Why swimsuits in Milwaukee?
Initially, I thought, OK, I want to make swimsuits, but what are you going to do with the swimsuits? I’m not in a swimsuit city – I’m not in California, or Miami, or somewhere where they have a swimwear market. But I am in a city where they definitely go on vacation.

Describe your collection’s aesthetic.
It’s feminine, flirty, and girly, but still has sexiness.

Where are the swimsuits produced?
They’re produced in California by a company called Swimwear Experts.

So what is the goal? To be carried in a lot of stores, sell online or open a physical store?
I don’t want to open a physical store, because I’ve seen a lot of people do the physical stores and it’s a lot of hard work. And I’m not sure swimwear in Milwaukee would last all year long. I would love to be going really strong online and then doing well with the trade shows. But online is the focus.

You’re in production for only one swimsuit style in your collection. What about the other styles?
For the next [swimsuit] design, I can [produce it] when I have the money. Women’s Business Initiative Corporation helped fund a large part of my business when I really didn’t think that I could have a business, or get funding. Many people told me that I could not get a business loan. I went to a bank and the banker told me to marry a rich man!

‘Following Suits’ appears in the June 2015 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.
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Claire Hanan worked at the magazine as an editor from 2012-2017. She edited the Culture section and wrote stories about all sorts of topics, including the arts, fashion, politics and more. In 2016, she was a finalist for best profile writing at the City and Regional Magazine Awards for her story "In A Flash." In 2014, she won the the Milwaukee Press gold award for best public service story for editing "Handle With Care," a service package about aging in Milwaukee. Before all this, she attended the University of Missouri's School of Journalism and New York University's Summer Publishing Institute.