On September 24, Selena Gomez posted an Instagram of herself posing in a light blue La'Mariette one-piece, showing off her kidney transplant scar. It was a breakthrough in her journey toward embracing her body and feeling "confident in who I am and what I went through." For Theresa Mingus, 31, and Morgan Brutocao, 29, the women behind the swimwear brand, it was a major breakout moment.
Over 13 million people liked Gomez's Instagram and were introduced to La'Mariette, a brand whose "message is just that...all bodies are beautiful," as Gomez captioned her post. Gomez congratulated her friend Mingus, or "T," on launching the line.
La'Mariette started as swimwear brand Krahs in 2019. Mingus, who worked as Gomez's executive assistant from 2014 to 2018, partnered with Brutocao to create the line, but in the months after its launch, Krahs wasn't what they wanted it to be. And in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, they completely changed how they did business.
"We launched a bikini brand and we weren't really happy with it," Mingus tells ELLE.com. "It wasn't me, it wasn't my dream bikini brand. We were working overseas. It was really difficult to get samples on time. Nothing ever seemed to feel right about it. We were like, we need to rebrand. We need to change the name. We need to elevate. We need to be in L.A. We need to be super hands-on. I want the sizes to be like, if I'm doing a double X, I want it to be a double X."
La'Mariette is an L.A.-based and -made swimwear brand with clear goals: every size fits perfectly, and customers shopping online can see how a suit would look on their body, not just a sample-size model's. "We wanted good quality, and we wanted the fit-me-perfect, and we wanted women to feel sexy," Mingus says.
Mingus and Brutocao talk to ELLE.com about the process of creating La'Mariette's first collection, how a trip Mingus took to Newport Beach with Gomez inspired the line's first drop, and the story behind that Gomez Instagram photo. Mingus, after all, took the picture.
Can you tell me about the sizing process you created?
Theresa: Because we go up to XX, all the patterns are fit for that size.
Morgan: It's letting every girl have their opportunity to wear something [that] looks good on them and not just on the sample size. We have to let them to play. When we were doing production last year overseas, we never had the chance to see a model trying it on because it was literally on the other side of the world.
Theresa: [Designing in Los Angeles is] our first time being able to work with a fit model and do the samples a few times, have the fit model safety-pin certain areas, and get really technical with each style. And we were able to do that and accomplish that this time. Our office is in the warehouse now. Our suits are being made right in front of us. I can walk in the back and see her cutting the bathing suit bottoms. It's so cool.
You have models of all sizes wearing the swimsuits on your site. What was that shoot like?
Morgan: That's a perfect example of how COVID affected us. People can't do those shoots right now. They're not doing these cool location shoots. We're lucky enough to have a studio inside of our warehouse, so let's get really hands-on and do everything very organically.
We let the girls come in and it was very laidback in a sense where we didn't really tell each girl what to do. We just said, whatever your personality is, work it. If you want to put your hands on your hips, if you want to be more still in the photo, just whatever you're comfortable with, shine through, because that's going to translate onto our website.
Theresa: We wanted super real. No Photoshop. Nothing.
Tell me about the inspiration for your first drop, The Day Trip. I think it was from when Theresa went to Newport with Selena, right?
Theresa: We [Selena and I] were vintage shopping and we found all these cool suits. She was like, "You need to do a suit like this or a pattern like this." And then we had a really good day on a boat. It was super fun, but that had always been at the back of my mind. I didn't want to do it [then]; the timing wasn't right. I knew it would just be so good if we did it the right way.
Morgan: And that's how we chose these colors for this launch, once we knew that was the pattern. And we added from there: This light blue color works into the color scheme, all that.
What was it like seeing Selena's post go up on Instagram and seeing your friend feel so empowered wearing your design?
Theresa: Oh, it felt so good. It's funny because I actually took the picture. She knew exactly what she wanted to do. And that was the first picture that I took of her. I took 10, and that was the very first one. She was like, "that's it."
She was like, "I want to talk about my scar. I want it to be natural. I want it to be organic." And that was the suit she wanted to wear. We were on set for her all day, and then she whispered to me, "Hey, I think after this, we should go home and do a little photo shoot." And I was like, "okay, fine with me." She's just so supportive.
Morgan: And obviously she knows she had the huge platform, and she's going to try to support her friends in any way that can. The feedback we received from women and our DMs—not so much the comments, it's really hard to keep up with all the comments—but we'll specifically get girls from all over the world DM us a selfie or something, [with] this paragraph and this story about how, "Oh my gosh, I saw this photo Selena posted and you know, I actually have had this happen to me" or "I was in a car accident and had a huge scar on my eye. I'm so empowered by this. And I feel like a woman and this messaging is awesome. Thank you." It's really cool to see these girls coming together in that way. It's really supportive to me and Theresa and keeps us loving what we're doing. Guys will be DMing us and say, thank you for doing this for women.
This swimsuit is called the Selena. Did she play any role in designing it?
Theresa: From our old brand, it was her idea to launch a collab with me initially when I started. And at first I was like, "No, I don't want to do that," but then I was like, "Oh wait, yes, I do, that would be really stupid. You obviously are trying to help me right now." And so she actually designed the one piece from the first collection. But it fit kind of weird, and so we wanted to continue to have that style, but we really nailed it in with the fit model. I made a lot of fit changes to it. And that's ultimately too why she wanted to take a picture of that to say, "I had a part in this suit, too."
What has it been like working during COVID?
Theresa: Argh, complete torture. But also that really set our minds to like, all right, we need to make this change. We need to be more sustainable. [Our first brand's production] started in China, so we couldn't even get our samples. Everything was completely held up so we were like, let's bite the bullet and make this change. And luckily we got to go into the office because no one's there. It's just us. And we got to just figure it out. But it's hard.
What's next for the brand?
Morgan: We're not just going to do swimwear. It's going to be more than that. We don't really know where we're going yet, but that's the fun part. We're predicting that this brand is going to be recognized, known, and popular for our unique, cool, stand-up patterns that can look literally good on anyone.
How has working on this brand and making a swimsuit line that's so size-inclusive changed the way you see yourself?
Theresa: It's hard because even for me and Morgan both, it's a struggle. We're women; we fluctuate in weight all the time. When I launched the first brand, I was probably 15 pounds smaller and now I'm not. And it is what it is, but obviously it's hard being a woman. I just accept that I fluctuate, and it is what it is, and I am who I am, and that's why I wanted to do bathing suits for everyone. Because we can relate.
Morgan: I was a different person before I met Theresa. She made me start feeling myself and not be so harsh on myself. It's been therapeutic for me in a way as well, just working on the brand. Like you start to see yourself differently in a better light because that's what we're trying to do for others, too.
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