Cynthia Rowley Breaks Down the Best Swimwear, Growing Her Business, and Words to Live By in 2019

Cynthia Rowley
Cynthia Rowley

"Just do it!" Borrowing from one of the great slogans of our time, that's what CFDA-award winning designer Cynthia Rowley calls her 2019 motto. After my conversation with Cynthia ahead of her appearance at this year's POPSUGAR Play/Ground that emphasis on action is clear. She's a veteran designer who's making new moves, thoughtfully and intentionally, using data to drive her brand evolution.

Her latest deep dive into consumer trends led her to re-imagine her stores and her offices. She's moved into a new space in downtown Manhattan, which features a consumer-facing showroom and storefront, giving shoppers a behind-the-scenes look at the clothes and the team behind them, kind of like getting a seat at the chef's table in a gourmet kitchen. In addition, the designer is rolling out direct-to-consumer pop-ups or "nomadic retail concepts" that put the emphasis on the customer experience. Simply put, she's using technology to forge deeper IRL connections with the people who love her brand, discovering through social and e-comm just what her shoppers want and how better to serve them both online and in-store.

That's a refreshing strategy, though it's most notably Cynthia's enthusiasm for it that leaves an impression. Her goals to grow her business and to give her customer fun-loving, gorgeous clothes married with a memorable experience shopping her collection aren't mutually exclusive. Here, they go hand in hand.

Read on for our full interview ahead as Cynthia talks everything from her business strategy to the most flattering swimsuit style.

POPSUGAR: How do you think women are dressing and shopping today and how has your business strategy evolved to support those needs?

Cynthia Rowley: Ecomm [ecommerce] and social play a huge part in the way women shop today. Women are no longer constrained to the pages of glossy publications. They find inspiration in every second of everyday from what they see on social media, YouTube, their peers, and the streets. That being said, not everyone likes to shop the same way. Some women still prefer to discover and shop in the store and connect with our stylists, so we're using data from our ecomm to open new stores across the country, what we're calling our nomadic retail concept. At the end of the day inspiration is global so it's important for us to think of fashion in a global mindset through seasonless collections and international exposure.

PS: What was your motivation for taking the retail model to a more direct-to-consumer store and how have you seen that affect your customers?

CR: We wanted to tell our story directly so it was important to do retail ourselves versus relying just on wholesale partners. I'm a host at heart and love popping in all of our stores and meeting our customers. We want to create a unique shopping experience where everyone feels like they can hang out with us, have a glass of rose and relax. Our stores help us own the total customer journey and really get to know them. And the really amazing thing is that direct interaction with the customers and the ability to marry quantitative stats to real life (IRL) behaviors and feedback.

PS: As a woman, building a brand for women, what values do you hope to infuse within the business and what do you hope women are getting out of your brand experience?

CR: My main goal is to inspire women to try new things and live an active lifestyle. It's so important to maintain a sense of adventure in everything you do - whether it's starting your own business, trying out a new extreme sport, or exploring new places. Just go for it!

PS: You've been known for your surf/swimwear, what's the most flattering swimsuit style? What about the one you come back to again and again?

CR: Neoprene makes EVERYONE look and feel great so we design tons of different neoprene styles - one pieces, bikinis, and wetsuits. I basically live in a wetsuit all summer long and take one with me everywhere I travel so I guess you could say that's my favorite (shhh!). You don't have to surf to wear one — they're great for a dip in a chilly pool and can be used for sun protection because they're all SPF 50.

PS: What's your current uniform?

CR: I'm pretty low maintenance. I'm living in all of our new Tie Dye and Gingham flares and usually pair them with a t-shirt and platforms.

PS: If you had to pick one piece of clothing/product that embodies your brand right now, what would that be?

CR: We're known for our mix of pretty and sporty across our collections and function is really important to us from a design perspective. It could be a flowy, beachy dress like the Nairobi Kaftan one day and a colorblock wetsuit the next. Really anything you can throw into a carry on and hop on a plane for your next getaway.

PS: If you put your 2019 motto on a t-shirt, what would it say?

CR: Well, this is already on millions of t-shirts but . . . Just Do It!

PS: What's the best advice you've ever received?

CR: Only dream as big as you're willing to work.