An Atlanta store specializes in making bikinis bearable, and Byron Lars gets ready to jump into the swimwear game.
Byline: ANITA J. FINKELSTEIN / ANNE D'INNOCENZIO
ATLANTA -- Linda McDougal doesn't believe in one-piece suits.
"I think almost everyone looks better in a bikini if it's made to fit their body," said McDougal, who owns two custom bikini shops called Barely Visible.
She opened her first shop eight years ago in Riverdale, an Atlanta suburb, after many frustrating attempts to find a bikini that fit. Her second location opened a year and a half ago in Smyrna, another suburb. "No one else in Atlanta does this," she said. "We get customers from all over. We've even shipped a suit to Alaska before."
Each of the two stores keeps 400 to 500 bikinis the firm has in stock at all times. Customers can buy these suits, retailing from $54 to $69, directly from the rack. However, the customer can also select a style and have it custom-fitted, for an extra charge of $10. "We don't alter suits to fit, we just make another one."
Customers can also bring in their own fabric and have suits made up according to styles in the shop. However, the cost is the same as if the store used its own fabric. Customers can have suits made from their own designs, or done as copies of their favorite bras and panties. This service, too, is in the same price range.
McDougal noted, "We name all our suits and many are just named after the customer who designed them."
The stores thrive on repeat business and keep every customer's personal pattern on file.
"If someone doesn't come in one season, it's usually because she's pregnant," she laughed.
The stores do the bulk of their business between February and July, staying open seven days a week; after July 4, they close on Sundays. Last year's retail sales topped $350,000.
The stores -- averaging 1,500 square feet, including production space -- also carry some coverups and sportswear from lines like Ete LA, HaHa, Ritchie, Miss California and New Wave by Toledo.
McDougal said the majority of customers are women who either have very large breasts or who have no bustline at all. She gets a lot of dancers and models, along with people who are just looking for something different.
"I never buy more than 30 yards of any fabric and when it's gone, it's gone. We don't want too many people going around wearing the same suit," she said.
McDougal and her daughter, Tonya Dossett, run the Smyrna store, and McDougal's sister, Wanda Stewart, manages the Riverdale shop. Six seamstresses sew all the suits. McDougal is considering opening a third shop in Gwinett, another Atlanta suburb, next year.
She said currently the Brazil bottom is the most popular style and stars-and-stripes fabric is still hot from last season. She also said a large floral print on a black background was doing particularly well.
She said there's definitely a need for custom swiwmear shops.
"Our customers get so dedicated that they'll request the same seamstress year after year," she said.