This article was written by Tegan O’Donnell, a senior in the journalism class at U-32. This piece was written about Josuna Kinsey, a bikini business owner from Hawaii, moving to Vermont and who now attends U-32.
In Hawaiian, Hokua means the crest of a wave. Hokua Swim is the name of Josuna Kinsey’s small bikini business, inspired by the Hawaiian word. Josuna is a new sophomore at U-32. She left the waves of Hawaii to live in the mountains of Vermont and brought her small business with her.
Josuna was driven to make her own bathing suits because high-quality bikinis were expensive in Hawaii, and the inexpensive bikinis were of poor quality. “It’s like $60 – $90 for like one top,” she explained. “I also had a lot of ideas for designing new swimwear. So I decided I wanted to make my own.”
The first stop in Josuna’s bikini-making journey was Goodwill, to buy oversized swimsuits. She cut and re-designed them, and started making new swimsuits. Josuna sells swimwear made with eco-friendly materials.
“Everything I do for my business I taught myself how to do, including sewing,” Josuna said. “I researched online and practiced a lot.”
“They were horrible at first, but I eventually got really good at making swimsuits,” Josuna said. She started making swimwear for her friends. “I realized it was a lot of work to make a swimsuit, so I started charging money for it, and it kind of just developed into a small business.”
According to Josuna’s mother, Suzanna, Josuna has always been an artist: “The floor of our recreation room (which we call the Moon Lodge) is permanently decorated by artwork from her early childhood,” she said.
Aside from sewing, Josuna also dances and sings. When she was 10 years old, she scored a lead role in the musical Into the Woods, Jr.
Suzanna remembers the young Josuna “as an entrepreneur, she has always been purpose-driven,” she said. “[She] has a go-getter attitude.”
Josuna faces challenges running her Hawaiian business from Vermont: the distance between her and her employees and the cold temperature making it difficult to test swimwear.
Josuna runs her business on social media, selling her bikinis through an Instagram account called @hokuaswim.
When a customer expresses interest in purchasing a bathing suit through @hokuaswim’s DM’s, Josuna immediately starts preparing the order in her mind.
“I only start making it after they pay me,” Josuna said. “But by the time they place their order and pay me, I’ve already kind of known what they wanted to get.”
Orders usually take 2-3 weeks to be completed. “If I make a mistake, or if it’s not perfect, I will remake it over and over and over again until it’s perfect,” Josuna said. Then she packages it and ships it to the customer, or she’ll meet up with the customer if they’re local.
A setback Josuna has encountered multiple times is messing up with her sewing, adding hours to the process. Josuna gave the example: “my seam would come out scrunched, and in an attempt to save materials, I had to slowly seam, rip it and sew it again.”
Josuna cut down on advertising when she left Hawaii because she became the sole seamstress. “I didn’t want to be getting as many orders,” she said. “I didn’t want to be sewing too much as it takes a lot of my time.” Josuna hopes to hire someone who enjoys sewing soon.
Josuna doesn’t consider her photographers and models employees. They started out as her friends, and they model for free and get discounted bikinis. “I pay my models in swimsuits, and also I have brand ambassadors,” Josuna noted. “I don’t give them money, but they get a commission, so I guess they kind of work for me too.”
Another challenge for Josuna, as a business owner, is being apart from her models and photographers. Josuna now has to work with them from across the country. “It feels so weird because I’m here,” she said. “Usually I go to the photoshoots, you know?”
Josuna’s hope for her business is to start manufacturing because hand sewing by herself is difficult. One priority for her business is to be cautious of the impact it could have on the environment. “I would do it ethically, eco-friendly,” she said.
A big difference for Josuna is in Vermont, no one knows that she was a business owner. “I’m really used to everyone just knowing that I am the one with the bikini business,” Josuna revealed. “It was really weird coming here, to be like, ‘oh yeah, my business.’”