Where have you been if you’ve never seen one of Leila Shams’s viral sculpting swimwear on TikTok? A plethora of celebrities and influencers have posted about their body transformations online. This is all thanks to this viral social media sensation’s TA3 SWIM swimwear which she started 14 months ago. Now, Leila is experiencing her fair share of growing pains as an entrepreneur. Join your hosts Breanna & Karen as they talk to Leila about her entrepreneurial journey. Learn how she started on Instagram and only blew up in TikTok. Learn why you don’t need the best production to go viral. Learn all about the pros and cons of social media. And discover the challenges of being an entrepreneur especially in today’s environment.
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Learn How Social Media And Being Viral Can Help Bring Awareness To Your Brand With Leila Shams
Leila Shams Is The Founder Behind TA3SWIM, The Innovative Viral TikTok Fashion Brand That Combines Swimwear With Shapewear
We have a special episode and guest. We have Leila Shams from TA3 SWIM. She is the founder. I got to meet her via social media because I tried her infamous TikTok trending swimwear, which is amazing. It snatches in your waist. You have probably heard about it from your favorite influencers. We’re honored to have you on.
Thanks for coming. It’s our first in-person interview.
I’ll take an in-person any day.
In Zoom, there’s always a lag. There’s something that doesn’t always translate.
We’re excited. We started our show during the pandemic. Everything’s been social distanced. You got back from Hawaii. How was it?
Solve a problem; stop chasing trends.
It was good. It’s hard to shut off and relax. It’s always overshadowed by, “What’s going on at work?” It’s a beautiful place. It’s great. My husband and daughter had a lot of fun.
What island did you go to?
Maui. I’m from the East Coast. I moved here from LA. Going to Hawaii was always the craziest concept. Everybody goes to Hawaii. I’m like, “I can’t believe I went.”
It’s a bucket list.
Thank you for joining us. I’m getting right into it. Can you tell us about your background before you started TA3?
I have been a fashion designer forever. I went to Parsons School of Design in New York. I didn’t graduate. I failed many times. I was a horrible student. I started working in New York for big brands. I was at TKMY, Express, the mall star, Tommy Hilfiger and BB. If you remember BB, there are still elements around it. While I was doing that, I started my own line, which was the Leila Shams collection. That was more high-end and embellished dresses like wash leather jackets, contemporary higher price point line. That did well with celebrity stylists. I was in the best stores. Kim Kardashian wore it, Kendall Jenner and tons of celebrities but it was never a commercial success.
At the same time, I was always working full-time for big corporations. I love being my own boss. I love the creative part of having my own line but I always love the corporate thing, too. I liked making a lot of money. I like dealing with numbers. I like being focused on sales. Especially when I worked for Express, it was a $2 million company at the time. That was what their volume was. I don’t know what it is now. You would design something and you would sell millions of them. I love that. I always like doing both.
I was too creative in my own line. It ended up being too expensive and I never made money on it. I ended up closing that. I got sick of doing the corporate thing as well. Corporate fashion is a specific world. Years ago, it was all department stores. All the brands I worked for were in department stores. You had your mall stores. Once everything went online, all those companies closed or went out of business or they all started selling to Marshalls, Ross and TJ Maxx. The thing that I had always done crumbled. I ended up leaving. I moved to LA and I started consulting and then I started the swim brand, which was something I had always wanted to do. I consulted with people and teaching them how to start their own brands. I started TA3 and I launched it.
I read in an interview that you got burnt out at one point churning out many collections.
You would not believe in the normal fashion design world especially before we were all direct-to-consumer, how much stuff you would develop. I was doing my own line and I was working for corporations. We’re talking about thousands of styles a year. It’s crazy. You go to any fashion office and it’s piles and piles of crap. Now I don’t have it anymore, which I love. I have three styles. I do three colors, tops and I sell out of it. I’m not pumping out stuff and hoping to hit the trend. This is something I want you to have for years. This is something that solves a problem. It’s not chasing trends.
What gave you the idea to start TA3?
I was always self-conscious about my stomach. I’ve talked to so many women about their bodies and everyone has their hang-ups and mine was always my stomach. I have an apple-shaped body. Even when I’m at my thinnest, I always have a belly. Back in the day, people didn’t wear one-pieces. It was bikinis. That was always my big pain point. You can cover it up in clothes especially if you have a pretty small stomach. In a bathing suit, you’re all out there. I got obsessed with shapewear and finding shapewear that worked. Eventually, I landed on surgical compression shapewear. If you have ever tried it, there are a lot of TikTok videos with them.
I’ve tried it.
Try to stay positive amid all the online negativity.
To wear it for a full day is hard. They have a hook and eye and zippers. It’s a power mesh fabric, which is not a stretchy fabric. It sculpts you in a different way than Spanx or SKIMS. That doesn’t have a shape. It’s not going to do that. It’s going to smooth you but the structure of these gave you that shape and that’s always what I wanted. I wanted to smooth out my stomach and I wanted more of a waist. I based the construction on those.
The lacing thing came much later and that’s the thing that people have connected with. My original style had a zipper. The idea is, to pull it over your hips, you have to open it. If you’re going to pull it over your hips, it’s never going to do that much for your midsection. To be able to open it, you pull it over your hips and then close it. That’s going to give you that hourglass shape. A zipper and lacing do it but people connected with this lacing. The thing that works about the lacing is it’s adjustable. If you have someone who’s curvy with a small waist or you have someone thin, they can both fit into it. With a zipper, it’s a harder fit.
That was a three-year process, a prototype.
It’s to find something that works. The thing is I was always trying it on myself. I was using different fit models. The main thing I kept trying on is myself. Once I got it to fit myself then it was like, “Now I have to get it to fit everybody.” First of all, I’m short. I’m 5’1”. My first ones were way too short. I ended up making the short length and then I added the regular long length. Most people have a regular length and a long length. I did realize my sales were too short for a lot of people but a lot of people were like, “This is the first suit I’ve ever had that worked for me because they’re short.” The average American woman is 5’4”. Most women are short. I sell almost as many short ones as I do with the longer length. It took a long time to get the fit right. As you know, you’ve tried it. If you haven’t tried it, I’ll send you one.
I have not yet.
They’re not that stretchy. The fit is important.
First of all, you’re amazing at customer service. I had tried on a size large in all my stories. Leila came right on and she was like, “You need a medium. We need to fix this. This is not a look.”
It’s much more common that people get too big a size and too small size. I have a fit quiz on my site. The fit quiz is basing it off on what size you say you normally wear. I have larges in my closet and I have extra smalls. To base it on that doesn’t work. I’m developing an app where it takes your photo and it gets your measurements, which I don’t know if people are going to want to take their photo. Even if they might be like, “I need to do it.” You have to put on tight-fitting clothing. That’s what I keep talking to the developers about. I’m like, “We’re all sitting around. No one’s wearing tight-fitting clothing.” You have to change into tight-fitting clothing or underwear, which no one is going to want to take a photo in bra and underwear. I don’t see the photo. The photo gets turned into a 3D image. I’ll never see your face.
It is cool. We’ve been doing it for a long time. Customers who it fits them perfectly, I’ve been getting their measurements. We’re working out the recommendation. Hopefully, I’ll get way better at it. A lot of people when they return will leave a review and they’ll be like, “The butt was baggy.” I’m like, “If the butt was baggy, it was too big or too long.” Not only is returns problematic for a million reasons. Financially it’s problematic. The suits get pretty messed up when someone tries them on so a lot of times so I can’t resell them. Also, it’s like, “I know that you bought this because you had this hope that it was going to do something amazing for your body.” You could have exchanged it for a better size. I love when people post. I love the opportunity to put someone in the right size. I need to get better at telling people to send us a photo. If you don’t like it, we’ll figure out your better size.
You’re amazing at it. To able to see it and be like, “This is what you need.”
You also tapped into your audience, too. You’re like, “I know this isn’t the right size. Let me fix this.”
The problem is it’s not super scalable. My customer service person is always like, “She always worked through that stuff.” I’ve been affectionate for over years. I’ve been doing fittings for that long. It takes a while to figure it out but she’s getting it now. “If the butt is baggy then it’s too long. If it’s closed up too tight, it’s too big.”
What was the first video that went viral for your swimsuit?
Her name is Yasmeen Garcia. I can’t remember if she bought it or I sent her a suit. I wasn’t even on TikTok yet. TikTok wasn’t even that much on my radar yet. Some young girls were doing dances. I’m like, “I’m never doing that.” She posted it. Right away, it went to about a million views and I sold out. That was in the depths of quarantine. I was like, “What is this?” At the time, for me to get twenty likes on Instagram was impossible. To get a million views and to sell out, my mind was blown.
At that point, I started reaching out to people on TikTok. I was sold out. That’s been a huge issue for me. I’ve been sold out since launch. When you’re financing it yourself, you don’t have the money. When you do have the money, it’s scary to buy especially with COVID and everything. I sold out then but I still didn’t have that much money to buy inventory. I got an EIDL loan for $100,000 and I put all of that into inventory.
I then got more inventory and I had another video go viral and I sold out again. It’s like, “Now I have a shit ton of inventory.” It’s like, “I finally got the white suits back in.” It’s like, “We’re shutting down again for COVID.” The inventory game is a fucking nightmare especially with influencers. It’s easy to plan how much you need when you’re running ads. You know how your ads are going to turn.
I had a couple more. The second one went to four million views. That was a customer, Ashley. She is @Ashleysn1derland. It’s her thing. I didn’t pay her. She was a customer and it went crazy. Her body looks great. She was enthusiastic. That sold out again right away. I had another one, her name is @PCOSSupportGirl on Instagram. She has a lot of bloating which I get a lot of customers that have PCOS.
I have PCOS.
Hers did well, too. I was sold out of a lot of it when hers started going well. That went to about a million. Mikayla went to ten million. I did sell out the short length. What happens is you sell out of the size of the person showing too. That’s another real inventory nightmare because you can’t predict it.
You don’t know who’s going to post or when they’re going to post.
Also, what size they’re going to be wearing.
Prior to Yasmeen posting that video, was influencer marketing ever part of your strategy?
No. I had people post on Instagram and I didn’t get anything from it. I am not a big Instagram person. I never connected with it. I was never the selfie type. I personally connect with TikTok more. I feel like it’s more me. Instagram was also phony. I’m trying to sell shapewear. I have had a lot of people post on Instagram, paid and not paid. I do get bumps from it. You get addicted to that TikTok bump. I also lower the vibe of TikTok. I relate to it more.
It’s your community. I have friends too who prefer TikTok. I was scared of TikTok because I didn’t know about it. I was like, “People are going to be mean because it’s going to go viral. They’re going to talk about whatever.” I don’t hear it.
They are mean. I opened the door for hate and hate walked right in. I’ve done a couple of things. I get a lot of hate in general on ads. My first ad was Summersalt, which is the one-shoulder color black swimsuit. To me, it’s a horrible look for anyone that doesn’t have a nice shape already. Also, it’s colorful. It’s not my vibe. It doesn’t have bust support. I did a spin in the Summersalt suit and a spin in my suit. That was my first ad and that did well. That’s how I sold all the first suits in the beginning.
People love that brand. It’s a female-run brand. Their branding is great. They use a variety of models. They’re inclusive. They use recycled fabric. It’s not nice to shit on them. I got a lot of slack for that. A lot of women had tried the suit and they were like, “I look like a beach ball in that suit. I get it.” It’s something that I struggle with day-to-day. Before and after work but you are shitting on the old brand. That did well for me but I always had a gross feeling about it.
I did a video on TikTok where I compared my suit to SKIMS. People love SKIMS. It’s an inclusive brand. They’re heavily funded like Summersalt and that’s what I feel. I would never do it to any of the small businesses even medium-sized businesses. They’re a $1 billion business. It’s not like Kim Kardashian is sitting there sewing. I was wearing a SKIMS bodysuit and my belly was huge. It does nothing for me.
They don’t even make swimsuits although they’re going to. I showed them my swimsuit. I was like, “If you love looking pregnant, SKIMS is for you.” People went bananas. They were so mean. Honestly, I didn’t mind it. It was funny because, on TikTok, they’re more creative about their meanness. People are like, “Sit down, grandma. You should be ashamed of yourself.” That made me laugh. A lot of it made me laugh.
I want my brand to be about shaping. I get the, “It’s not body positive.” To me, it is. I want to try to stay as positive as I can. I don’t want to be a negative or nasty brand but it sucks because that was my most viewed video. I made a lot of sales from that. It’s the same with the ads. I want to be funny and I want to be different but it also pisses off a lot of people. I’m a people pleaser. I’m an insecure person. I would have never made this if I wasn’t insecure. The hate does affect me. When you hear other people talk about hate, you’re like, “Get over it.” It’s easy when you’re hearing someone else talk about it and you’re like, “There’s always going to be haters on social media.”
How do you prepare for it?
You can’t. I’m the one who manages the stuff on my ads. I started running ads on Facebook. They’ll fall on me like, “Your business is horrible. This ad is horrible. You have no idea what you’re doing.”
Everybody knows that. Everybody talks about it. You don’t realize it until it happens. It’s not even me personally, it’s my business but it feels personal.
How do you deal with all the negativity?
My ad guy started working with an ad guy. I had one ad. I run it carefully. I responded to every single comment. If it’s something nasty, I hide it. I’m like, “This is my little baby.” I hired this guy. Men are driven to begin with. He puts them on Facebook. I only put them on Instagram because it’s easy to monitor and people are nicer. I was not prepared. He’s like, “You need to have someone else deal with the comments. You can’t be doing this.”
First of all, I like connecting with people. I love reaching out to your messages. If I hadn’t reached out to you, we wouldn’t be here. I love having that connection with people. When you think about scaling, is Kim Kardashian going, “I’m sorry. It looks like you need a bigger size.” That’s why she’s a billion-dollar company and I’m not. It’s such a mix. You want to connect with your customers and you want to create something that does connect with people. I want to know if something is offending people. How do you scale?
People don’t expect the founder themselves to reach out to them. They might be putting these negative comments into the universe and thinking, “No one’s going to ever read this.” I was shocked. I was like, “What? Do you want to be on our show?”
Everyone has the potential to go viral; it’s not about how many followers you have.
I’m like, “I want to be on your show.” How do you do that stuff? I should be reaching out to you. I don’t necessarily need to be talking to every single Karen on Facebook.
Do you have someone doing your social or are you writing all of it by yourself?
I do it. I’m not even that good at it. I had someone start doing it and I’m like, “I would never use that caption,” even though she was good. She’s amazing. I’m like, “I want to do it.” I’ll post every three days. It would be one thing if I was amazing at it. It’s like, “Go.” I suck at it. That’s what I’m working on. I need to focus on bigger picture things.
You’re doing so much else. You’re doing many other things and wearing many different hats.
The thing is it’s what you get in your hand. I know this happens to a lot of people. The success that I’ve had since I’ve launched is astronomical. When I tell people my numbers, my customer acquisition costs and all that stuff and a lot of it has to do with being viral but people are blown away. I’m scared to step away because I feel like I got it to that point. That was almost all me. It’s like, “You got it.” I’m starting to experience that now. Yes, I got it to this point but it’s not going that much further until I step away and start being a more big picture.
That’s growing pains.
People are like, “Guess what, it’s super easy to get that first burst. To keep it going is the real challenge.”
How big is your staff? How would you also describe your managerial style?
My staff is tiny. I always manage fairly large teams in my corporate life but I was spending my own money to hire them. I have a customer service person and she’s amazing. I don’t have anyone’s salary though. I’m the only salary person. I have a fractional CFO. He worked on other brands and he works on mine. Those are the only two people that are focused on my brand full-time. I did have a PR company, although I quit with them. It seems like nothing, surely. I have an ad guy. He has a team. I have a logistics person and a production person but they both do other things. Only two people are focused on my brand.
Do you have a headquarters?
Yes, in Hollywood. It’s an amazing office. You should come by one day. It’s in Second Home Hollywood. The offices are like these pods and they’re in a jungle. They planted this whole jungle. Honestly, Hollywood is the armpit of Los Angeles. It’s ugly and shitty then you have these amazing little gems.
It’s like walking into a set.
It’s amazing and very inspiring.
A lot of brands and business owners will spend their entire careers trying to go viral. Is there something that you can offer to a business owner who’s wanting to go viral? Something that they can prepare for that maybe you were not prepared for?
The thing that makes my suit work is that it’s demonstratable. When you think about it, how else could a swimsuit go viral? Has a swimsuit ever gone viral before?
Not that I know of.
Either it’s a good before and after transformation.
Instagrammable is what we call it.
I got obsessed with the whole idea of Kickstarter design. Kickstarter is downtrending. It’s very much a demonstrable product. It does something. I would encourage anyone that’s launching a brand to think about what problem you’re solving and to create something that does something. Back in the day, it was all about branding. People still do launch those brands every day. Most things are like that but that takes a shit ton of money.
If you’re going to make something and you’re going to create a brand, you’re going to have to do these epic photoshoots. You’re going to have to spend tons of money on ads. You’re going to have to get celebrities to wear it. You’re going to have to do all this shit that costs a lot of money. Your designs are going to have to be fucking phenomenal that people are like, “I have to have it.” I played in that game for a long time. It’s hard to do it.
It’s first to market.
If you make something that solves a problem that isn’t being solved by anybody, it’s a hell of a lot easier. If you make a swimsuit that’s a gold, strappy, color block or whatever. Lots of people are coming into the space. It’s going to be a lot harder for me next summer. I was the first. There are shaping swimsuits but no one had the demonstrable thing that I had.
It’s genius. Is there anything on the backend that they can do? Maybe have a plan B with their distributor or their manufacturer to say, “If we have something go down, can you have X amount ready or something like that?” Would that make sense? Is that hard to plan around?
In fashion, you can hold the fabric and I’m still working on that. The planning for virality is probably harder than going viral. They’re both difficult. In fashion, try to hold the fabric and see if you can buy fabric and have it sitting there. I would say don’t do that until something does hit and you might get it again. Also, in TikTok, there are people who can go viral. I’m open to talking to anyone who’s on TikTok because you can have 1,000 followers but if you’re good at making videos, you have the potential to go viral.
I encourage people that if you get an amazing review from somebody, reach out to them and say, “Are you on TikTok?” Until that whole thing blows up, try to foster those relationships and try to find people who make great videos who maybe aren’t going to charge you or are going to charge you little and work with them. Even if it’s not an invention or a demonstrable thing, if you have someone who makes a cool, cute, funny video, it could still go viral. It could still get a lot of views.
You know the fashionable ones where the girl is walking and then the outfit is changing or stuff like that. It’s compelling versus the girl on Instagram taking a photo. That’s what I would do while TikTok is still hot. After you’ve been doing this for a while, you realize nothing is forever. While TikTok is the moment, try whatever you can to get those people that can make good videos. It’s not about their following necessarily. I made a shit ton more sales from a customer than I did from Mikayla, who got ten million views.
It’s wild. It translates.
It’s never before on social media. Maybe the dawn of Instagram but not even. She’s a customer who’s super enthusiastic who makes some great videos and she made good videos. She was creative about the way she did it. Lots of people were knocked off the way she did her video. That worked better for me. There are a lot of opportunities.
You said before in an interview too, like, “Launch the product. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Use customer feedback as a way to tweak as you evolve.”
I wish I’d launched a year earlier. I would have missed COVID. Although COVID hasn’t been bad for me because people have put on weight. There are more people wanting to wear one-pieces. I was obsessed with it for so long. I had gotten it similar to the point I launched that at a year before. I don’t think you should launch crap especially in fashion but I’m sure this is true with anything. Even though I had fit on twenty different people, twenty people don’t compare to 2,000. You’re going to get different feedback when you start pushing it out to a lot of different people.
For me, the people that I know all tend to have similar bodies. When you launch it to everybody then you’ll get all different types. They call it in tech Minimum Viable Product, MVP. That’s what they do in tech all the time. You try apps and you’re like, “What the fuck? How did this even launch?” I think about Alexa all the time especially when Alexa launched. She couldn’t do shit.
She was speaking when she wasn’t supposed to speak. I’m like, “What is happening?”
That’s why tech companies make so much money. My husband has been in that space for a long time. They’re dudes. They don’t get obsessed. They’re not trying to be perfect all the time. For me, perfectionism is something that I struggle with. It’s like, “Stop trying to be perfect. Get it out there. If some people hate it, deal with it, improve it and make it better.” That’s me. Many of us are like that. We’re trying to be perfect. I struggle with that on TikTok too. I should be making videos every day but I’m like, “My hair looks like shit.” The people that do well on that don’t give a fuck.
It’s so much pressure. People love the relatable at the moment, “There’s not a lot of makeup and not a lot of production.” They love that content. That’s what’s translating. It’s like, “Is there a filter?”
Everyone needs to loosen up. You realize the really successful people are not like that.
They’re not afraid of what people have to say.
It’s all about fear and that’s what I struggle with and that’s what I’m working on mentally. It’s like, “What are you so afraid of? Let it go.”
What are some misconceptions about your brand? What do you want people to know about it?
I don’t like when people challenge women especially in the ads, who are into fitness a lot or women who are thin and their photos are in bikinis. Whenever someone leaves a nasty remark, I always do look on their page and it’s common. It’s these girls that are young who seem naturally thin and is fit and they’re saying, “You should love yourself the way you are.”
It’s always those people, “It’s easy for you to say.”
That’s pretty fucked up, even if it is someone who maybe does struggle. We all struggle whether or not we look amazing to other people. We all have our issues. We all grew up in this society. We live in a society that is focused on appearances. “Sorry, I didn’t fucking write the rules.” I grew up in them. We all grew up in them and we all live in them. We all wear makeup. We wear high heels when we go out. We do our hair. That’s the fucking world we live in. Don’t come at me for selling shaping swimwear that makes women feel so much better about themselves.
It empowers women.
Someone on my ad was like, “I want to live in a better world than women feeling empowered by shape or whatever.” It’s like, “Great. Wonderful for you.” Don’t judge other people because it’s something that makes us feel better. One woman went in the comments and she was like, “All these thin women are all upset because we found something we like.” It isn’t about that. I don’t mean to make it about thin versus fat. Don’t judge my product or don’t judge my company when I’m making women feel confident in a society that is too focused on looks.
Be the biggest fan of your product.
They also haven’t tried the product either. That’s what’s frustrating too.
When I first ran my ad, Mindy Kaling commented on it. She was like, “I need that suit.” That got a bunch of likes. That was the one where I was comparing it with the Summersalt suit. This woman writes a review on Facebook. I didn’t run the ad on Facebook. She’s like, “The FTC should crack down on this brand.” Apparently, I paid Mindy Kaling to comment on my ad. That’s a violation. She’s like, “I hope Summersalt sues her. One star.” Luckily, people have left more positive comments. It’s a four-star rating because that woman went out of her way to make false accusations.
She’s not even a verified customer either. How the heck did she even do a review? That is frustrating.
I’m all about reviews. When I google something and it’s three stars, I’m like, “I’m not buying that.” Because of this woman, I’m like, “Do you think I have the money to pay Mindy Kaling to comment on my ad?”
That’s a stretch on one ad too. That’s bitter.
She commented on another ad. I can only imagine how much stuff she gets. She’s like, “I need this suit.”
Negativity comes from a place of jealousy and insecurity.
People have too much time on their hands. A lot of people aren’t working. From the volume and the fact that people go back and forth all day, I’m like, “If you’re working, you’re not doing a lot at your work. You can spend so much time but whatever, I get it. It’s entertaining.” My favorite part of TikTok is the comments. Have you read the comments?
I don’t. I won’t read my comments.
Your own comments are traumatic. If you see a video that’s viral, you’re like, “Why does this have ten million views?” Normally, it’s because the comments are hilarious.
They’re wild. It can be addicting, 100%.
I’m addicted to TikTok. I love it. Not only is it entertaining but it’s been amazing for my business. I have a special place in my heart for TikTok.
How do you find the influencers to work with because there is so much attention based on your company and the swimsuit? I feel like everyone’s purchasing it anyway. How do you go out and find influencers? You’re like, “This person would be great for the brand.”
I’m changing my strategy. It’s hard. I thought I knew what would work. I like people that are funny. At first, I was contacting people who were funny and that did work well for me. I had another one that went viral. Her name is Lydia Sims and she had two men. It’s the beginning of most of the videos. Even Mikayla used it.
She was an older woman, right? Is Lydia from Australia?
No. At the beginning of most of the videos, there’s a guy pulling one string and a guy pulling the other string. It’s like, “No one wants a waist over eight inches.” It’s a song. They then pull the ties. It’s funny. She goes, “Let me go.” She falls over. At first, I was like, “Shit.” I tried to be like, “It’s not a corset.” It’s a song about corsets. They’re strangling her. It was funny and it worked. Everyone started stitching with that video. She was someone that we sought out because she was funny.
I reached out to a lot of funny people. Funny people on TikTok are getting expensive. Even if someone’s funny or entertaining, if they’re too thin, it doesn’t demonstrate the suit. People like to see a little before and after. It’s like, “We’re looking for someone who would be a little bit more demonstrable but makes good videos.” It’s a crapshoot. I’ve had a lot of influencers post and a couple took off to maybe 50,000 views and some are 300. Somebody got ten. You’ll never know.
When I see the video, I can tell if it’s going to do well or not. There are a couple of other things and I’ve been encouraging the people that we’re working with now to keep it short, make it entertaining, demonstrate it whether it’s a before and after or pulling the ties. TikTok is looking at what percentage of their video that people are watching. If they’re only watching the first half, three seconds or whatever, they’re not going to keep showing it to people. If you’re watching to the end, they’ll keep showing it to people. I’m looking for people who make quick and short videos that make entertaining videos that aren’t crazy skinny. That’s what I’m looking for.
Who are some of those dream influencers you want to work with?
I’d love to get Remi Bader. She goes, “Another realistic H&M haul.”
Is she in LA?
She’s in New York. You have seen her. She’s on Instagram too. You have to understand too, on TikTok, your feed is tailored to you. You might think this person is the biggest celebrity ever. She has tons of followers. She’s an XL. She tries on stuff especially like Zara. It’ll be some weird Zara photo. She wears the actual outfit and does the thing. She knows a lot of free people. Sometimes the stuff she fits is stupid. She gets tons of views. I’d love to get her. We were in talks with her in the beginning but then she’s gotten crazy expensive.
Do influencers mostly reach out to you?
It’s half and half. The Instagram people reach out to me, DMs. In TikTok, we reach out to them. It’s both. I had someone who was managing my influencer things. I love her but the season is ending so I got to cut my expenses a little bit. That’s the only reason why.
A lot of change is happening for you.
I feel like every week there’s some big crazy change going on.
We want to know your thoughts on fast fashion, people buying something that they’re probably going to wear maybe once or twice, these viral Instagram companies. How bad is it not only for our planet but the fashion industry in general?
People ask me, “Are your products sustainable?” They’re not made from recycled fabrics. I tried that. You couldn’t get the same compression. I’ve been wearing mine for over three years. Buy one suit and wear it if you don’t feel like you need this whole wardrobe of swimsuits. That’s what I feel like everything should be. Buy these classic things and not buy a ton of clothes.
The fashion industry employs more people than any other industry in the world. I have a lot of conflicting feelings about this. Yes, the environmental damage is huge but it’s also creating jobs for so many people. This is not a popular opinion. I know that something needs to change and it needs to be fixed. I’m always like, “Can Elon Musk figure this out? Can someone take all the clothes and shoot them off to space? It’s wasteful.”
Also, when you go to these third-world countries, you go to these places where all these clothes are manufactured. I’ve always worked in big corporations. They were not sweatshops. We used to laugh like, “This office is much nicer.” When you’re working in a big corporation, they’re checking, at least they should be, the good companies. It needs to have a certain amount of light. It needs to be at a certain temperature. It needs to be all these things. There are nicer factories than there are good jobs in a lot of places. What are those jobs going to be replaced by if we lose fast fashion, which is making shit tons of clothes?
By the way, it’s all fast fashion. Do you think that something at Ross or TJ Maxx fell off a truck? No. That stuff is made for those stores. At the end of my career, we were only designing for those companies. They’re not overstock or anything like that. I don’t see TJ Maxx and SHEIN being that different. They’re not. They’re churning out shit and people are buying it. My mom is a hoarder and a shopaholic. When I look at those tags, they’re all fucking TJ Maxx. People are buying as much of that shit as they’re buying anything else. Not that anyone is saying TJ Maxx is sustainable.
I feel attacked. It’s okay. I’ll deal with it.
It’s like SHEIN in person. I have a friend who is a fashion designer and she’s working directly with SHEIN. They’ve developed and put out her line. They’re working with her on all these other amazing opportunities. They develop small fashion designers. That’s amazing. They’re fucking destroying the planet but they’re also creating jobs and they’re also helping small designers. I don’t believe anything is black and white. It’s not. There needs to be a solution. It’s way too much. I don’t think there should be so much pressure to wear different outfits all the time. I look at Instagram and TikTok, it’s too much. I wear the same thing every day.
I was going to say the same thing. A Zoom call outfit and then our studio day outfit.
Honestly, 9 times out of 10, I’m wearing a fucking swimsuit. My friends are like, “You can’t keep wearing your swimsuit out.” I feel the most confident in that. I don’t have the one with the zipper. That’s sold out but I would wear that with a black skirt or black sweatpants, heels, a blazer and it looks amazing. I’m snatched. My friends are like, “You need a new outfit.” I’m like, “This is the outfit?”
You have to be the biggest fan of your own product.
I’m against people wearing a different thing every day. I’m against overconsumption. It’s not black and white.
That’s Instagram in a nutshell. It is super negative but it’s also this amazing outlet for people to share news and share everything that they’re going through in different parts of the world to connect us as much as it divides us. It’s so convoluted.
You have the mass spreading of misinformation. I was thinking in the car, “People are dying because of this misinformation.” It’s not like you’re voting for someone different. I saw on Facebook people are getting sick and dying. People’s parents didn’t believe in the vaccine. That’s heartbreaking to me. To me, that’s the darkest side of social media. It’s not even the hate but the spreading of misinformation but there are so many amazing things about it. When I was young, I didn’t even have a computer until I was in college.
I would have felt so much less alone. I felt lonely. I was a weird, artsy kid. I was a Middle Eastern going to a super white school and in a white environment where everybody played sports. I didn’t feel I had a connection with anybody except for my BFF. I see girls that remind me of myself when I was little on TikTok blowing up. How amazing must that be? They would have been the freak or the outcast years ago. There are many amazing things about social media but there are many horrible things about it too like everything else, like the fashion industry and being an entrepreneur.
I’m also partially against being an entrepreneur. Not everybody can do it. It’s a fucking nightmare and it bankrupts most people. This whole Gary Vee fucking grind. It’s not about the grind. I fucking grinded for years and didn’t make a fucking dime. You can grind the wrong way. You can be an entrepreneur more than anything in the world and you can be like, “I’m never giving up.” You can listen to all the self-help and do that shit. You could have a bad idea. You could have stage fright. You could not have the ability to be a good public speaker. You could fucking bomb and bankrupt yourself when you should have a fucking 9:00 to 5:00 job and enjoy your life.
When I look at Shark Tank, Gary Vee is a particular one, look at Gary Vee, his personality is not like anybody else. People don’t come out of the womb like that. Everyone’s like, “I’m an introvert.” Everybody’s a fucking introvert. How often do you meet those true extroverts? It’s quite rare. Those are the Gary Vees, the Sara Blakely and the Oprahs of the world. To make it as an entrepreneur, you’re putting yourself out there 24/7. Most people can’t do that. Don’t think everyone can be an entrepreneur because they can’t.
Knowing all that, what made you still decide to go out on your own?
I didn’t know that.
You’re like, “I learned this along the way.”
I am one of those people. I want to be here talking about my product. I want to be famous. I’ve done three reality shows. Whenever it was time to present in front of the corporation, I was like, “Yeah, let’s go.” Everybody else was shitting themselves.”
You’re like, “I was born for those.”
I love to talk. I love to self-promote. I’m also riddled with insecurities. Half of me would want to stay in bed but the other half is pushed by my insecurities. I need to prove myself. That’s my personality. Most people don’t have that. It’s the ambition thing. What drives you? How crazy are you? How much are you willing to put yourself out there? How much are you willing to die?
It’s true. There are so many studies about how people don’t want to work because of mental health, Gen Z-ers, Millennials. I’m thinking, “That’s fine. You stay at home. I’m going to go out and hustle. Let me get what I want.” Also, respectfully, I understand that everybody has a different stance on that. My whole stance is like, “This is what I am. This is in my DNA.”
If you have to do it, you know. What a lot of people think is it’s an alternative to working or it’s easier and glamorous. It looks better on social media but it’s not easier. It’s not necessarily more profitable. You can very easily bankrupt yourself. People need to start respecting the 9:00 to 5:00 more. Especially the younger generation, nobody wants to fucking work.
How do we do that? How do we ingrain that in them? How can we fix this?
Having more respect for people no matter what they do because a lot of customer service positions don’t get that respect. As long as you’re putting food on the table for your family, at the end of the day, no matter what you’re doing, it’s respectable.
Going back to TikTok, it’s making celebrities out of normal people. Did you watch that documentary, Fake Famous? To me, I was watching that and I was like, “I don’t even see this as a trend anymore,” although it probably still is. I don’t get that stuff. Pretending to be in a private jet or being on a private jet and being flawless and all that stuff and perfectly filtered, to me, that’s downtrending. There are a lot of people on TikTok that are talking about the Zoom calls and their boss. I get served a lot of that content because I like it.
We do too.
To make it funnier and make it cooler for people in those 9:00 to 5:00 and for bosses to be cooler and for bosses to say, “I want you to be part of life.” When I was a fashion designer for big corporations, they didn’t want us to have anything to do with marketing. They didn’t want us to be promoting it on TikTok. If bosses start doing that, if bosses start taking the younger generation and saying, “You have a shitty 9:00 to 5:00 job but you can be part of the fun stuff too.” Maybe that would help. Maybe they can get that social media fame that every young person wants while still having a job.
People need to be more honest. It’s not for everyone. I feel like when you say that, it’s like saying, “You need to hustle.” I don’t necessarily think the hustle is just it too. You have to have something to say or something to sell. You have to hustle. You have to be willing to put yourself out there. You need to be doing something. There are so many different things. What are the chances that you, a random twenty-year-old with a pretty face, are going to be able to do all that shit?
Timing, too. The pandemic threw everything for a loop.
It’s hard to get a 9:00 to 5:00 anyway. It’s a big problem.
As an employer too, it’s hard to find someone who wants a 9:00 to 5:00 at the same time. Also, we didn’t thrive in a 9:00 to 5:00 as much as we do now where we can pick our own schedules and be our own bosses.
I was the one that was always late. I was there until 2:00 AM. That’s another sign. If you’re working a 9:00 to 5:00 but you’re working late and working hard, you might be an entrepreneur because you’re hustling at the wrong time. That was always my problem. You’re still working hard. Sometimes people would come in and I’d be like, “Good morning.” They’re like, “Why are you here?” I’m like, “I’ve been here.”
The janitors are already gone and you’re still there.
If you don’t even want to work the 9:00 to 5:00 hours, you probably aren’t going to want to work the entrepreneur hours.
It’s non-stop. It’s a lifestyle.
They happen to be shifting. It’s also all weekend or whatever.
What do you wish someone had told you about being an entrepreneur before you became one?
Self-development has always been a thing for me. I’m insecure but I’m also super ambitious and I want to put myself out there. If you criticize me, I want to kill myself. It’s always the self-development thing for me. It’s always about fear and realizing to not let the fear stop you. For me, it’s in life to trying to overcome your fears. That’s what I wish I’d known.
When I started my first business, it was that collection that I was talking about where I was like, “I’m going to be a brand. I’m going to be on celebrities.” That is a whole other level of putting yourself out there. That’s also being super cocky almost. I’m self-deprecating and that goes with my brand. If you want to be a high-end brand then you have to be like, “I’m the fucking best.” There is no being self-deprecating or whatever.
I don’t regret doing that brand but I realized that I did not have the personality. I thought I was going to be like Alexander McQueen or whatever. I’m like, “No, that’s a different personality type.” That’s like, “I’m going to hire all these models and they’re going to work for me for free. I’m going to create these beautiful fashion shows. It’s going to be flawless and amazing. I have the confidence to do that.” No. I never had that personality. I thought I did. My daughter’s middle name is Alexander. I thought I was going to be Alexander McQueen or maybe she will. By the way, he killed himself.
It’s not the healthiest.
The fashion industry is difficult.
You found an amazing niche. I cannot wait to see what you do with your brand. This is the beginning.
Thank you. I’m going to go into bodysuits and dresses.
What is next? What are your short-term and long-term goals?
Developing the app, to me, that’s a long-term play as well as a short-term play. If I can figure out how to fit your body perfectly, if I can take a picture of you, front and side and say, “This is going to flatter your shape and fit you.” The sky’s the limit. Who doesn’t want that? If you’re 5’1” and have an apple body or you’re 5’12” and have a pear shape, you’re going to get the exact right thing for your body. That’s my end goal.
Entrepreneurship is brutal. You can grind the right way or the wrong way. Once you grind the wrong way, you can get bankrupt.
I want to create things by body shape. I want to use all the data that I get from measuring people and getting them the right swimsuit. Eventually, I want to get them the right dress. I want to get them the right bodies. I want to get them the right whatever. Maybe it’ll be jeans or maybe it’ll be everything. I want to fit not just by being extra small, small, medium or large. That’s ridiculous. Can you imagine a man going and buying an extra-large suit? No. He buys it by his length. Our bodies are much more various than men’s bodies. Ideally, I’d like to be like, “This isn’t an extra. This isn’t small. This is my fit.” A petite apple or whatever it is. Those terms suck too. I don’t know what it is. That’s my long-term play.
Getting your perfect fit and you know when you put something on that it’s made for you that flatters your shape is life-changing. What if all your clothes were like that? It’s the same experience you have putting on your suit. What if every garment you put on you were like, “This is the best my body has ever looked?”
What other brands have that much initiative? What other brands care about how their clothing fits you?
The problem is fit models. You fit on a fit model and she’s plus size or she’s regular size. Some people use small, some people use medium and some people do size eight. You have your plus-size model but she’s always hourglass. The clothes are made to fit and that’s because that’s an average. You can’t have someone who’s an apple shape because then it wouldn’t fit anyone who’s pear-shaped. You can’t have someone who’s pear-shaped because it wouldn’t fit. You fit on an hourglass because that’s the medium. It’s a medium bust. It’s a medium waist. It’s a medium hip.
What happens is if you’re not an hourglass, the clothes aren’t going to fit you correctly. Also, she’s tall. We fit on a taller model because if you fit on someone shorter, it would be way too short for someone tall. We’re creating an average for an average body shape but nobody’s like that. All our bodies are different. That’s why clothes don’t fit. The fashion industry has been doing that for years. If you look at a mannequin, it’s an hourglass shape. If you look at the dress form, it’s an hourglass. It’s at the core of the way we do things and it makes it easier because no one wants to do a million different fits with a million different fit models. It’s a pain in the ass. Everyone’s happy to run jeans in fifteen different washes or rises and happy to do leggings in 25 different colors. Why can’t that be more fits?
What does TA3 stand for?
It’s eat backward. The idea is you can eat and still look good. On my website, a lot of the images have food. Some people freak out about bodies, food, weight loss and diet. That was my original concept. I still believe in it. To me, what the customers say day in day out is, “I used to diet. I used to feel self-conscious to get a new swimsuit and now I wear it. I don’t fucking think about it. I can eat.” That’s my whole fucking thing. I’m moving a little bit away from the food thing because people get freaked out by it.
You do give 5% of all of your proceeds to charity. Tell us about that charity and why it’s important to you.
Mia Sutphin was one of my childhood BFFs when I was growing up. Her family is a close friend of our family. She was an absolute saint. She was a nurse. She was working at an orphanage in Africa when she got malaria. She would go to orphanages in India and Africa and work with them. She got malaria and she took a medication for malaria that’s illegal in Africa but they don’t have it here. She had a heart attack and passed away. They had set up a foundation for her. They give to children’s charities abroad and domestically. It’s an umbrella charity that gives to Mia Sutphin Foundation. It’s amazing.
That’s very special.
It’s 5% of sales. It’s not revenue. It’s a lot of money. It was one of my goals in doing this.
You can feel good about buying it.
People are like, “Is it sustainable?” I’m like, “No but you’re just going to buy this one suit and we give it to charity.” Our factories are ethical. It’s nothing problematic.
You’ll have it forever. It’s a suit you hold onto.
Honestly, if anything, goes wrong with the suit, as you know with our customer service, you email us and amazing.
Honestly, the shipping was fast. I got it the next day after I ordered it. I was like, “What is happening?”
I won’t even get started on the fucking warehouse thing. That’s a fucking nightmare. We were in a shitty one. We got a new one, which they ship like that. You fucking type in one wrong number somewhere along the line and it’s a two-week delay in getting your stuff received. When I’m always sold out, it’s a nightmare.
That could happen.
It’s always happening because someone is always typing in something different. I got a real hodgepodge team. I got my pattern maker in Sri Lanka typing in UPC codes and fucking up one number.
It’s coming together.
It’s growing pains.
It’s only been a few months.
It’s still in its infancy. There are amazing things to come. We already know.
What do you feel are the habits that make you successful?
I don’t have the right habits. When you read all those fucking hustle porn or whatever, waking up early, working out, meditating, no.
It’s still loading.
I try to meditate. I know it’s important. I listen to a lot of audiobooks. I listen to probably a self-help audiobook a week. I don’t know if that’s pathetic or not. I find that helps me but I find that self-help audiobooks or any inspiring book have a real life span. It helps for a month and then you forget it. I’ll re-listen to it. They do say that successful people read. I don’t read. I listen to audiobooks. I put my Alexa on my desk when I’m working if it’s something that I don’t need to think that much if I’m designing or whatever. I don’t have the right habits. I work 24/7, which you’re not supposed to do. I’m fucking scared shitless every moment of the day.
I get that.
What drives you to work non-stop?
Fear, insecurity and proving people all the wrong and all the wrong things. I’ve had what you would say is ADD. I have some issues with ADD, ADHD and that whole thing, which I could get into because I was medicated for it and I feel like it did not help me. That’s my personality type. I’m a little scattered. I’m passionate. I was a horrible student. I have a lot of insecurities from that. I was always late. I never fit into the box that I should’ve. Even though I was successful in corporate culture, I didn’t fit the box. I’m always proving people wrong.
In my head, no one gives a fuck. All the people who fired me or doubted me or whatever, I guarantee they don’t follow me. They don’t care. They don’t know. I’m always like, “Fuck you.” That is honestly what I’m motivated by. It’s sad. I love the idea of helping women. I talk to women every day and make women feel better about themselves. I shouldn’t say that I’m like this. To be able to make women feel better around themselves, to be able to give to this charity that I care about and to be able to say, “Fuck you,” to people, all of it is amazing.
For most of this interview, I’m like, “I’m scared. I’m freaking out.” When I step back, I’m like, “Holy fucking shit.” Also, I have been trying to do this my whole fucking career. To finally get a hit, it’s like, “Oh my God. It’s amazing.” What happens is you get the hit and it’s doing amazing and then it wears off. You then dive in anxiety and then you get another wave. It’s never like, “Yeah, I did it.” You have good days and bad days. Especially the charity thing, that makes me tear up because that was one of my goals. When women tell me, “I haven’t worn a bathing suit in years.” A lot of moms especially say that. I’m a mom and I get it. What a great feeling? Especially doing fashion, which is such a fucking shallow thing. I hate when people are like, “You’re not helping people.” It’s like, “Fucking yeah.”
You hit the nail on the head with the weight loss community. There are women who have not worn swimsuits since they lost their weight. If they feel secure and that they can go out with their loose skin and feel sucked in and look great, it’s a miracle, honestly. Having that confidence, sometimes you don’t see that unless you’re wearing something like a piece of clothing where you feel, “I feel bomb.”
That’s what clothes should do for you. How many times do we put on a garment and it makes us feel horrible about ourselves? Nine times out of ten, honestly. How often do you put on something you’re like, “I feel better than I did before I put this on.” Hardly ever. That’s what all clothes should do for you. Especially if you’ve lost a bunch of weight and it’s like, “I put in all this effort.” That’s happened to me before where it’s like, “I look amazing. I feel so confident.” You go and try on clothes and you’re like, “I look like shit.” That’s why I always say it’s not your body, it’s your clothes. Your clothes aren’t fitting you right. Especially when you have bigger boobs, there are many things. Clothes aren’t made for most women.
Most women don’t know how to fit themselves correctly.
The average American woman is 5’4” and 170 pounds. Clothes are made for a taller woman with an hourglass body.
It’s not practical.
It’s why everyone wears sweats and leggings. Everyone went to like, “Let’s make everything super stretchy.” That’s why leggings got big. It’s to stay fit. You’re using stretch instead of making it the perfect fit.
I only wear leggings.
Over the quarantine, I can’t even put my leggings on anymore. I did sweats. Sweats are amazing. Honestly, when you look at SKIMS, they’re making their money off comfortable clothes. There’s a time and place for shapewear. You don’t want to wear it every day. Even your sweatshirt is made for you. When you have shorter arms or if you’re shorter or you have bigger boobs or you have smaller boobs, even those things go into the fit.
This has been insightful.
We loved every minute of it.
We can talk to you for hours. We’ll have to do part two up at your HQ because it sounds amazing.
You have to teach me how to do this.
We would love to. Where can our audience follow you and support you?
Thank you so much for your time and for coming down. You’re a true breadwinner. We admire you and your ambition.
Thank you. You are great too. This has been amazing.
Thanks so much for coming.
Thanks for reading.
- TA3 SWIM
- Yasmeen Garcia – TikTok
- @Ashleysn1derland – TikTok
- @PCOSSupportGirl – Instagram
- Lydia Sims – TikTok
- Remi Bader – TikTok
- Instagram – Instagram
- Mia Sutphin Foundation
- @Ta3swim – Instagram
- @Leila.Ta3Swim – TikTok
About Leila Shams
I’m an executive level fashion designer with 20+ years of experience directing multi million & billion dollar brands. I also ran my own contemporary line which was loved by celebs including Kim Kardashian, Kendall Jenner, Katy Perry, Kelly Clarkson and Nicki Minaj.
Now I’m the founder & CEO of TA3 SWIM, a confidence boosting, size inclusive shaping swimwear line. The response to our suits has been incredible despite launching during quarantine. Our designs are patent pending and our focus is fitting all body shapes and lengths.