Sun Vixen Swimwear Inc / Alist Nation
Women Owned Business
Alist Nation Feb / March 2021
Interview: Founder Opal Hurteau, Sun Vixen Swimwear Inc
Tell us a little about yourself and your childhood.
I was born in a smaller northern town on the west side of Canada. I have a twin sister. Our parents were quite young when they had us, just 20 years old. When we were 7 years old, our father passed away in a tragic car accident. Life became quite difficult for us after that. My mom moved us to the city on the west coast not long after that. That’s where we grew up. We didn’t have a lot. As a single Mom sometimes it was a struggle for her to make ends meet. I remember taking regular trips to the laundry mat in the pouring rain to wash and dry our clothes. We had to take the bus to get there and we each had to carry a large garbage bag full of our clothes with us on the bus. People always looked at us like they felt bad for us. My mom did the best she could and never complained. After adjusting to life in the city, my Mom eventually met another man who was really great. We liked him a lot and he asked my Mom to marry him. She said yes and we were all very excited. Not long after that he died in a tragic workplace accident. It was devastating for my Mom and I think she struggled for many years after that. I was only able to truly appreciate how much she went through early in her life when I was in my 30’s. She’s truly my hero.
When did you decide you wanted to start your own company?
I decided I wanted to start my own company when I was in high school. I didn’t know at that point what I wanted to create, but I knew deep inside that I wanted to be the master of my own destiny and create something that could help people and that would allow me to have a comfortable life. Life was difficult for us growing up, but my Mom always told us we could be and do anything we wanted in life. I knew I wanted to be able to do more than just barely pay my bills every month. Officially, I decided to start a swimwear company in 2017 when I was off work after suffering a trauma. It became very clear to me at that point that I had veered off of my path of being fulfilled with work and so now it was time to create something of my own.
Was there a specific moment when you knew this was what you wanted to do?
The specific moment came to me when I was on a trip to Hawaii with my husband in January 2017. We had taken a drive down the coast on the Big Island and were walking around a beautiful outdoor shopping plaza. In that plaza there was a swimsuit store that was unlike any other I had seen before. It was beautifully laid out and had every designer swimsuit brand I had ever heard of – all of the fashion labels. I knew at that moment that’s what I wanted to have at home, in Canada. We had swimsuit stores, but nothing like this one with stylish swimsuits. I knew it was something I could do and I got very excited about the idea. My husband loved the idea too.
How did you fund this project?
Using my business plan and financial projections, I went to a lender and got a small business loan. I also got some grant money as well. In order to get a loan, you also have to demonstrate that you have your own capital to invest in the business. So, part of the funding came from my own savings.
After you made the decisions, what steps did you take?
The first thing I did was run the idea by a bunch of my friends and family to get their reactions and thoughts. Then I did a ton of research. I put together a survey to try to understand if my idea was something that other people would be interested in, namely more fashionable, luxury swimsuits. I put together a competitive analysis and a full business plan along with a 5 year budget and cashflow. I worked with a woman at a local small business planning agency. She helped me to perfect my business plan and budget to present to a lender to qualify for a business loan.
What was the best thing you did to grow your business?
The best thing I did to grow my business was hire an intern. Even though you have to put a ton of effort into training an intern, you can hire them afterwards. And if they don’t work out, nothing was lost. Nimrit turned out to be a huge asset to the business and is a key factor in our continued success.
What were the hardest hurdles? The hardest hurdles for me were learning how to drive traffic to an online swimwear store. I had no idea – not a clue – how hard this is. I heard it was hard, but it actually is very hard. I also found the mental aspect of starting a business very difficult. They say it’s very hard to start a business. To me, that statement was meaningless. Why is it hard? The answer to that question would provide some true meaning. Of course it’s hard to start a business, but why?!?? For anyone out there wanting to know the answer to that, it’s because your mind will take you on some bumpy rides. Self-doubt creeps in. The mind will try to convince you you’ve made a mistake, you’re not doing enough (even if you’re working 20 hours a day!), maybe you don’t have what it takes, and countless other negative things. If you can effectively train your mind to only work on the task at hand, one task at a time and know that it will eventually lead you to success, that’s what’s required. Perseverance is the precursor to success. Meditation helps immensely with training the mind. I meditate at least once a day, sometimes more when I’m feeling highly stressed.
What advise do you wish someone would have given you?
The advice I wish someone had given me would have been to create a presence online, on social media - a digital footprint, in essence - before I started selling anything. It’s very possible to start a blog, gain a social following and build an audience before you start a store. If you do that, it will make selling that much easier as you have a base of potential customers already.
Did you have a mentor? I did not have a mentor when I started my business. I wanted one so badly, but I didn’t have one at the start. Then, about a year in, I got one and I loved having her help and insight. I believe fully in the power of mentorship. I believe having a network of people on a similar journey can also be valuable. It’s important to create connections with people who can give you advice and help you when you struggle.
At any point did you want to give up? At many points I wanted to give up! So many times! But if you quit, you’ll never know what could have been! If you’ve heard the story Three Feet From Gold, it’s a must read for anyone starting a business. I came across it in Napoleon Hill’s book Think & Grow Rich. Whenever I felt down or met with a feeling of defeat, I would remember this story and it helped me to keep going.
What made you keep going? Knowing that this idea was a good one. It’s never going to be easy, but I know it’s worthwhile. This ecommerce swimwear store is a good concept. The brand Sun Vixen Swimwear resonates with people. The feedback we get is incredible. Our customer satisfaction score is high. This keeps me going still.
How long did it take to become profitable?
It took a couple of years to become profitable. Investing in starting a small business, especially one that requires inventory, is expensive. This is a part of the reason it’s hard to start a business. Profits don’t come for quite some time. And when they do eventually come, you want to reinvest them into other growth initiatives so it’s a never ending cycle.
What is the happiest memory from this journey? Wow! Tough question. So many happy memories. Lots of hard ones too. The happiest memory is meeting Nimrit. She has helped me immensely to grow the business, especially with social. She has also helped me to see the bright side of things when my mind has taken me on a trip to the dark side. She’s young, but she’s wise beyond her years, she’s highly intelligent and has the ability to figure things out no matter how challenging they may seem.
Where do you see your company in 5 years? In 5 years I see Sun Vixen Swimwear as a leading online designer swimwear retailer in Canada. I believe in 5 years from now we will be a very recognized brand in Canada and growing in the US and internationally. sunvixen.com