Teen Vogue is celebrating the start of summer with a series of stories on all things swim. From the latest trends to buying the perfect suit, find everything you need to know here.
Cameron Armstrong has no experience in design - or fashion, for that matter. Yet, last summer the 25-year-old quit her job at L'Oreal, where she was working in operational marketing, to launch her swimsuit company Kitty and Vibe. A one-woman team, Armstrong has been the sole employee at her start-up for over a year acting as the sole investor, fashion designer, customer service representative, marketing professional, and order fulfillment center. In fact, at any given time, she has at least a thousand bikinis scattered around her Brooklyn apartment, ready to be shipped to the next customer.
But, it's not Armstrong's bravery in abandoning a full-time position to pursue the relative unknowns that come with launching your own business. Instead, it's her company's one-of-a-kind sizing metric. The patent-pending product was created by Armstrong in 2018 and is quickly revolutionizing the way people shop for swimsuits - and one day clothing altogether.
"[Our] swimsuits are available in a revolutionary sizing system focused on inseam measurements and your booty size," Armstrong tells to Teen Vogue. "We've thrown out the traditional sizing chart and in doing so, removed the boundary between too much fabric or too little for the perfect fit. Think of it as cup sizes for your butt."
For most of her life, Armstrong suffered from what she calls "diaper butt" when wearing ill-fitting bikini bottoms. She recalls one time her and her sister, who have the same hip size, both tried on the same bikini, but the fit was incredibly different on each of them. For her sister, the bikini bottoms exposed the top of her butt, but for Armstrong, the bottoms sagged in the middle. It was at this moment that Kitty and Vibe was born.
"I literally started measuring," Armstrong says, explaining that she carried around a pink measuring tape at all times. "Anybody that would let me, I would measure them and it was crazy because I realized the biggest differentiator amongst everybody was the inseam measurement, so literally your belly button through your legs to the top of your butt crack."
With a revolutionary sizing metric on her hands, Armstrong used this "hidden measurement" to build her empire - one bikini at a time. With her bottoms focused on "smaller booties, bigger booties" and sizes ranging from size 00 to 22/24 (2XL) and cup sizes going up to a size E, the next step was building a swimwear brand that felt comfortable and approachable and a major part of that for Armstrong was making sure her suits could only be purchased online.
"A swimsuit is the most vulnerable piece of clothing you wear in public and I think from the moment you try it on, you need to feel comfortable and you need to feel in a safe space," Armstrong says. "I think the first step was making sure it's only available online so that you can try it on in the comfort of your own home. Then I really wanted to give the customer a tool to tap into a positive mental headspace."
This tool, as she refers to the "vibes," are Spotify playlists inspired by the different patterns of the Kitty and Vibe bikinis. For example, the "Maya" playlist includes songs by Lizzo, Billie Eilish, and Ariana Grande. Each vibe is curated with a personality in mind and meant to be played before and during the swimsuit try-on at home in order to foster a more positive environment for the customer.
The unorthodox approach to a positive customer experience is not the only thing that sets Kitty and Vibe apart from other brands. For Armstrong, a major part of crafting her company was building a community that was active and engaged on Instagram. In fact, the brands most recent release, "The Lulu" one piece, was crafted based on votes on by the brand's 12,000 followers.
Following her dedication to being as inclusive and empowering as possible, Armstrong never edits the marketing photos on her site, opting to display all the rolls and curves proudly. She also made sure the models on site reflect the size you're viewing. For example, if you're in the market for an 2XL bikini, the model you'll see is a size 22/24.
"I think a lot of people can jump on the bandwagon now of being body positive and being inclusive and all of that, but there's such a difference between participating in the conversation and then being proud of it," Armstrong says. "Right now, if you go on my site as you click through the sizes, the model changes to show someone of that size and I think that's so important."
Teen Vogue spoke with Armstrong more about Kitty and Vibe, the importance of inclusivity in fashion, and the future of her swimwear company.
Teen Vogue: Your designs are primarily Instagram sourced. Can you tell me a bit more about your decision to choose designs this way? How has using the Kitty community helped your brand overall?
Cameron Armstrong: With no design training, it was a no-brainer to put the customer first and ask what she wanted. Working alongside my Instagram community allows customers to be in control of the design process which makes the product all the more personal. The engagement on our Instagram polls regarding future product is the highest engagement we get on the platform.
TV: How do you want someone wearing a Kitty suit to feel?
CA: When someone wears a Kitty suit I want them to feel free, supported and empowered. This is a piece of clothing that has historically been the source of so much stress, anxiety, depression, eating disorders. For years, we've been painted a picture of what an "ideal" body should be. By wearing a Kitty, I want to allow women to say, "forget that," and instead amplify the inner confidence they've had all along, letting their most beautiful selves shine.
TV: Why is it so important for fashion companies, especially swimwear brands, to be inclusive?
CA: With the internet being an integral part of everyone's daily lives, it is imperative that the images consumed by viewers be representative of all types of people, not just an "ideal look". It's the ugly truth that we live in a "thin culture" and this is haunting women into believing there's only one look that equals beauty. For the sake of mental health, I think fashion has to be inclusive. It's particularly important for swimwear brands because they show the most skin, and thus can be the most triggering.
TV: What's next for Kitty & Vibe?
CA: We're so excited to have recently launched our first one piece, The Lulu, which was designed with the help of Kitty's Instagram community: The Backless (a classic plunge style) and The Bra Shelf (a supportive style with built in bra-shelf and adjustable straps).The Bra Shelf was actually born after feedback from our customers who spoke up about needing more support. Long-term, we hope to take The Kitty Size to other forms of apparel. The possibilities keep me up at night but also give me a reason to get up in the morning. Whatever we do next though, I can promise you we will never stop choosing kindness over everything.
This interview has been edited and condensed.