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Unretouched—How Heather Caye Brown Disrupted the Swimwear Industry from Iowa #5

Unretouched—How Heather Caye Brown Disrupted the Swimwear Industry from Iowa #5

Heather Caye Brown knew she wanted to study fashion design. At age 19, she made the trek from Iowa to California to pursue her dream of studying fashion. While in school, Brown was connected with several mentors. In her junior year, one of her mentors was Billabong. When her project was to design 70’s inspired swimwear, she realized her calling. Blue Crush had just come out—and Brown realized she wanted to live in bikinis full-time.

So that’s kind of what she did. 

After graduating from Otis College of Art + Design with her BFA in Fashion Design, Brown was hired as an Assistant Designer of Swim + Sweaters at Hollister Co. After climbing the corporate ladder at Hollister, Brown was spending most of her time managing and strategizing. What she really wanted to be doing? Designing.

The Beginning of a Beautiful Career  

Brown moved from PacSun to Urban Outfitters and back to PacSun (the California sun was calling and she couldn’t ignore it.) For the next five years, Brown worked on a plethora of celebrity collaborations, launched new brands, traveled for inspiration, and attended photoshoots around the world. Even though all she really wanted to do was to design, during her career Brown learned lucrative skills that would serve her well as an entrepreneur—things like creating PowerPoint presentations and performing market and competitor analysis.

At the beginning of 2018, Brown left the corporate world to take time with family, to travel, and to launch her own—you guessed it—swimwear brand, NIGHT DIVE. Heather Caye Brown had what you might consider an ideal career for any woman looking to design swimwear. After working with juggernauts like Urban Outfitters, Hollister, and PacSun, though, Brown wanted something she simply could not find on her own…


On Why She Became an Entrepreneur

I was really looking for FREEDOM–freedom to travel, freedom to shape the perception of beauty standards in the swimwear industry, and the freedom to make decisions that are better for the environment. I wanted to be able to choose (and have the final decision) to use recycled fabrics, even if they are more costly. For me, my journey didn’t begin with making a ton of money as the goal—it was to do good. I wanted to spread self-confidence and self-love and make everyone feel confident in a bikini. Showcasing a range of body types and shapes on social media and the e-commerce platform was extremely important to me.

The main turning point for me to take the entrepreneurial leap was reading Timothy Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek. The book gave me just enough of a nudge to do something I’d dreamed of, and realize life is too short and there’s no perfect time to start a business. Knowing the industry so well from being in it for over 15 years, I believed in myself and my vision enough to turn my 401k into startup capital for my business.

It wasn’t until a few months ago that I realized there were far more resources out there for small business owners that I hadn’t taken advantage of. It was perfect timing since I reached a point where I needed more business and financial knowledge to continue leading a successful business, and a profitable one. I was lucky enough to meet with an amazing mentor who helped me formulate a business plan.   


On Moving (Back) to Iowa for Her Business

The three main reasons I chose Iowa to start my business are the low costs and affordability, endless support and community.  

I returned to Iowa to start my business because I’m able to save much-needed money in so many areas—operational costs, rent, gas prices, food, etc.  Everything in Iowa is so affordable. Even the cost of living— money just goes much further in Iowa versus the other places I’ve lived. I’ve also discovered how supportive Iowa is of small businesses since I reached out and took advantage of opportunities with the Small Business Association, volunteer mentors, and Iowa Economic Development Authority. They have all been incredibly helpful and supportive. 

The headquarters for a swimwear company being located in Iowa sounds strange but being near family again after 18 years of living out of state, along with having those extra hands and help during the busy swim season, was irresistible. The support I’ve received from the community has been insane and I’m so grateful. I’m passionate about building a sustainable fashion brand and being as eco-friendly as possible, so having a centrally located office in the U.S., I’m able to ship the product to customers in the most efficient manner possible. 

I also love lifting up my community in any way possible – from speaking to high school students about a career in fashion and pursuing their dreams, to adding more business at the local post office.  


On What She Saw Missing from The Swimwear Industry 

The market offers very few swimwear options made in recycled fabric. The swimwear industry also has very few premium brands that offer sizing up to XL, let alone beyond that that are fashion-forward and on-trend. My brand NIGHT DIVE has combined both deficits in the market to create a compelling and quality product. Going into my second year of business, for Spring 2020, I’ll be able to offer bikinis extended to size 3X, which was a goal of mine from last year. I hope next year I can extend the size offering even further!

NIGHT DIVE also has a competitive edge in the swimwear landscape by fitting product on a size Large, rather than the typical industry standard of a size small, which ensures our fits will be able to be more body-friendly across all sizes. The product is constructed with three layers to create a smoothing effect. The swim tops also feature maximum adjusting capabilities through shoulder strap adjusters, along with lace-up and tie back details, which allow the product to fit a wider range of body types. 

As far as the sustainability aspect, NIGHT DIVE swimwear is constructed in recycled fabric: Carvico Vita from Italy or Repreve from the U.S. Carvico Vita is made from recovered ghost fishing nets that have been turned into regenerated nylon, and then into swimwear fabric. Repreve comes from regenerated nylon originating from post-consumer plastic bottles.


On the “Iowa Lifestyle”

My lifestyle in Iowa is a contrast to the lifestyle I had on the West coast. I’m healthier, spend time more thoughtfully, and enjoy the simple things in life.

When I look back, the constant hustle of the outside world in LA could be really draining, and now I’m surrounded by a slower pace, so I can save all my hustling for my business. 

The most common misconception about Iowa is that there’s not much to do and it’s boring but I couldn’t disagree more!! I felt the same way growing up there as I do now – there’s so much to discover and do in Iowa, you just need to be motivated to do it. There’s so much natural beauty to enjoy, and the culture and lifestyle is incredible. You can road trip to some rad craft breweries, go to farmer’s markets and see killer bands play at smaller, intimate venues. When I returned last year, I couldn’t believe how much amazing stuff was going on in my home state.

When I’m not working, I spend time with my hometown friends celebrating birthdays, seeing an outdoor band play during the summer, or taking over the jukebox and grabbing drinks at the local dive bar followed by late-night snacks.

I’ll hit up a hip restaurant in Cedar Rapids with my sister or we’ll go see a rad band play in Iowa City She has shown me some amazing spots in the NewBo area of Cedar Rapids that are insanely cool.

I’ll visit my youngest sister, who’s a student at Iowa State University, and we’ll walk to get pizza and then either binge-watch a tv show or go out on the town (YES, I can totally keep up with a college student!!)! I teach dance classes from time to time at the studio in my hometown, play tennis on the courts I slayed in high school, and go kayaking in the rivers and lakes with friends and family. 


On Entrepreneur Travel Life 

I visit California from time to time to catch up with friends, visit family, and have photoshoots for my brand. I’ll travel to Idaho to see my brother, sister-in-law, and live my best auntie life. I visit Arizona and see my grandma and aunt, and head to NYC to do business and see friends. I was in Miami a few times this past year as well for business and am planning to go back next year!

I travel to Bali (where my swimwear is made) a couple of times a year for a few months at a time to put my designs into development, review samples and make fit approvals, and work on invoices and costing. Funny enough, Bali is a lot like Iowa in the sense of the pace, people, and inexpensive cost of living. I love anything to do with the water so when I have a day off, I’m on the beach, or snorkeling, swimming, or surfing (ok, trying to-I’m still a beginner).