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Bāben Swimsuits Are an Ode to Childhood Spirit

Meet the brains behind the swimsuits that have crept to the top of our favorites list.

Handmade in Los Angeles, Bāben is the epitome of effortlessly cool Californian style. Founder Hanna Dorman has found the secret recipe to timeless yet youthful design. Influenced by the 70’s style of her mother (mom Tamara is now a business partner), Hanna hand-sketches each product as part of her design process. The mother-daughter duo are fully hands-on, ensuring meaningful details on every swimsuit. The proof is in the pudding: SI Swimsuit model Tanaye White sported a Bāben suit during her 2022 shoot in Barbados. With the company’s one-year anniversary just around the corner, we sat down with Dorman to learn more about her entry into the swimwear industry and about the brand’s ethos of dreaming big.

Tanaye White was photographed by Ben Watts in Barbados. Swimsuit by Bāben. Earrings by BaubleBar.

Tanaye White was photographed by Ben Watts in Barbados. Swimsuit by Bāben. Earrings by BaubleBar.

Can you tell me a bit about yourself and your background?

I graduated with a major in fashion design and a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Otis College of Art and Design. After college, I moved to New York City, where I worked for Coach and Ralph Lauren. Amidst COVID-19, I returned to my roots in Southern California to work remote. Once it was summertime, I was looking for swimwear that had the same attention to detail I learned working in high fashion, but I couldn’t find any that captivated me. This inspired me to start sketching swimwear designs on the side. In the process, I realized I had the opportunity to combine my admiration for surfing, the ocean and life centered around the beach with my design background to create a brand for women who value fashion-forward yet playful beach attire.

How did you learn to design clothing? Did you always know you wanted to pursue a career in fashion design?

My interest in design began when I was very young. I wanted to make dresses for my dolls, so my Grandma taught me how to hand sew. I even had a little show and invited my family where I walked the dolls down our hallway and played the song “The First Cut Is the Deepest” by Sheryl Crow on a boom box. It was really dramatic and now looking back on it, it's hilarious.

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More from SwimLife

One of my childhood drawings is featured in our new ‘SURFIN KITTY’ print. I grew up surfing and being in bikinis all year round, but I got introduced to the swimwear industry when I was in high school. During the rise of Instagram, I did some swimwear modeling for The Girl and The Water and Frankies Bikinis. This exposure fueled my interest and I knew that someday I wanted to start a swimwear line of my own.

Photograph by Lindsey Englander.

Photograph by Lindsey Englander.

From start to finish, what is the design process like?

I always start the design process with finding inspiration and images to set the direction and color palette. This is my favorite part because it’s the stage when absolutely anything is possible. I’ve collected a lot of vintage swimwear over the years, so I reference those pieces as well. I design my own prints by hand and sketch the designs. From there, most of the work happens on the computer. Once my designs are finalized, I work with our pattern maker and sample maker on multiple rounds of sampling and fitting to get the perfect fit. I develop and manufacture all of my pieces in Los Angeles, which I love because I am able to be very detail oriented and hands-on throughout the process.

How would you describe your aesthetic?

I would describe my aesthetic as eclectic yet timeless. I’m inspired by photos of women in the ’70s and the freedom they express. Punk and New Wave music influences me too, like the Ramones and The Cure. I grew up with a twin brother, Charlie, and I liked wearing his boardshorts. This idea of borrowing from the boys has influenced our women’s boardshorts.

Tamara Dorman - Hanna Dorman's Mom and business partner.

Tamara Dorman - Hanna Dorman's Mom and business partner.

I understand that your mother is a large source of inspiration. Can you explain how she has influenced the brand?

My mom—and now business partner—has always been an inspiration. She is like sunshine personified and she has been my guiding light. She’s one of my very best friends and I feel so lucky that I get to work with her every day. I have many photos of her on our mood board, but my favorite is one of her skateboarding in the ’70s.

Where did the brand name originate from?

Our name, Bāben, originates from a childhood mispronunciation. When I was a kid I called bathing suits “baben suits.”

Being a fairly young brand, have you found anything surprising along the journey so far? Challenging?

We’re about to hit our one-year mark and we’ve had so many great things happen, which gives us so much hope for the future. Starting a business has its own unique challenges. Being a team of two, we’ve both been wearing a lot of hats. Even when things get difficult, I’ve learned that you have to celebrate each day. At the end of it I’m so grateful I get to do what I love.

Do you have any advice for someone wanting to launch their own brand?

The best advice I can give to someone wanting to launch their own brand is this: Know exactly what your unique selling point is. There is a lot of competition out there, but authenticity and the love you put into it shows. If you want to start a brand with the mindset of just trying to make money, it’s going to be very difficult to stick with. Make sure your brand is something you’re willing to sacrifice for. Each day, take a moment and I think of something that you’d like to happen for your brand that seems out of reach and take a step in that direction. Often that means reaching out to someone you want to work with that seems like a pipe dream. Big things don’t just happen, they come about when you reach for more, when you dream a little bigger. You’d be surprised what can happen if you take one step like that each day.

Photograph by Lindsey Englander.

Photograph by Lindsey Englander.

What can we expect in the future from Bāben? Where do you see the brand going in the next few years?

This is only the beginning and I’m so excited to continue to grow Bāben. We feel really optimistic about our direction with our boardshorts. I’m really interested in creating swimwear pieces that can have a life beyond the beach. We want to encourage all women to get outside without compromising their style and inspire them to live the lifestyle of their dreams. Coming from a background of designing women’s ready-to-wear, I look forward to doing more clothing in the future along with our swimwear.

What do you keep in your beach bag?

I usually pack a baseball cap, Dune sunscreen and nutritious snacks, like Tate’s cookies and a Modelo or two ;)

Do you have a bucket-list beach destination?

There are so many beautiful beaches I’d love to visit someday, but my number one destination would be Kakaban Lake in Palau. You can swim with millions of jellyfish and they won’t sting you. I think that would be a pretty surreal experience.