Meet Kali’a Wasson, the founder of Leimakani Swimwear. Wasson dreamed of creating a brand that embodies every woman, and with just two collections, she has done just that. We caught up with this emerging designer to hear more about Leimakani and its passion for inclusivity and representation.
Tell me what led you to launch your own swimwear line?
From a young age, I knew that I wanted to own my own business. I loved fashion and the feeling of accomplishment when creating and sharing something of my own. I enjoy designing, marketing, styling, website creating and all the aspects of owning a business. As a one-woman team, it is a lot of work, but I absolutely love it!
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Being born and raised on the Big Island of Hawai‘i, girls practically live in swimwear, but I never had the confidence to wear mine in front of others. I was hiding my body because I was allowing the things I would see on social media to affect how I viewed myself. This is something every young woman goes through and it’s a big part of why I wanted to create Leimakani!
Swimwear is very symbolic -- It’s a display of confidence. And for me, Leimakani represents my journey of finding the confidence to wear a bikini. I wanted to help make a change and to create a safe place for women, empowering them through this brand. I want Leimakani to inspire them to wear that bikini.
What is the meaning behind the name Leimakani?
LEIMAKANI is actually one of my middle names. It is extremely special to me because it was given to me by my great great grandfather. In Hawaiian culture, your name is everything. You carry your family name with great pride and honor. As far as the meaning goes, in Hawai‘i, a LEI is a garland or adornment of flowers given as a gift to show affection and love. MAKANI is known as the wind or gentle breeze, but also refers to one’s spirit. I believe that this is the spirit of aloha that I carry with me every day as I represent my God, family, home, and Hawaiian culture and values.
What type of woman do you design for?
I design for every woman. What some people may not know is that I design my own prints as well. This means that no other brand will carry our exclusive prints. What inspires my designs is my beautiful home, Hawai‘i. For example, the “LOKELANI” or the “heavenly rose” print is inspired by Maui Island’s state flower, the Lokelani!
As far as styles go, I design for comfort, adjustability and everyday wear. I want my designs to not only fit, but also flatter all body types. You will see that the styles can easily be dressed up with some jeans and heels even for a night out or just some denim shorts to go about your daily activities. Ultimately, I design for the woman who wants to feel comfortable and confident when rocking their bikini, which is all of us of course!
The inclusivity of your campaign is what caught our eye, Has it always been a mission for your brand to include all different types of women?
Absolutely. Being the oldest of seven girls, I am driven by being a role model for them. In a world where social media is so prevalent, I want to use my platform with Leimakani to show them and all women that there is no standard. The only person you should want to be today and every day is the best version of YOU that you can and want to be. It is that simple.
Leimakani creates a community for women to empower other women. As a HAPA woman (mixed Hawaiian and Caucasian ethnicity), I know what it feels like to be overlooked and underestimated at times. It is important for me to include women from all backgrounds and lifestyles in my campaigns because this unity is what makes us women stronger as a whole.
Our campaign, Kino, was the perfect opportunity for me to emphasize the importance of this and include some neutral and basic swimwear that is all about comfort and fit, but also confidence and empowerment. I want every woman of every size to feel confident in themselves and their body, not just because of the suit but because of the woman in the suit.
Tell us about the inspiration for your new collection, Kino.
Kino is Hawaiian for “body, shape, strength.” This collection was something that I felt extremely passionate about. The campaign was inspired by my beautiful Hawaiian women and sisters back home. Hawaiian women often have a hard time finding swimwear that fits well, so I made sure my styles offered thick ties and adjustable options that allow you to adjust the sizing how you want it. This was important to me. The collection is in a basic set of neutrals and everyday styles that is perfect to mix-and-match. Ivory, black and nude are the three initial colors of this collection. I wanted to be sure that they are so comfortable, you could live in them. I want Kino to be a reminder that we are all uniquely and carefully made and should embrace all aspects of ourselves!
What is one piece from the Kino collection every woman needs in their bikini drawer?
Every piece! But if I had to choose one, the Aloha bottom is a favorite. The thick ties allow for the perfect fit on every body type. You can adjust the coverage of the front and back, so you can wear it how you want. You cannot go wrong. If you want minimal tan lines, this one is definitely for you.
Who is your dream influencer/celebrity you’d want to see in your designs?
There are two celebrities in particular that I have always wanted and would be an absolute dream to see in my swimwear. Those incredible women are Queen Beyonce and the amazing Ashley Graham. Beyonce is real, genuine, gorgeous and she empowers and inspires women through her art of music and the way she carries herself. Ashley is much more than a model but someone who represents all women. She inspires me. Women who empower other women is exactly what we stand for and what our foundation is built upon as a brand.
Where do you hope to see Leimakani in the next five years?
Wow, needless to say, my biggest prayer is to see Leimakani thrive as a brand that all women know and love. Of course, I would love to see us in stores and worn by women all over the world, or in Miami Swim Week. But what is most important to me is to see my brand bring together women. Whether it be from different backgrounds, ethnic groups, ages, and cultures, I want Leimakani to be more than just a swimwear brand. I want us to be a symbol of the strength and beauty we carry as women, no matter where you come from or what you look like.