Lina Shek certainly knows a thing or two about what makes the perfect bathing suit, having spent much of her 14-year modeling career in swimwear. “I’ve been so lucky to work with the most talented designers and incredible brands,” she says. “I absorbed so much knowledge in fashion that you just can’t put a price on and to see how an idea becomes a creation has been so inspiring.” So much so that she launched her swimwear line Navy Ray in 2019.
With a deep “appreciation for the water and that sense of escape that you get from it,” it was important for Navy Ray to also have a big sustainability component. “My brand’s goal is to help women feel beautiful and confident, while maintaining the commitment to a positive impact on our environment,” says Shek, an avid painter. “All of our fabric is made of pre- and post-consumer waste such as fishing nets and fabric scraps. By using these fabrics, we slow down the production of new plastic.”
After gathering ideas, sketching designs and putting together mood boards, the 35-year-old jumped into the deep end and hasn’t looked back. Keep reading for more of what Shek has learned along the way, how she navigated a new launch in the pandemic and what she hopes this brand will do for women everywhere.
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What do you want a woman to feel when she slips into a Navy Ray suit?
“I want women to feel confident, comfortable, feminine and strong. ‘Wearing a Navy Ray suit renewed my sense of femininity and bravery’ – getting feedback like this makes me love what I do so much more and motivates me to create new suits that will keep empowering women.”
What’s your favorite style in your collection?
“It would have to be the Maui. This one-piece suit just hugs the body. With adjustable straps it will never dig in or fall off. Also, Cabo/Rio is my most popular bikini, and I keep bringing it back every season in the new color palette. This swimsuit fits incredibly and looks amazing on any body type. The entire bikini is adjustable, so I can customize the amount of exposure that I want, which is perfect for any occasion.”
What was the hardest part of launching a business?
“I think the hardest part was just getting it started. I didn’t know anything about what it takes to build the business or about the manufacturing process. I think my biggest challenge was navigating from finding a local swimwear production [facility] that would take small orders to learning the whole business side (budgeting, accounting, fabric sourcing, etc.). After facing numerous challenges, I had to learn how to do everything step by step, from making patterns and using a sewing machine to building a website and launching marketing campaigns. This was the hardest but possibly the most rewarding part of this journey so far. And there is still so much to learn! “
Since launching, how has your brand grown?
“It’s growing nice and steady. We were proud to introduce several collections and many styles for every body type. I want to see the brand’s continuous effort in sustainability and a bigger involvement in the communities. I’m excited to see what’s next for Navy Ray, and I definitely want to be involved in every aspect of this business for a long time. I really do care for it and want to keep it 100% mine.”
Navy Ray is produced in Canada. Why is it important to keep it local?
“Every piece is designed and manufactured in Toronto. Using local staff allows me to be involved in the whole production process as well as ensure that there’s the least possible waste in materials. Our commitment to the environment is reflected even in the details, right down to packaging from 100% recycled paper hang tags to biodegradable garment and shipping bags.”
Do you think customers are more invested in brands that have a purpose?
“I believe so. Customers are aware of a brand’s ethics and vote with their loyalty by supporting sustainable lines. Brands have a huge potential to make a positive impact. They can influence our behaviors and our aspirations. People have the right to change the world for the better – and brands need to find a way of helping. Every small step we take toward creating a change is one step closer to a sustainable future for the industry.”
Were you always philanthropic?
“We can all give or do something to help someone around us and make this world a little bit better. With Navy Ray, I aim to not only reduce the impact on our environment but also use my brand’s voice to raise awareness for the beauty and fragility of our oceans. I donate 3% of the profits to Parley for the Oceans, an environmental organization and global collaboration network. They work to protect marine environments from plastic pollution and other threats.”
Have you had to pivot at all in the last two years with the pandemic?
“At the beginning of the pandemic, I shifted from making swimsuits to making masks for the frontline workers and volunteers at the pet shelters. I made over 100 masks in a few days. As for Navy Ray, we were well-situated for the turn in the economy. Earlier business decisions allowed us to maintain the same workflow. Since we produce locally in a limited quantity, we didn’t have any issues with supplies or production.”
Is there something you learned along the way that can help aspiring entrepreneurs?
“Don’t wait for the perfect time to start something new, take the risk and just begin. Create a vision and start working on it. Dive in and things will work out if you show your commitment. Dreams do come true. Believe in yourself!”