As a self-professed beach lover, there was always one part of these trips to the shore that Leslie Hsu always dreaded and that was the lugging and setting up the chairs. The former handbag designer took her frustration and dived into launching Sunflow, a company that creates chic, comfortable chairs and beach accessories. “I thought, not only should it be easier, but the products themselves should be more fun and beautiful,” she says. “I wanted to provide the opportunity for everyone to create their own personal oasis at the beach.”
Hsu had this “aha” moment in August 2017 and started to really pursue this passion project with the help of her husband and business partner, Greg Besner. She didn’t know where it would lead but taking the risk and believing in herself, Sunflow has become a massive worldwide success that is sold across the country, Australia, Western Europe and is also available at major retailer West Elm. It has even wowed Mr. Wonderful himself, Kevin O’Leary, on Shark Tank where he invested $1 million with the company.
During the SI Swimsuit launch party in Hollywood, Fla., models like Brooks Nader, Josephine Skriver, Camille Kostek and more were able to check out the products, a job that first went to Willa and Lana, the couple’s two daughters. “Sunflow is a true family business,” Hsu shares of the company that sold their first chair in June 2020. Just shy of their second anniversary, Hsu further opens up about the most terrifying part of starting a business and what every woman entrepreneur can do to follow their own dreams.
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SI Swimsuit: From idea to production, how long did that take and what year did you officially launch?
Leslie Hsu: It took almost three years from that moment until we shipped our first Sunflow in June 2020. We were overjoyed by the amazing consumer response. Our mission truly resonated with beach lovers everywhere. I think it particularly resonated with moms that were so accustomed to planning and packing for long days at the beach with their families. I’m so proud that two-thirds of our customers are women and most have children, just like me.
SS: How has the company evolved over the years?
LH: Sunflow remains a family business and a passion shared by all of us. Every family vacation is an opportunity to test new products and showcase Sunflow at the beach. We remain a small, scrappy, dedicated team. An exciting milestone for our company was our recent appearance on Shark Tank Season 13, Episode 16! It’s a beautifully timed gift to be on air so that so many potential customers can discover Sunflow. It was thrilling and a great moment of pride as we walked out of the tank with a $1 million deal with Mr. Wonderful.
SS: What was the most daunting part of starting a business?
LH: It’s hard to pinpoint just one daunting part of starting a business since there are always so many opportunities and challenges during the journey. Prior to Sunflow, I launched several handbag and accessories collections and an online fashion consulting business. I’ve learned that you must be persistent and passionate to make things happen, and you have to be flexible to pivot as you encounter obstacles. There is always a way forward; it is just a matter of finding the best path. The other thing I would say is that you need to stay true to your mission and listen to your gut, while being open to improvements and suggestions.
SS: What did you learn about yourself in launching a company?
LH: I learned how resilient I am. Creating a sustainable company requires a lot of resilience. Sometimes you must take two steps back to take one big step forward. I have also learned to see a mistake as an opportunity for improvement. I take a deep breath every day and go into it ready to face the challenges that may arise with a smile and a positive attitude. And at the end of the workday (as late as that may come), I put work aside and cherish the time spent with my family knowing there will be challenges and opportunities tomorrow as well.
SS: What advice do you have for other women in business?
LH: Go for it! Don’t let anyone tell you that it can’t be done, but be willing to put in all the work required to make your dream a reality. There have been many times during the Sunflow journey where I have felt that reinventing a product that hadn’t been updated in 100+ years was virtually impossible, but I stuck with my vision and found a way to make it a reality. Also, surround yourself with smart, resourceful, supportive people that share your vision. I am so lucky that my husband is my partner in both life and business, and we each bring a completely different skill set to our business. We are also so fortunate to have an amazing and growing team that has joined our journey. Find that yin to your yang so that you can focus on what you are good at and what you love. Do something that you are passionate about so that it does not feel like work. My happy place is the beach so creating products to use in my favorite place does not feel like work.
SS: The origin story of the brand talks about the importance of unplugging. Tell us a bit about why this is important?
LH: Work/life balance is so hard to strike, and even harder when you are a business owner. I work long hours and am passionate about my work, but I make sure to set aside time to unwind and appreciate our family and friends. I designed Sunflow to make sure that your precious time away from work and responsibilities was as rejuvenating as possible. I wanted to provide a carefree, comfortable and chic beach solution. “How do I make it easy for people to use and enjoy?” is always foremost in my mind when designing.
SS: What attracted you to SI Swimsuit as a brand partner?
LH: Honestly, I could not think of a better partner for Sunflow. As a woman in business with two daughters that have just reached adulthood, I was thrilled to partner with an organization that is committed to changing the conversation around beauty, body positivity and empowerment. SI Swimsuit has always been synonymous with the beach and a healthy lifestyle, celebrating healthy women living their lives with purpose and passion. The new Pay With Change campaign only further highlights that fact. It is important to me that I live my brand values, and I love being a part of something that represents such positivity.
SS: What is next for Sunflow?
LH: We are working on many new products to make outdoor adventures more carefree. We are also exploring retail locations in some of our biggest beach markets like South Florida and Long Island. Once we launched Sunflow, we quickly realized that there are so many things that can be made a little bit better and a lot more beautifully. We also continue to introduce new products to make every outdoor excursion a luxurious retreat like the Sunnies Case, so you won’t lose your sunglasses or sit on them by accident and an adjustable contoured pillow so you can really enjoy that seaside snooze. We are developing a higher chair for our customers that aren’t comfortable sitting low to the ground. The great thing about this higher chair is that it will make for a GREAT sports spectator or tailgating chair as well. I have an adjustable table in production so you can comfortably eat at the beach. I have so many more ideas in the works!