Gigi Caruso has never let her hearing disability define her. If anything, it has made her more determined to fight for what she wanted in this life –which happened to be starting her own swimwear line at the age of 16. “I want people to know that you should always follow your dreams, no matter what may be holding you back,” says the Gigi C designer. “A disability does not define you. I believe the hardest battles are given to the strongest people and a disability is only going to make you a stronger person.” Caruso was born with bilateral moderate to moderately severe sensorineural hearing loss at birth, a common type of permanent hearing loss that stems from damage to the inner ear.
Since launching her swimwear-turned-athleisure line, Caruso, now 22, has seen her styles worn by Joan Smalls, Irina Shayk and Selma Blair, and has been featured in countless Swimsuit Issues. “It was such a dream come true to see all these women and more in GIGI C,” she shares. “It really validated all the hard work and dedication that goes into the brand. It also inspires me to continue to make products that women want to wear and feel good in!”
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Despite not being able to hear the ocean for much of her childhood, the beach has always been where she felt the most serene and why she was drawn to designing swimsuits. When she was 14, Caruso received the Phonak Lyric hearing aids that enabled her to hear not just the ocean but everyday occurrences we don’t think twice about like rain. Below Caruso opens up about the moment she heard the waves for the first time and how she hopes to inspire others through growing her brand and advocacy.
You launched your brand at such a young age. How did you find the determination to follow through with this?
“I’ve had a business/entrepreneurial side to me ever since I was a little kid. I grew up with two very entrepreneurial parents [her dad is real estate mogul Rick Caruso and mom Tina is a former swimsuit model and fashion designer], so I have also been able to learn a lot from them. The determination to follow through with launching GIGI C really came from my passion for swimwear and design, and I saw a gap in the market that I was determined to fill.”
What did you do to prove you deserved to be in the room?
“Being a young entrepreneur, it was sometimes difficult at times to have my voice heard. I was managing employees at the age of 16, which came with its own challenges. I think what really helped me was just being confident in what I was saying, following my heart and acknowledging that I may not know the answer to everything. Even when you’re a CEO or in a higher-level position, I think it is so important to hear what everyone has to say and always be open to feedback from anyone on your team.”
You turned your disability into a strength. What would you want someone going through something similar to know?
“It may not be a smooth road to success, and you may have to navigate through some obstacles. There are so many things you are going to learn along the way, so it is important to always be open to new ideas and to remain curious. Growth isn’t always a straight line up, so don’t get discouraged.”
You are a hearing loss advocate. Has more awareness been raised over the years?
“Yes, with social media people are so much more open and willing to share their stories. It creates a stronger sense of community for people of all abilities. Sharing on my own platform has allowed me to learn from others’ experiences and has also allowed me to help many. People reach out to me frequently about their own stories, whether it’s about themselves personally, a friend or their own child. It is so special to connect in this way and to be able to support one another.”
You received Phonak Lyric hearing aids at 14. What was it like to hear certain sounds like waves crashing for the first time?
“Hearing through Lyric extended wear devices allowed me to hear 24/7. It was the first time my ability to communicate was limitless! Lyric gave me the opportunity to hear so many incredible new sounds (which I continue to discover). Hearing the waves crash clearly for the first time was such a special moment. When I heard the rain for the first time, I said to my parents, ‘I can hear the rain!’, and they replied, ‘Yes, it’s raining out,’ then they paused and realized for the first time I could hear the rain. There were multiple moments like this that were so special. These moments made me realize that I didn’t want to view my hearing loss as a ‘loss.’ I view it as a gain, a gift. I was never born with the ability to fully hear, and now I’ve been given this gift to hear so many beautiful sounds of the world.”
Are there any advancements to allow hearing aids to be waterproof?
“The company that produces my Lyric devices, Phonak, recently released the first waterproof hearing aid - the Paradise Life! I have a pair, and it is really amazing to be able to swim with the hearing aid in my ear and to hear sounds, but for me, it doesn’t compare to the sound quality, levels of sounds and comfortability that Lyric provides me with. It is such an incredible advancement, and I encourage people to meet with their audiologist to determine what the best option is for them.”
You do a lot of work so that others can also hear…
“Sound provides people with an opportunity to develop language and communicate with others. It is an incredible sensory experience that provides safety and helps us learn about the world around us. It brings so much joy to people’s lives and makes me really happy to be a part of this journey for others. I especially love working with kids because that is such an important time when they are learning how to communicate and have so much to discover. Promoting awareness about hearing loss will hopefully encourage more people to seek treatment and allow more people to connect.”
How did your love of the ocean bring you to design a swim line?
“I took my love for the ocean and water sports and channeled it into designing a swimwear line because I was struggling to find swimwear that was fashionable as well as functional. I wanted to wear pieces that were unique but also that would keep up with me being active in the water. GIGI C’s signature pieces are made with high-end luxurious European fabrics that are both flattering and supportive. Our best-selling Riley Surf suit is the perfect example of this! Whenever I put a Riley on, I feel confident, sexy and ready to take on anything!”
Is the beach still your happy place? Which beach destination is your favorite?
“Yes, the beach and the ocean have always been my happy places! My favorite beach destination would be in Turks and Caicos. I went to a beach where you were able to walk out nearly 200 yards in knee-deep water. The water there was so blue and clear with white sand beaches! It was such a dream!”
What makes the perfect swimsuit?
“I believe the perfect swimsuit makes a woman feel confident when she puts it on. I want everyone who wears GIGI C to feel comfortable and feel their best. Any woman in GIGI C is unstoppable!”
Anyone you would love to see in your designs?
“I have always loved Hailey Bieber’s style and think she would look absolutely incredible in GIGI C!”
Goals for the brand?
“My dream is to see GIGI C become a lifestyle brand. We have grown from being just a swimwear brand to also launching into activewear and loungewear. I would love to tap into more resort wear and so many other categories that I have to keep a secret for now ;)”