Interview with Fashion Designer & Creative Director Kara Palmeri

Our Owner and Creative Director Kara Palmeri, along with her husband Frank Palmeri, started Mazu Swim almost seven years ago.They wanted to make swimwear more accessible for all women by creating a personal shopping experience, providing excellent customer service, and empowering women by designing figure-flattering designs across all sizes at a time when options were limited.

Since so many women aspire to pursue a career in the fashion industry, we wanted to sit down with Kara and get her insight on dealing with criticism, her creative inspirations, what it’s like working with your spouse, and what's next for Mazu Swim.

Why did you start Mazu Swim?

Frank and I noticed a huge void in the market in the swimwear category; a lot of the assortment lacked freshness and wasn’t body inclusive. The bigger companies were designing for the missy sizes and then utilizing the excess fabric for the plus sizes. We thought, why not intentionally design for every type of body and every type of size.

Additionally, from Frank’s 25 years in the industry, he saw that men were making a lot of the decisions on women’s swimwear. We wanted Mazu to focus on design, detail, and construction from a women’s perspective.

Our designs were also our way of empowering women, and this was especially important because at the time the body positivity movement hadn’t begun, and there weren’t a lot of options for curvier and plus size women. We made body inclusivity our priority from the start, and we’re proud to have been at the forefront of the movement.

Who is Mazu?

Mazu is the Chinese goddess and patroness of the sea. She’s actually the most worshipped goddess in modern day. Mazu is fierce, brave, and courageous-the ultimate female symbol-which is exactly what I wanted the company to stand for.

What’s your educational background, and do you have any advice for people who want to go into apparel, but don’t have a background in it?

I was an English double major and a minor in tv and film. I think my education does help me with multiple facets of the business-especially marketing. I think there’s a lot of room for people to pursue apparel across every category. It’s been the same thing for a really long time. In swimwear specifically, there are a few large retailers who have a huge cut of the market and the retailers. But with smaller companies like ours-we’re asked to compete at the same level as the larger market. We just do it with a smaller staff and a more hands-on approach.

With larger brands, owners of those companies probably aren’t packing up orders, or answering phone calls and facebook messages. But, I know how valuable those interactions are.

As far as advice for people that want to get into the business; it is a very challenging business with a lot of moving parts. If you have a dream and a vision, I would look at it from a business planning framework; from a financial end, a design perspective, and a logistical perspective. I would also advise on getting a mentor in the business.

What are some challenges of being a business owner, and how you deal with criticism?

I love constructive criticism, even negative feedback. I love all feedback, because it’s vital in making our product better. I listen to all of it, the good, the bad and the indifferent.

For instance, when we see someone saying, “my straps keep coming off.” We truly look at it and assess if we are bringing the best strap and hook to our customer. Lately, women have been asking for certain underwire. That feedback was our inspiration in designing our Keyhole Pleated Skirt Swimdress which features an underwire bra.

I would absolutely love it, if I could spend all day listening to customer feedback. I think it’s an invaluable tool that not many companies focus on.

How is it like working with your husband?

(Laughing) It’s the number one question I get asked all the time! Everyone is sometimes very surprised by it! We’re really good-we have the same business mind. Do we always agree on everything else? Absolutely not. It’s a fine balance-we talk about swimwear all day long, all night long. But, it’s our livelihood, our business and our passion. So, it’s amazing, but also the most challenging relationship to balance out.

Where’s Mazu headed next?  

We’ve gotten such great reception from our swimwear! Because of that we’re launching an active wear line for 2020 that we’re really excited about. We have loyal customers, and we can carry that (loyalty) into so many other categories. I see active wear as the most logical next step for us because women are wearing athleisure before they’re wearing jeans and a t-shirt. I think with our fit and our designs-it’s an absolute ace in the hole.

We go to the print show every year and spend hours combing through prints. A lot of times at the booths you see redundancy, and I’m always inspired by something that’s really unique. This year, we found a French print artist who designed some exceptional patterns.  We’ve scaled them to our designs, and really made them our own-I’m especially excited about this amazing paisley print. The colors, brightness, and boldness in our prints are truly beautiful. I can’t wait for customers to see them!