Karina Irby, the original Moana Babe. At 28 years old, she's built the world famous Moana Bikini line from humble beginnings to almost every beach around the world. With her second major project underway, Bikini Body Burn, a partnership between Moana Bikini and Strake Fitness, Irby wants to help girls all over he world feel happy, comfortable, carefree and confident in their own skin. From the first design to the now booming business, we caught up with Karina to chat about Goals, Plans and how she got to where she is now.
Tell us a bit about yourself, your journey, what you’ve created and what inspired you to start your business?
I’m a small-town girl with a love and passion for the beach, the ocean and the surf, who only ever wanted to live a life surrounded by all of those three things.
I grew up on the Mid-North Coast of NSW between Lake Cathie and Bonny Hills, just south of Port Macquarie. I spent all of my spare time at the beach and in the water and when it came time to choose a career path, I decided to head to the Gold Coast to study Sports Management and Exercise Science.
After completing that qualification, I didn’t really find a great deal of work within that field, and I was working retail in the surf industry, as well as teaching surfing in Coolangatta.
It came as a shock one day when my surf store boss called me on the phone and said I was fired – wrongfully I might add! Because we played around at work so much I thought he was joking! But he said he had been told by a reliable source that I’d been sending customers to other stores. I was embarrassed I got fired. I knew the person I was, and am — I’m really nice, good at my job – and I thought those people were my friends.
So, at that point, I had finished Uni and was unemployed, living away from support with no income. Throughout my teenage years, I always had a huge interest in cheekier-cut swimwear, and especially those with bold, unique designs. Unfortunately, there weren’t many brands producing the styles I wanted, or my friends wanted, or at least not in Australia at that point in time. I would be endlessly hunting, either online or in retail outlets, trying to find the perfect cut bikini with the perfect pattern. So, I thought, screw it, everyone had always said to me I should do my own bikini line, so that’s what I decided to do.
Armed with an $800 loan from Dad, I entered the swimwear industry with 20 pairs of bikinis I sourced from overseas in a wholesaling arrangement. That agreement didn’t last long as I wanted to create my own designs and leave my own mark on the swimwear world. And now, seven years on, I guess it wasn’t a one-off thing! Dad has only just let me pay him back three months ago.
While it was a combination of weird and random occurrences that led to me starting Moana, looking back it all seems like it was meant to be!
Along the way I have been lucky enough to create and grow a brand that communicates some important personal values.
Moana Bikini is more than just a swimwear brand. We represent a carefree, fun and active lifestyle.
Moana Babes feel comfortable, confident and carefree in their own - regardless of any so-called ‘imperfections’ that society / social media might negatively construe.
They smile, laugh and live life to the full, supporting and empowering each other along the way.
Moana Babes truly are a global Moana Army; they don’t follow trends, they create them, and all without a care in the world about what other people think.
When / How did you know there was an opportunity in your market and to take a chance?
It wasn’t until a holiday in Hawaii where I started to see a few more brands heading in the direction I was interested in. One thing led to another and I began wholesaling for a Hawaiian company that attempted to satisfy the growing demand for cheekier cut, eye-catching swimwear. This only lasted for a short period of time as I began to grow confidence in the designs that I had in my head and desired more and more control of the business model. The company I was wholesaling for actually wanted me to become their exclusive Australian distributor, but I felt, more and more, that I wanted total control of the design, marketing and sales process.
After many late nights and many trips back and forth to visit manufacturers overseas, I had a product I was happy with, separated myself from my wholesaling relationship and began producing my own cuts, designs and prints under the Moana Bikini label. Fast-forward seven years, and seven ranges, and here I am!
My timing couldn’t have been more perfect and, luckily, I rode the Social Media wave - specifically Instagram - as it grew in popularity, and as a marketing tool, and have built Moana to a position where our consumer-generated marketing activities almost match our own internal activities. We have a huge, active and really supportive following that push and market the Moana brand for us. It’s really quite amazing. We love our Moana Babes!
What is your mentality when it comes to setting goals? And take us through your process.
Sometimes, with so much on the boil at once, it can be hard to think strategically - but I regularly try to put some space between myself and day-to-day operations to look more broadly at the direction of both Moana // BBB and my personal life.
Most goals I set revolved around happiness. It might sound silly and tacky, but any goals related to either myself or the business/es can be drilled down to happiness. I try to steer clear from specific monetary of financial goals…that’s not what motivates me, so I aim to set goals around more core motivations - keeping my customers, myself and my staff happy.
With regards to Moana // BBB - I think about myself and what would make me happy when it comes to swimwear and health and fitness trends and try to project those thoughts onto my beloved customers and into the future. With regards to how that has transferred into business outcomes; specific bikini styles and patterns, specific range themes, specific photoshoot locations, specific fitness guides - all these have come from this method of goal setting.
When it comes to personal goals - think about what makes me happy now, or in the past, and how to continue that happiness moving forward. With regards to how that has transferred into personal outcomes and directions; my choice in where I live, my partner, how I spend my spare time etc - all of this comes from this method of goal setting.
How do you deal with a roadblock?
There have always been, and I am sure there’ll always be, challenges and roadblocks along the way… without them, it would all be too easy, and achieving success wouldn’t be as worthwhile! That’s the first step, knowing that hurdles are all a part of the process.
After that, I lean on the tight-knit team I have around me. I am so adamant that you need to surround yourself with great people, people better than you in certain areas. You are truly stronger as a team (if you have the right team) and I have yet to come across a business hurdle that we haven’t been able to, at least, solve, or at most, turn into an exciting opportunity.
Returning to ‘first principles’ is always a really good grounding and simplifying process to help with roadblocks. That is, I think that most problems are far more simple than they first seem. Drill everything down to the core problem, ignore the ‘noise’ and focus on the available solution/s.
Where do you find inspiration when you started Moana Bikini and where do you find inspiration now?
We are constantly being inspired and every, single day is considered a part of the design process.
We’ve some really exciting developments coming throughout 2018 and 2019, which we can’t mention just now, but let’s just say they’ve placed even more of a focus on our design process and ensured that the design team are focussing on new prints and patterns on a daily basis.
No idea has ever been, or is ever, too silly or out there and we ensure that a cycle of constant improvement and refinement is in place. As soon as one range is complete, the next is being worked on – sometimes often two or three ranges at once are being tinkered with. It’s a very exciting and inspiring process and we can’t get enough of it!
Obviously, being a swimwear label, we’re very inspired by the ocean and beautiful coastal environments and everything that comes with them. But as our design style has grown and matured, we’ve begun to find inspiration in different areas; abstract geometric designs, flora and fauna, colour and light… inspiration truly is everywhere! We can’t wait to show our Moana Babes what 2018/19 is going to bring!
What kind of advice do you wish you had when you were starting out?
This is something that I am asked a lot!
No matter what advice I had, or wished I had, I don’t think there’s ever been a better or more enriching experience than just getting your hands dirty and learning from the experience. But...
Firstly, do it for yourself.
Don’t do it for profits. Don’t do it for the image. Don’t do it because someone told you to. Don’t do it just because you don’t like working for someone else. There are going to be incredibly long hours, soul-destroying hurdles and long periods of time before, or during which, you might not turn a profit. If you aren’t personally and internally motivated, then you won’t make it through these struggles. Find a problem that you, personally, want to solve, or a gap in the market that you, personally, have experienced… and go and solve it, for you!
Secondly, know your customer.
If you don’t truly know your customer, then you can’t effectively market to them and, in turn, you’ll have trouble selling to them, or anyone. Thankfully, in 2017, this has never been easier - with real time metrics across all online eCommerce and marketing platforms, if you don’t know your customer and how their product, marketing or media consumption works, then you’re not doing your job properly.
Thirdly, have fun.
Isn’t that why you wanted to be your own boss in the first place!? Enjoy it and make it your own, and it’s true, you’ll never ‘work’ a day in your life.
Tell us, what’s next in the pipeline?
Everything I do in my business and public life revolves around making my customers happy.
I just want to continue to create products that help to make girls around the world feel comfortable, confident and carefree in their own skin.
Moana began as a way to create swimwear that I, personally, wanted to wear, but wasn’t being manufactured by the major brands in the industry.
Since it began, seven years ago, however, it’s become so much more than that; it’s a lifestyle choice for females now and the brand embodies so many positive, empowering values.
I want to continue to build on that side of the brand with products and projects (like Bikini Body Burn) that help girls be, and feel, the best version of themselves that they can be.
Moana will be creating more products, across more ranges and campaigns moving forward - really aiming to quench the insatiable thirst our customers have for new swimwear designs. We’re also exploring some really exciting brand extensions and accessories that we know our Moana Babes are going LOVE!
Bikini Body Burn continues to go from strength to strength too. We’ve just launched EAT - our goal-oriented nutrition guide, which is a true industry first. Throughout 2018 and 2019, BBB will also be exploring some amazing brand extensions and accessories that are going to make our BBB Babes health and fitness lives so much more amazing and enjoyable!
On a personal front, I just want to continue living a healthy, happy and fulfilling life - experiencing as many places and cultures that I can, building a positive and enjoyable life with my partner in a location that I love.
How important is having a strong team for your business?
I am a big believer in surrounding yourself with amazing people, with better skills than you if needed, to ensure that your product is as perfect as it can be. I’m the first to admit I’m not THE BEST at everything that I attempt to do, anyone who says that they are, are either someone that I want to meet! Or a narcissist! ;-)
I bring in skilled talent to help with both graphic design and pattern-making elements of the production cycle, because their skillset ensures the designs are the best they can possibly be, as well as providing me with more time to focus on the marketing of the brand and product; something I feel I am best at, and enjoy the most.
Design is definitely one of the most important aspects of the business to me. Moana’s bright, bold and unique print and pattern designs are one of the elements that ensure we stand out from, and remain ahead of, our competition, so we do spend a lot of time and resources ensuring our designs are perfect.
The Moana Team have a great time in and out of the office and that’s the way I always want it to be.
All of the team are really talented in their respective fields of expertise, but working at Moana is definitely not all about your skillset. Personality-fit is a HUGE thing for Moana. We’re just going through the hiring process at the moment for a new team member and the trial process is all about how well the potential candidates’ personalities fit with those already in the office. We’re all pretty crazy in here… so they’ve got to be just as crazy as us! ;-)
To me, you’re only as strong and successful as the team that you surround yourself with.
What or where are 10 things that you want to tick off YOUR bucket list?
I have been SO lucky to have already ticked off many things on my bucket list already!
I have found the person I want to spend the rest of my life with.
I have purchased a home in a dream location for me.
I have travelled to places I only ever dreamt about as a child: Hawaii, The Maldives, French Polynesia.
But I definitely still have some things on my bucket list - you’ve always got to have dreams and goals to keep yourself motivated and inspired.
I still have serious travel goals: Iceland, New York, The Bahamas, Safari in Africa… to name a couple.
I want to help Moana grow, not only into one of the biggest swimwear labels in the world, but into a true lifestyle brand, with supporting products and accessories and a global community of like-minded Moana Babes.
I want to help BBB grow into the most trusted source for females’ Health and Fitness online, with supporting products and accessories so all girls, worldwide, have the ability to meet their Health and Fitness goals.
Most importantly, I want to remain happy and healthy myself and continue to remove excess and unwanted noise and drama from my life.