Helena Fogarty is the founder of MI OLA, an active swimwear line she created after moving from NYC to Costa Rica to surf and learn Spanish. Helena had trouble finding a bikini that was designed for active women, and she also wanted to see an evolution in the representation of women in advertising and the media. Drawing on her years of experience working in high fashion, Helena designed and launched MI OLA as a solution to these issues. Today, she is as dedicated as ever to advancing the conversation on what a woman in a bikini is “supposed to” look like and what she is capable of.
Name: Helena Fogarty
Company Name: MI OLA Swimwear
Job Title: Founder and CBO – Chief Bikini Officer
Based in: Rockaway Point, NYC
Originally from: Evanston, IL
Superpower: Persistence and tenacity
A woman in history you admire & why:
Hillary Clinton, because she is breaking so many glass ceilings!
Quote/piece of advice that you live by:
1) Easy choices, hard life. Hard choices, easy life.
2) This one’s a little less intense…Do your best to be present, AND find the joy in the routine.
What inspired you to start your current venture?
I am a surfer and I have an MBA with 20 years of experience in high fashion. I moved away from NYC and left my high-fashion life to surf in Costa Rica and with a goal to become fluent in Spanish. When I was in the water surfing 4 hours a day, I realized just how flimsy and unstable women’s swimwear can be. I came to realize that this issue is universal — just about every woman who has ever worn a bikini has lost a swimsuit top or bottom in the pool or the ocean. I decided that women have been forced to spend way too many hours of their lives adjusting their swimwear, and I created MI OLA to fix that problem. We want to create active swimwear that enables the women who wear it to be able to experience more fun and less stress!
What is your company doing to make history today?
We are helping women have more fun while being active at the beach — AND we are changing the way that women are portrayed in swimwear.
What is one thing you and your company have accomplished that you are most proud of?
We have customers in 35 countries that love MI OLA.
What is one project you are currently working on that you are most excited about?
I am so excited to do the upcoming shoot for our new line — we’re shooting active women of various shapes and sizes on the water.
What, in your opinion, is one of the biggest challenges facing your industry today?
We have a lot of work to do to fix the way that women are portrayed in advertising and the media. There are so many things that need to be changed — the creative brief, style of photography, models’ body type, retouching, image editing, etc. We have to undo these unrealistic body ideals and evolve our idea of what is sexy.
When we plan a MI OLA shoot, we work differently. Our models wear our active swimwear while playing, surfing, practicing yoga, jumping, diving, etc. and we photograph them in action. We don’t show women posing in the stereotypical barbie posture, lounging aimlessly the beach and looking sexy for the male gaze. We shoot photos of active women on the water — and we don’t retouch.
What is a trend in your industry that you foresee becoming popular in the future?
It is encouraging to see that the work we are doing — evolving the portrayal of women in advertising and the media — has become part of a larger trend. I hope that my daughter and other kids her age will be able to grow up with a more realistic and inclusive view of how women “should” look and what they are capable of.
What is one of the greatest challenges you have personally faced at this job?
We are a small company that is growing. We may look big, but we’re not yet. Our biggest challenges come from not having enough inventory or not having enough people to do some of the things that we want to do. Also, we are a startup that is financed by outside investors, so our cash runway is always a concern. The work is never-ending, and persistence in the face of diversity is required.
What were you doing before your current role?
Right before starting MI OLA, I was on a sabbatical in Costa Rica after ending a 11 year relationship and having my job disappear. I’d been in NYC for a long time, so I decided to take a break and move to Costa Rica to surf and become fluent in Spanish. That is what led me to starting MI OLA — I discovered a problem and decided to solve it by creating a line of active swimwear that would enable women to have more fun and worry less.
Before moving to Costa Rica, I worked in high fashion for 15 years, for Chanel, Ferragamo, Zac Posen and others. I have an MBA from NYU Stern and a BS from UPenn.
What is one piece of advice you’d like to give to other female founders & change-makers?
Go for it and don’t hold back. But go hard. It is a race.
Are there any great resources you have discovered that you would like to share?
The Kauffman Foundation has great programs for entrepreneurs in the early stages.
Fun fact about yourself:
Learning to surf changed my life. I became obsessed with it. Surfing is what led me to move to Central America, meet my husband, have a kid and start my own active swimwear line, MI OLA.
Is your company is currently hiring or looking for partnerships?
We are in the midst of raising our seed round, so we are looking for investors. After we get commitments, we will be looking to hire a small team in the Rockaways, NYC.