Ten Minutes With Michele Letarte Ross
Michele Letarte Ross
Michele Letarte Ross, president of Letarte Swimwear and co-founder with sister Lisa Letarte Cabrinha, created the company with one bikini design in 2000, and now, the collections are sold in over 400 cities worldwide. Her showroom and East Coast business operations are located in downtown Fairfield. We recently got the chance to learn more about her and her iconic brand.
What did you do before you and Lisa created the company?
My background has always been in the garment industry. I worked for several California lifestyle companies as well as contemporary
What was the inspiration for you guys to create that first swimsuit?
Well, Lisa created that “first” one. It was really out of frustration. She was a pro windsurfer at the time, and none of the suits had a fresh, fun look to them, while being functional. You can’t have them come off.
Is there an age limit on wearing bikinis?
I think that if you are comfortable in a bikini you should wear it.
A Letarte bikini has been on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue the last two years. How did you feel about that?
All I can say is that it is the moment as a swimwear designer that puts you on the map. It is like winning the Oscar.
Were you inundated with orders for the suit model Kate Upton wore this year?
Yes. It’s the gift that keeps giving. We will be getting orders for that style for years to come.
Who are some celebrity devotees?
We have many celebrities, Kelly Bensimon, Beyoncé, etc. But it’s our loyal customers that are really the most important ones.
What inspires your designs?
Life, travel, friends.
I read that in 2007 you started making suits in larger sizes. What was the impetus behind this?
It is important to take cues from your customers and meld them into the collection while keeping the original design conception in mind. We actually added larger bikini tops to accommodate the separates customer.
What do you do to relax?
I love to be outside. Morning beach runs are amazing. I really like to drop my SUP in the water at Penfield.
What are your favorite Fairfield places?
Beach, Beach, Beach. In that order.
What challenges face women running million-dollar businesses?
It is easy to get overwhelmed by the many decisions and operational issues. You need a great staff around you. Which I have. Juggling family and business brings on additional challenges, especially if there is travel involved.
What was your biggest fear?
It was that an opportunity to work with my best friend, my sister Lisa, wouldn’t happen again in my lifetime and that I needed to compartmentalize any fears of starting at the bottom and to go for it.