Eileen Bell’s big bathing-suit idea
Photo by Nicola Rinaldo
It was just before spring break last year, and Eileen Bell was hanging out with her best friend, bemoaning the impossibility of finding a bathing suit that fits her. A senior at Syracuse University at the time, she was planning a tropical trip with sorority sisters, but one not-so-small problem stood in the way: her cup size.
“I’m a 32 G, and the only bathing suits with that sized cups are also gigantic in the back, the body, the band size. I have to special-order everything from Europe, and even then, most things don’t fit. Do you have any idea how much money I’ve spent on return shipping charges, alone?”
So she told her friend that she was going to buy some fabric and have someone custom-make a bathing suit for her. Her friend’s response was life-changing for Bell: “Why don’t you do it? Start your own business. You know how many people out there have the same needs as you? It’ll be a huge success. Just do it.”
Through Syracuse’s entrepreneurship department, Bell did an independent study that involved making a business plan, enlisting students to illustrate her visions, finding sample makers, and winning awards and grants that have led to her forming a company, incorporated in July. Azeer Intimates (a play on the word azure, with the two e’s serving as a bikini-top logo) will sell wholesale lines to retailers, and individual pieces directly to consumers online, starting next year.
“I went into this knowing nothing about the industry, whatsoever,” says Bell, 23, from her family’s home in New Milford. “It’s been the most intense learning experience—exhausting but exciting. To see all the pieces coming together and watching it evolve from thought to reality. It’s just mind-blowing.”
Bell graduated last May, but still lives in Syracuse, where living is cheap and her business network is strong. She frequents trade shows and seminars in New York, California, and in places like Colombia, where most of her bathing suits are being made. In March, she was ecstatic to receive in the mail a box of prototypes for the suits—all in white—from her craftspeople in Medellin. Next to come are the colors and patterns—“the fun, young designs that people our age want to wear but can’t because they don’t fit,” she says. The energetic entrepreneur has also decided to add lingerie to her offerings, since she and prospective clients find “it’s just as impossible to find a bra,” she says.
“Azeer creates high-quality swimwear for average-sized women with above-average assets,” says her website (azeerintimates.com). “These curvy, fashion-oriented women are highly underrepresented by today’s most stylish brands and often settle for undergarments which fail to suit their needs.” And the company’s Facebook page invites suggestions: “We appreciate your support on our quest to create a swim line that will help women boldly boast their beautiful curves on the beach!” it says.
“I got really serious about this when I started researching, and realized that not only are young girls developing early, but breast sizes have increased dramatically over the years,” Bell remarks. “It’s a combination of genetics and hormones in the foods we eat. Cup sizes go A,B,C,D,DD,E,F,G,H,I,J,K. I’m a G. My sister is a K. So this is something we’ve been living with for a long time.”
Bell has also been a long-time super achiever. While attending Canterbury School in New Milford, she earned awards and accolades, including the most distinguished of them all, the Dr. Nelson Hume Award for the student “whose leadership, character, and achievements have been of the highest order, and whose performance embodies the ideals of the founding headmaster.” She was captain of the lacrosse team at Canterbury and at Syracuse, repeatedly named Most Valuable Player, and graduated near the top of her class at both schools.
For all of her success, though, Bell is remarkably modest. “I really don’t know how any of this has happened,” she says, hugging her beloved big dog, Bear, who kept nudging her knee for attention. “I just kind of do what I have to do, day by day. I guess it helps to have a positive attitude.”
She was stunned to open her email recently to find a letter from the WISE Women’s Business Center in Syracuse, notifying her that she had won the Wise Faces of Success Award, which honors women who have “started/grown/managed a business … and who exhibit true entrepreneurial spirit.” Bell was to be presented the award at a ceremony on April 21 at Syracuse University.
“I actually emailed them back to see if they had the right girl,” Bell says with a shrug. “I didn’t even know I was in the running.”