Beefcake Makes 1920s-Inspired Swimwear Focused On Size & Gender Inclusivity

Beefcake Swimwear

Mel Brittner Wells is the founder of Beefcake Swimwear. "Beefcake started because a non-binary friend of mine wanted a 1920s-style swimsuit, but the only ones she could find were vintage originals made of wool. Because I’d grown up sewing some of my own clothes, I offered to try making her one," she says. 

Wells quickly learned swimwear is difficult to sew: "As I was complaining about how hard swimsuits are to make, other people expressed interest in having a swimsuit like this—a simple one-piece with more coverage, but not a skirt or other frills. It seemed like a viable business idea so I went for it."

Beefcake Swimwear

Wells - a size extra-large herself - thinks that the notion of demarcating extended sizing as “plus size” is wrong. She says, "It doesn’t reflect the reality that the average women’s size in the US is a 14/16." Her solution? Throw out traditional sizing models. "While most brands start with a small or medium, we built out our patterns from a size extra-large, partly because that was the size of the first prototype I made to fit-test on myself. I was free and always available! And partly because of the reality of what would likely sell." She says her theory was correct. Extra-large has been Beefcake's top-selling size.

Wells sees Beefcake Swimwear as part of a small but growing number of companies recognizing the reality of the marketplace in terms of sizing. She continues, "I hope that our 'plus size' consumers always feel like they are not just normal, but worthy of being seen and celebrated as Beefcakes. They are valued and considered in every step of our business, from pattern-making to design to marketing."

When Beefcake launched in 2017, their size offering ranged from extra-small to 2X. During the first week of their Kickstarter campaign, however, they had requests for larger sizes and quickly added 3X to 5X. 

Beefcake Swimwear

When I asked Wells what she's learned from launching Beefcake, she replied that one of the biggest challenges that the company faces is staying true to all of their values and building a sustainable business. All of their swimsuits are made in the USA at a woman-owned company that pays fair wages. Wells continued, "We use some of the most sustainable and highest-performing fabric available in the world. We also try to provide excellent customer service. On top of all this, we're trying to keep our prices as low as possible." She remarked that adherence to these values is challenging because this is not the norm in the male-dominated start-up culture of the US. When asked what advice she'd give to fellow entrepreneurs attempting to revolutionize the start-up environment she said, "Find the people who get you, especially when you’re trying to build a different type of business, and keep them around. It’s tough being different, but I believe it’s worth doing things the right way."

What's next for Beefcake? Wells reports, "We’re currently facing the question of whether or not to seek outside funding, since so far this has been bootstrapped by me and crowdfunded. I spent two years and about $5,000 of my own money to get to the point where we could do a Kickstarter, and then we raised over $35,000, which gave us the boost to become an online direct-to-consumer swimwear company. Most of our profits go right back into the business, which means I still haven't quit my day job. This company is an evenings-and-weekends gig, with help from my wife. We still need to figure out how to scale but also stay true to our values, and I don’t have the answer to that yet."

">
Beefcake Swimwear

Mel Brittner Wells is the founder of Beefcake Swimwear. "Beefcake started because a non-binary friend of mine wanted a 1920s-style swimsuit, but the only ones she could find were vintage originals made of wool. Because I’d grown up sewing some of my own clothes, I offered to try making her one," she says. 

Wells quickly learned swimwear is difficult to sew: "As I was complaining about how hard swimsuits are to make, other people expressed interest in having a swimsuit like this—a simple one-piece with more coverage, but not a skirt or other frills. It seemed like a viable business idea so I went for it."

Beefcake Swimwear

Wells - a size extra-large herself - thinks that the notion of demarcating extended sizing as “plus size” is wrong. She says, "It doesn’t reflect the reality that the average women’s size in the US is a 14/16." Her solution? Throw out traditional sizing models. "While most brands start with a small or medium, we built out our patterns from a size extra-large, partly because that was the size of the first prototype I made to fit-test on myself. I was free and always available! And partly because of the reality of what would likely sell." She says her theory was correct. Extra-large has been Beefcake's top-selling size.

Wells sees Beefcake Swimwear as part of a small but growing number of companies recognizing the reality of the marketplace in terms of sizing. She continues, "I hope that our 'plus size' consumers always feel like they are not just normal, but worthy of being seen and celebrated as Beefcakes. They are valued and considered in every step of our business, from pattern-making to design to marketing."

When Beefcake launched in 2017, their size offering ranged from extra-small to 2X. During the first week of their Kickstarter campaign, however, they had requests for larger sizes and quickly added 3X to 5X. 

Beefcake Swimwear

When I asked Wells what she's learned from launching Beefcake, she replied that one of the biggest challenges that the company faces is staying true to all of their values and building a sustainable business. All of their swimsuits are made in the USA at a woman-owned company that pays fair wages. Wells continued, "We use some of the most sustainable and highest-performing fabric available in the world. We also try to provide excellent customer service. On top of all this, we're trying to keep our prices as low as possible." She remarked that adherence to these values is challenging because this is not the norm in the male-dominated start-up culture of the US. When asked what advice she'd give to fellow entrepreneurs attempting to revolutionize the start-up environment she said, "Find the people who get you, especially when you’re trying to build a different type of business, and keep them around. It’s tough being different, but I believe it’s worth doing things the right way."

What's next for Beefcake? Wells reports, "We’re currently facing the question of whether or not to seek outside funding, since so far this has been bootstrapped by me and crowdfunded. I spent two years and about $5,000 of my own money to get to the point where we could do a Kickstarter, and then we raised over $35,000, which gave us the boost to become an online direct-to-consumer swimwear company. Most of our profits go right back into the business, which means I still haven't quit my day job. This company is an evenings-and-weekends gig, with help from my wife. We still need to figure out how to scale but also stay true to our values, and I don’t have the answer to that yet."

Virgie Tovar is an author, activist and one of the nation's leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp, a 4-week ...