Junior Clare Cornelius wears Resurface Swim’s 4 Way top and Anna bottoms on her way to surf at Colony Beach, Calif., in September. Cornelius said she created her brand because she wanted to offer a sustainable way to purchase swimsuits.
Photos courtesy of Clare Cornelius
Clare Cornelius, junior International Studies major and Sustainability minor, said she is deeply passionate about sustainability and fighting against climate change. Cornelius started her small business, Resurface Swim, in April selling handmade eco-friendly women’s swimsuits in a multitude of styles and sizes.
To be more environmentally friendly, Cornelius thrifts all of her clothes. Cornelius said she decided to make swimsuits because they are one of the few garments that are hard to buy used, because it is unhygienic.
“[Swimwear] is one pocket where they don’t really have a lot of options and you can’t buy secondhand,” Cornelius said. “So those were all the thoughts going through my head when I was deciding.”
Resurface Swim started when Cornelius had a dream on a flight home to Nashville from the Bahamas where she was sewing swimsuits. Cornelius said she participated in a semester abroad program her junior year of high school at the Island School in the Bahamas where she learned about sustainability and ocean conservation.
Cornelius said her hometown influenced her beliefs around climate change but this program opened her eyes to the truth of this crisis and its effect on the planet.
“I didn’t believe in climate change until junior year in high school,” Cornelius said. “I grew up in a very conservative area [and went to] a private Christian school.”
Before starting her business, Cornelius said she made sure she did her research in order to decipher where she could get the right material to ensure that her products were as sustainable as possible.
Cornelius said her swimsuits are made of econyl — a material made from recycled waste — imported from Italy. The material is turned into yarn and then transported to Carvico Fabrics — also in Italy — where it is transformed into fabric. From there, the fabric is shipped to Solid Stone Fabrics in Martinsville, Va., where Cornelius buys it.
“I’ve liked working with [Solidstone Fabrics],” Cornelius said. “It’s good to know that it’s not some huge corporation, it’s a small fabric store.”
At first, Cornelius said she was nervous to start her swimwear business because she knew very little about sewing and fashion in general. However, she stumbled upon sewing tutorial videos on YouTube and built confidence in her skill. Cornelius spent about a month and a half trying to make a swimsuit she was proud of before she started selling them.
Over the summer, Cornelius was making around 10 swimsuits in one week — each one taking about two hours. She said she bases her bathing suit designs on what is practical for swimming and surfing, as well as what she thinks is cute.
Cornelius said she made the decision to only use Instagram and her website as a way to promote her business because traffic is much slower than if she were to market herself through a platform like TikTok.
“I’m liking the way that it’s growing only on Instagram because it grows incrementally,” Cornelius said. “It’s not like one day you’re making zero and the next day you have 200 orders, I couldn’t fill those.”
Cornelius hopes to expand her team to meet increased production, as doing it by herself can be taxing, she said. If her business grows to the point where the demand is too hard for her to supply on her own, she said she wants to be conscientious of working with a manufacturer.
“I hear about the horror stories from fast fashion and other manufacturers,” Cornelius said. “It’s hard for me to trust anyone really.”
As a part of her mission to be sustainable, Cornelius is aware of how the fashion industry affects people and can infringe on human rights, as well as its damage to the environment. Cornelius said it’s bizarre how people in the industry are willing to take advantage and abuse garment workers for cheap labor.
“How can you not value [the laborer],” Cornelius said. “They literally make the product you’re selling. They are the most important person, [the product] wouldn’t exist without them.”
Cornelius struggles with being a full-time student and a self-employed businesswoman. Cornelius said she is still learning how to navigate school, work and her social life.
“[Working] in a small business, you’re taking the time away from yourself,” Cornelius said. “It’s a lot of discipline and [I’m] trying to find that balance.”
Despite this, Cornelius said she loves being her own boss and is excited for the future of Resurface Swim.
“I like that the work that I do is directly linked to me rather than to a name or a company or anything other than myself,” Cornelius said.
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