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Fashion Journal Feature

Fashion Journal Feature

Fashion Journal Feature

Noosa’s Charlee Swim is handmaking pieces inspired by vintage swimwear

WORDS BY CAIT EMMA BURKE

“When customers send me messages saying they now have the confidence to be in a bikini at the beach or that their swimwear fits perfectly it just makes me so happy and proud.”

There’s something special about vintage swimwear. The cuts are more flattering, the fabric of a higher quality and often, the colour palettes and prints stand apart from contemporary swimwear. Noosa-based designer Charlee Taylor understands the timeless appeal the swimwear of yesteryear holds more than most.


Looking for more fashion news and features? Head to our Fashion section.


For her label Charlee Swim, she cuts and sews vintage-inspired pieces by hand, using recycled lycra and towelling. Since launching in 2019, she’s cultivated a devoted customer base. With a variety of swimwear available in vibrant shades of tangerines, blues, greens and pinks, and a selection of post-swim wear made out of towelling, Charlee Swim’s pieces are an ode to a sundrenched, ’70s-inspired summer. Below, she shares the journey of her label so far.

Tell us about you. What’s your fashion background? 

I’m 25 and moved from South Australia to sunny Queensland when I was young and haven’t left! I love living in Noosa. I think we’re so spoilt with the weather, surf and community and I have the best friend group here. Living so close to the beach growing up I always had a thing for cute swimwear. I’d beg my mum to buy me the latest trending swimmers and when I could finally fit into Seafolly as a teen my life was made. As I got older and started earning my own money I’d just buy swimwear.

 

Even in winter, I’d figure out a way to style it with layers or wear a one-piece as a bodysuit with jeans. When I was 18 I was about to move to Brisbane to study law and criminology at uni but a week before I was leaving I realised that I wanted to start a fashion course at the local TAFE instead. I interned during the course at a couple of big brands and also worked in a local fashion retailer and started sewing for another swimwear biz. She has since closed down but that’s where my love for making swimwear ignited.

How did the label get started? Talk us through the process and the challenges. 

 

When I graduated at 20 I really just wanted to work for other brands and get industry knowledge for a few years but about a month after graduating I was bored so I started up my own brand with zero expectations and as a creative outlet but it got popular very quickly and it’s been a roller coaster since then!

I then worked on it full time from when I was 23 and I feel like it’s been a slower growth but I’ve got the most loyal and lovely customers and I feel like I’ve built a very sturdy and sustainable business by not purely focusing on that fast growth. I made so many mistakes at the start (I still do!) but gosh I’ve learnt a lot.

What were you trying to achieve from the project at the time? How has this evolved and what are you trying to communicate through the brand now? 

Charlee Swim has truly stayed the same since I started it. I still hand-cut and sew everything on my industrial machines and only make it in small quantities. I’ve just grown into the brand and have staff to help but now I truly feel like it’s a representation of me. It took me a while to turn a blind eye to everything that was happening around me and stop comparing my business to everyone else’s.

 

I started the brand when I was so young, I was still trying to figure myself out and that translated through the swim. But now that I’m older and have a better understanding of that I’m enjoying it so much more because it’s genuinely a translation of me and what I want to show the world. Which is being open about where things come from, making quality pieces from recycled fabrics and just having fun along the way.

How would you describe your label to someone who’s never seen it before? 

Someone said to me a little while ago that my brand is for someone who loves the outdoors, surfing, swimming etc but also has this love for fashion and I couldn’t agree more. Our pieces are so functional, comfortable and easy to wear but also have a beautiful vintage and fun look to them that stands out.

What are you most proud of in your work on your label? 

 

Definitely making it all by hand. It’s hard. And keeping up with the demand plus making time to do the 100 other things you have to do as a small biz owner. It’s tiring but thankfully I now have a few staff that take that load off a little. It’s nice to have people to bounce ideas off too and not be in your own head all the time. Also when customers send me messages saying they now have the confidence to be in a bikini at the beach or that their swimwear fits perfectly it just makes me so happy and proud.

What do you wish you knew when you started? 

That you don’t have to get it right every time and sometimes the only way you’ll learn is via your mistakes, and trust me you’re going to make a lot of them. Also that everyone is going to have an opinion of what you should and shouldn’t do but it’s up to you to make the right decision for yourself and your brand and sometimes you have to drown out the white noise. And to just be yourself! Stay in your lane and the right customers and opportunities will come to you.

Who do you think is most exciting in Australian fashion right now? 

 

I’m actually loving Lottie Hall or Apres Studio at the moment, I always have really but they’re both brands that create these unique designs and add their own twist. I’m so sick of seeing the same thing (mostly from fast fashion brands) so it’s really refreshing.

What about the Australian fashion industry needs to change?

I think sale culture and bringing out new things for the sake of staying on top of trends. It just feels like there’s a huge sale every week at the moment! I think the whole industry needs to just slow down and take a breather.

Go-to dinner party playlist? 

I have one that’s called ‘Dine’ which I listen to every day really in the studio as I love it so much and it features Fleetwood Mac, Blondie, Florence & The Machine, The Daughters of Eve, Bee Gees then finishes off with some much loved ABBA – a real mixed bag!

Who is in your wardrobe right now? 

 

My dear friend Isobel Badin’s range, Nagnata which I wear when I’m sewing and lots of Nobody denim – I find it so easy to match back with the swimwear and easy to accessorise.

How can we buy one of your pieces? 

Just purchase online! Then we make it to order within a few days. Or via one of our stockists listed on our website.

You can browse Charlee Swim’s range here.