Moana Bikini - Interview with Founder Karina Irby

Karina Irby is the brains and beauty (and everything in between) behind the world famous swimwear brand Moana Bikini. We chat to her about her journey with Moana and all the tips, tricks & lessons she has learnt along the way! 

“Introduce yourself! Who is Karina and what are you all about?”

I’m Karina Irby, founder of Moana Bikini. I’m all about making women feel confident and carefree in the skin they’re in – no matter their size, shape or perceived ‘flaws’ – and I am more than happy to do this by making a fool of myself along the way!

My goal is to utilise Moana – and more broadly, Social Media – as a tool to unify, empower and inspire females around the world. I want to change people’s perception of Social Media as a negative tool for and encourage it as a place for connection and to grow a global community of boss b*#$^s that bring each other up and have each other’s’ backs!

"Tell us about Moana and how it all started?” 

First, foremost and the utmost, I just love bikinis. I have always lived, travelled to and wanted to be, at the beach. Bikinis are my favourite item of clothing.  

Throughout my teenage years, I always had a huge interest in cheekier-cut swimwear, and especially those with bold, unique designs. Unfortunately, there weren’t many brands producing the styles I wanted, or my friends wanted, or at least not in Australia at that point in time (late 2000s). I would be endlessly hunting, either online or in retail outlets, trying to find the perfect cut bikini with the perfect pattern.

It wasn’t until a holiday in Hawaii where I started to see a few more brands heading in the direction I was interested in. One thing led to another and I began wholesaling for a Hawaiian company that attempted to satisfy the growing demand for cheekier cut, eye-catching swimwear. This only lasted for a short period of time as I began to grow confidence in the designs that I had in my head and desired more and more control of the business model. The company I was wholesaling for actually wanted me to become their exclusive Australian distributor, but I felt, more and more, that I wanted total control of the design, marketing and sales process. 

After many late nights and many trips back and forth to visit manufacturers overseas, I had a product I was happy with, separated myself from my wholesaling relationship and began producing my own cuts, designs and prints under the Moana Bikini label. Fast-forward nine years, and countless Collections, and here we are! 

My timing couldn’t have been more perfect and, luckily, we rode the Social Media wave - specifically the growth of Instagram - as it grew in popularity, and as a marketing tool, and have built Moana to a position where our consumer-generated marketing activities almost match our own internal activities. We have a huge, active and really supportive following that push and market the Moana brand for us. It’s really quite amazing. We love our Moana Babes!

“What's your top tips for starting a business in the ecommerce world?” 

Great question and one that I get asked a lot! Over the years, I have narrowed it down to three important points.

Firstly, do it for yourself. Don’t do it for profits. Don’t do it for the image. Don’t do it because someone told you to. Don’t do it just because you don’t like working for someone else. There are going to be incredibly long hours, soul-destroying hurdles and long periods of time before, or during which, you might not turn a profit. If you aren’t personally and internally motivated, then you won’t make it through these struggles.  Find a problem that you, personally, want to solve, or a gap in the market that you, personally, have experienced… and go and solve it, for you!

Secondly, know your customer. If you don’t truly know your customer, then you can’t effectively market to them and, in turn, you’ll have trouble selling to them, or anyone. Thankfully, in 2020, this has never been easier - with real time metrics across all online eCommerce and marketing platforms - if you don’t know your customer and how their product, marketing or media consumption works, then you’re not doing your job properly.

Thirdly, have fun. Isn’t that why you wanted to be your own boss in the first place!? Enjoy it and make it your own, and it’s true, you’ll never ‘work’ a day in your life.

“How would you explain success and what does it mean to you?”  

Success to me is heavily geared around, and anchored in, health and happiness. Because life, at present, is so ‘non-stop,’ those moments where I have the chance to slow down and be thankful come sparingly and fleetingly. It’s actually a resolution of mine to stop and take the time to enjoy what my hard work has helped to build and be more thankful for how lucky I am to have achieved so much success already!

I was lucky enough to purchase my first home recently. Because of the success of Moana, the home itself is in a dream location for me and is a really perfect, beautiful house, perfect for the needs of my little family – my partner, Ryan, and our two Chihuahuas, Billie and Barnie. After the sale had settled and I had the keys in my hand, standing on the balcony with my partner and our puppies, I definitely felt ‘yes, this is what I have worked so hard for.’

I’m definitely not a greedy or materialistic person, though, and I love nothing more than spoiling the people I love and sharing my success. The feeling of ‘yes’ related to the new home was more about what it stood for, rather than the actual bricks and mortar; security, stability and a place to build a future with the one that I love.

I’ve had that ‘yes’ feeling before when on holiday with my partner in beautiful locations. We’ve been lucky enough to travel to some beautiful locations with Moana and have the time and pleasure of just enjoying the pristine natural environment. When I get the space and the time, either physically or mentally, to slow down… that’s when I really have a chance to enjoy what our hard work has created.

Moana, allowing me to travel to locations I had only ever dreamt about, definitely helps to create the feeling that I have been succeeding in my business and personal endeavours.

Of course, there are going to be some really great opportunities for my father and his injury (he’s a quadriplegic) now he’s located on the Gold Coast (he just moved up here 2 years ago), and I’ll definitely be making sure that nothing stands in the way of his rehabilitation goals. I want my success to impact his success! 

“What does your daily grind look like and what does it include?”  

A typical day for me starts around 6:30 am when I am awoken by my Chihuahuas, Billie and Barnie, running around the base of the bed wanting to have some morning cuddles with my partner Ryan and I! We’ll get up and get ready and have a light breakfast – typically a blended protein shake or juice – and we’ll be in the office sometime around 8am – Ryan and I find we are most productive between 8am and midday – so we’re pretty quick at getting into the office each morning to make the most of that productivity!

Office hours will involve a variety of different tasks, depending on where we are in the production or marketing cycle for Moana Bikini but are usually a mix of:

  • Order processing and packing
  • Customer service emails
  • Shooting stills and filming video for online marketing collateral
  • Editing promotion images and video for online marketing collateral
  • Print and pattern design
  • Liaising with manufacturer/s
  • Photoshoot organization
  • Media commitments
  • Staff Management (there is myself and 4 – 5 other people working in-house, depending on the day)

We’ll try and finish around 4pm to get home in time for a walk along the beach, a training session with my friend and trainer, Liv (2 – 3 times per week), Ryan might have a surf, after which we’ll cook a nice, healthy meal at home together (one of the highlights of the day) and relax in front of Apple TV or Netflix.

Weekends are usually pretty low key and all about chasing the sun and surf and getting Billie and Barnie all worn out!

“What's one thing you wish you knew when you started Moana Bikini that you know now?”  

I wish I had learnt / knew that one of the best keys to running a successful business is to surround yourself with people better and more talented than you. If you want your business to be successful, you need to put your pride aside and hunt for people that are better than you at everything other than your speciality.

“What is your WHY?”

I feel that building a community of strong, like-minded women is really my purpose in life. For almost the past decade, I have been doing this by making swimwear and swimwear related content – but in the coming months we have a new business launching that will help to communicate this goal even more. 

I love spending time on Social Media engaging, interacting and continuing to spread this message. We’re in such a cool time in history where we’re more globally connected than ever before, and I just love the fact that – for all of the bad press Social Media can get – that it’s possible to use it as a tool to connect, inspire and unify. 

And, to be brutally honest, I actually have NO IDEA what I would be doing instead! I studied Sports Management and Exercise Science at Uni, but it wasn’t really something I was truly passionate about. I was always looking for a way to connect with other like-minded girls around the world and to make people feel good about themselves… and Moana has been such a blessing to me and our global community in this respect.

"What lessons have you learned or what has surprised you along the way?”

A few of my pretty random - but totally key - takeaways from the past, almost decade, in business include:

  • Kindness and understanding can solve 99% of all problems.
  • Always trust your gut instincts and intuition.
  • No one will ever care as much for your dream/s as you do – and that’s totally fine.
  • Surround yourself with people smarter than you and better at you at everything other than your speciality.
  • Never let anyone convince you that you’re working too hard or too long hours – they’re projecting their unwillingness to do the work that you love doing - nothing worth having ever came easy!
  • Always forge your own path and don’t try to imitate or copy someone / something else.