Meet the Designer: Melissa Odabash

By Suzanne Bernhardt

My designs are crafted as works of art, working in harmony with the body to project inner confidence and inspire true admiration.
— Melissa Odabash

The Swim Journal was delighted to recently interview Melissa Odabash, designer of the famed luxury lifestyle brand of swimwear and resortwear that bears her name. Not many swimwear designers have achieved her level of status and recognition in the industry, boosted by a strong base of loyal repeat customers and a huge celebrity following. What are Odabash’s secrets to success? She shared a few key ones with us—as well as such insight as which swimwear styles are her personal favorites.

TSJ: How did you get started in the swimwear business?

Odabash: About 20 years ago, I was a swimwear model working in Italy, and I didn’t like anything I was wearing, so decided to do my own line. They key elements that I wanted to add to swimwear were body-conscious fits, details to tailoring, soft and luxurious durable fabrics, and bringing runway fashion trends to swim and resortwear.

TSJ: Which came first in your collection, swimwear or resortwear?

Odabash: I started with swimwear and quickly saw a need in the market for resortwear to work back to the swim. I started with handmade crochet cover-ups, inspired by my mother’s 1970s crochet shorts and skirts.
I later expanded into my signature embroidered kaftans and vintage prints.

TSJ: Where do you get your inspiration?

Odabash: Mostly from traveling around the world. I’m always on a plane to new countries visiting vintage markets. I always try and think of what I would wear if I were on a beautiful beach, especially with an après beach lifestyle—Florida, Caribbean, Italian coast, Dubai, etc. I then design styles around that climate and ambiance. I don’t follow just one inspiration.

TSJ: What sets your line apart from all others?

Odabash: I think the collection has a trademark look, and customers have said that they can spot my styles from far away. Having a loyal client base is testament to the fact that great quality goes a long way.

TSJ: You also manufacture a children’s line; do you have plans to add any other categories?

Odabash: I have incorporated more accessories, such as hats and sandals. This year I have done a standalone après beach ready-to-wear collection. I often do collaborations with other top designers and exclusives for high-end stores and resorts.

TSJ: What factors would you say contribute to your success?

Odabash: Staying true to the core identity of my brand, not just following trends, and never sacrificing high-end quality for profits. All our swimwear is made in Europe with Italian and French fabrics.

TSJ: This is a very competitive industry. What do you do to make sure your line stays
out on top?

Odabash: I think there are so many lines that are all very similar, catering to the 18- to 25-year-old generation. This is a very difficult business to stay on top of. But I have a very loyal customer base and a great celebrity following, so I am very lucky. I have also been in the business for years, so I have two decades of design and industry experience.

TSJ: What are some of the biggest challenges facing industry manufacturers today?

Odabash: Keeping up with demand and shipping on time; there are always challenges for the factories to ship timely, as there can be many obstacles, such as fabric arriving faulty. I could write a book, as most of my day is problem-solving. The U.S. market is also experiencing a lot of disruption in the retail segment. Cash flow is king and as your business grows, and clients pay late or request longer terms and discounts, it is important to stay on track and not grow faster than is sustainable.

TSJ: What are some challenging issues facing retailers?

Odabash: I live in the U.K. and find in comparison that the U.S. retailers have too many sales throughout the season, and this destroys the fashion business. It is a shame that so many retailers have gone out of business or are having difficulty competing with e-commerce.
I still love going to stores and getting the full experience—especially feeling the fabric at the time of purchase.

TSJ: What advice would you give to new designers and manufacturers entering the industry?

Odabash: Start small, don’t offer too much, and get production perfect before expanding.

TSJ: When you are not working on your label, what do you like to do to relax and unwind?

Odabash: I love spending time in Florida, the Maldives and the Bahamas, doing outdoor activities such as rollerblading, paddleboarding and jet-skiing. I also love spas and shopping.

TSJ: When you pack for vacation, what types/styles of swimwear and cover-ups are must-pack items for you?

Odabash: White bikinis—skimpy styles with a European cut. I love chic one-pieces, and my Sports Luxe collection is great for paddleboarding.
I always wear a hat. I love all my beachwear, so whatever stock is leftover I grab, as ironically, I’m always last to get anything!