Camilla James easily slips into her swimsuit after just coming back from Italy where naturally she was eating pasta twice a day.
On this glorious summer day James jumps into her childhood friend’s pool in West Vancouver, sporting one of her new designs.
“I want women to feel great in their swimwear – that’s really important to me,” says the owner behind the eco-friendly Canadian label, The Saltwater Collective.
James has always been lucky in the self-esteem area and credits her mom for helping encourage a positive body image.
“She’s from Denmark, so she grew up with nude beaches all around her and bodies everywhere,” says James, who would spend summers in the Scandinavian country. “There’s such a different idea about the body here versus there.”
James says she’s also grateful that Instagram only came to be in her second year of university.
“At that time it was just about sharing photos with your friends, it had no business aspect, no Instagram models (and) no influencers,” explains James.
The entrepreneur’s eyes widen when asked how she would responsibly market her swimwear to young women. She has a fresh perspective on who she wants to be the face and body of the brand.
“That’s one of my big goals,” says James. “I’m trying my absolute best to include real people. They are all friends, friends of friends, people who have engaged with the brand and shown interest.”
Most importantly, she says, is The Saltwater Collective’s commitment to not edit out cellulite, stretch marks and what people might consider imperfections.
“I think the problem in the past is you were always shown this ideal of what you should be, but now I think it’s really important to show a real body that’s something to be loved and accepted,” says James. “You should be proud to put your real self out there.”
Inspired by James’s West Coast upbringing, her current collection combines classic neutral shades with bright pops of nautical navy and cerulean blue.
Three mix-and-match bikini options are available along with a couple of one-pieces that incorporate timeless elements from vintage swim styles (think high-leg cuts and soaring waistlines) with contemporary touches like low scoop backs.
Styles from the 1980s and ‘90s also served as a retro inspiration for this collection, according to James.
“I love the high cut – I just think it’s so flattering,” she says.
Guided by the mantra that beauty comes from confidence, the bathing suits range from sizes XS to XL and are designed to celebrate diverse female physiques.
Besides body positive messaging, James decided to sew something else into the swimwear – an ocean awareness element.
“And that’s where the fabric came in,” she explains.
Saltwater Collective suits are made from an environmentally conscious fabric, called Econyl, which is woven from recycled ocean waste, including abandoned fishing nets and plastic scraps.
This innovative Italian yarn is produced using a cutting edge process that results in high-quality and breathable fabrics.
“Ocean plastics are a huge issue and we have so much more to do in order to combat the problem, but knowing that this fabric includes regenerated plastic parts is a huge factor for us,” says James.
Each bathing suit comes with a drawstring pouch in a matching colour and is made from the same recyclable material.
James just hit her one-year anniversary of being a full-time entrepreneur.She left her corporate 9-5 job for a change of scenery, but James is grateful for invaluable lessons learned about retail while working at Walmart Canada’s head office in a long-term strategic planning role.
“I need to be doing something that I’m passionate about and now is the time. I don’t have any liabilities in my life,” says James.
Being a bathing suit designer was a natural fit for someone who always had no less than 25 bikinis and one-pieces in her wardrobe.
In the summer of 2016 James was with a friend at a pop-up fashion trade show in Toronto, where she was introduced to the women behind the “cool” clothing brand, The Saltwater Collective.
“I remember meeting them and thinking, ‘Wow, that’s so amazing, I want to start my own business too.”
James carried on with her life, until a few months later when she learned The Saltwater Collective partnership was dissolving.
After many meetings and James proving she had what it took to re-launch the brand, the original owners handed over the reins to her.
You need a need more than just love of fashion to survive in business, James has learned.
Having a solid group of female friends and family supporting her helps, some of whom she’s named her swimsuits after.
“Maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise, but one of the biggest surprises I felt was how isolating it is to actually have your own business,” says James, who lives in Toronto, where her swimwear is manufactured.There is room for the Saltwater Collective to rise to the surface in the Canadian-made swimsuit market, which is not very saturated, says James.
Saltwater Collective suits are available online and in a couple B.C. boutiques – one in Whistler and Vancouver – as well as stores in Ontario. The cost for a one-piece or top and bottom together is between $140 and $165.
“I hope that it becomes the brand that you think of when you think of Canadian swimwear,” says James.
“No, we don’t have the Australian climate but we still want to feel great in our swimwear and I think that there’s a big opportunity for it.”