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Lemons into Lemonade: Taylor Long of Nomads Swimwear

If you're part of the fashion community, you've probably heard the name Taylor Long. An international model, designer, entrepreneur, and size-inclusivity advocate, Taylor, has taken the fashion world by storm. From gracing campaigns for major brands like Soma and Target to spearheading a movement towards size inclusivity, she's redefining what it means to be a model and designer in today's industry.


But Taylor's journey didn't start on the runway. After spending two years on a volleyball scholarship at Jacksonville State University, she transferred to the University of Cincinnati to pursue her true passion: fashion design. Graduating with a BS in Fashion Design in May 2019, Taylor honed her skills at the DAAP program, where she laid the groundwork for her brand, Nomads, through her senior capstone collection.


Nomads Swimwear, Taylor Long's brainchild, launched in July 2020 and has quickly become a sensation in the size-inclusive swimwear and resortwear market. The brand has garnered attention from prestigious publications like Forbes, InStyle, and Harper's Bazaar, marking Taylor as a trailblazer in fashion.


Get ready to dive into Taylor's inspiring journey as we explore her path from volleyball courts to fashion runways, her dedication to size inclusivity, and the story behind Nomads Swimwear. 


Buckle up and prepare to be inspired!


Background


1.Tell me a little bit about your swimwear brand, Nomads Swimwear.

“Nomads is a sustainable size-inclusive swim and resort wear brand. We’ve been around for four years in July, which is crazy. Our core pillars are sustainability, size, and inclusivity. We're really trying to bridge that gap. My goal is for us to become the inclusive Cult Gaia. That's where I see us fitting in. So very excited about where we're headed and what we've been able to accomplish in a pretty short amount of time. But it's growing, and I'm very happy about that.”


K: Yeah, that's amazing. I love all of your drops. They're very fun. I remember seeing your very first campaign and thinking about how cute everything looked. So I've been happy to watch you grow and it's just been really cool to see that happen.


2. While attending university to obtain your fashion design degree you were also working as a model, how did this experience shape your decision to create a size-inclusive swimwear brand?  

“Had I not been modeling, I don’t think I would’ve had the idea to create Nomads. It came about very organically. There were just little things I would notice even before I started modeling within my design program that felt odd. In my first drawing classes, we were instructed to make our croquis look sickly. And I was just like, yeah, I don't.”


“I wasn't technically plus size when I started design school, I was maybe a size 8/10. But even still, I knew I wanted to learn to design inclusively. When I started modeling, I was being booked for jobs, and there were times I had to wear pads. Everything I was wearing was really tent-like and wasn’t trendy. It just was very basic. I think that’s the way a lot of people interpret plus-size women's fashion and how they think it should be. Swimwear specifically, I remember being put into, like, swim skirts and skorts and tankinis. I was 23 or 24 years old, I would never go to a store and buy any of this.”


“I would go back to school after co-ops, and we weren’t taught how to pattern, drape, or construct anything for sizes bigger than a zero or two. We had two plus-size forms for the entire design program. Everything I learned, I had to teach myself. It was just kind of all culminating at once. And when it came time for me to do my senior capstone collection, I chose swimwear. I got into fashion thinking I wasn't going to have to do a lot of math, and really, it's all math, so I excelled working with stretch material. That's where I felt comfortable.  I'm also an athlete, so I used the fabrics I'm used to living in. Swimwear was just a natural selection for me.”


Taylor Long sitting on a chair reviewing swimwear fabric swatches.
Taylor Long reviewing fabric swatches for a Nomads Swimwear collection.

3. Given your diverse background in modeling, design, and entrepreneurship within the fashion industry, how do you feel these different roles have uniquely prepared you for the journey of owning your own brand?

“Having a background in design was fundamental. I needed to have that basis. Granted, it still doesn’t prepare you for production. That's a whole different piece. A lot of things just come from experience. , Modeling also showed me the basics. When we had to shoot our collections in school, my classmates didn't know how to set up a photo shoot or creative direct. Being on the sets behind the scenes and knowing how it worked was super helpful. But it also allowed me to connect with people who could be my photographer, makeup artist, or model.”


K: Yeah, it turned you into a Swiss army knife. You just know how to do all of these different things.


“Well, the irony is, I love being behind the camera so much more than being in front of it now. The creative direction aspect is really interesting.”


4. How do you balance your modeling career and the responsibilities of running your own fashion brand?

“Luckily, with modeling, it's little work for a high return. It's not like I'm booked every single day of the week. I work enough to cover my bills, so I don't have to take things from the business. But it's also great because I can still network with people and find creatives I want to work with, which is really helpful. There's a certain cache that comes with being able to say that I still model. I'm still in the industry in that way. It all works in tandem. Nowadays, it's not enough to just be a model. More and more clients want you to have something else. So my something else is built in.”


K: No, that's amazing. It lends itself so well to what you already do with nomads that, it's a no-brainer. It just works; it balances out and gives you many opportunities there. I think it's also probably killer for your confidence as well because, like, I think when you're a founder. You're just starting, you've got so much to learn, and your brain is like, oh, my God, imposter syndrome all the time.


5. Did you have any imposter syndrome when you first started, or do you feel lucky that you had such an interesting industry perspective?

“From a business perspective, there was an imposter. From the creative side, there was never any doubt in my mind, really. But the business side of things, because I'm not a math person. That's not my expertise when it comes to accounting, finance, or forecasting. That is not at all in my wheelhouse and there was definitely a learning curve. “


K: Yeah, that's okay, though. It gives you good balance. It keeps you fresh. You're open to learning. There are always opportunities to hire people for things like that.


6. Were you always interested in starting your own company? What inspired you to start your own business?  

“I had just come back from a trip to Australia. I was visiting one of my modeling friends. I came back with all of these really cool photos. I thought it would be interesting to turn these into prints because, at the time, I was noticing a lot of prints that were computer-generated. And when you do that, they lose a lot of their texture."


"So I thought that could be interesting. I decided to do Nomads as my senior capstone. But for three-quarters of the development process, it was unnamed. I put a question sticker on my Instagram story asking for help coming up with a name for the collection. I explained that it was travel-inspired. A couple of people said Nomads. I immediately thought that sounded perfect. And so that's how it came to be."


I documented the whole process and got a lot of positive feedback, not necessarily from professors but from model friends. I started talking to professors about the manufacturing process because we had taken an entrepreneurship class. I had a crash course in it, but that's completely different from really trying to launch a brand. I went into development after finding a factory two months after I graduated and then launched the following year during COVID in July of 2020.”


K: So amazing. That's crazy. That's so fun. I love that you turned a school project into a whole business. That's excellent.


“Well, it's probably very unconventional. I went to the University of Cincinnati, and it’s typically a feeder into more corporate design. A lot of people go to Abercrombie in Columbus or Victoria's Secret in New York.”


Taylor Long, a plus-size swimwear designer and model, wearing a printed pareo and swim top.
Taylor modeling the Bay Top II and Shore Pareo in Geode.

7. What was the beginning of starting Nomads Swimwear like? Did you have a difficult time getting started, or did the pieces fall into place? 

“There's this one quote. It says a good plan will successfully affect luck. With everything I've done, people would say that I'm lucky, but they don't know all the steps that went into setting myself up for that. When I launched, I got synced up with a publicist who was recommended by another designer who didn't end up working with her. She thought we’d be a great fit. I met her, I was like, I think she gets it. A week or two after launching, there was a full article about me, my story, and Nomads in Forbes. And it's just like, what? That’s amazing! I put this brand out there and already, people are receiving it and understanding what I'm trying to do. Then, a few months later, I was on I Fund Women. And unbeknownst to me, they selected 100 black-owned brands for this Amex grant program. They reached out to me and said we'd love to get you on a call. On the call, they awarded me with a $25,000 grant. And I was like, what? It's just stuff like that. I didn't even know that was happening.”


K: You didn't even have to apply for it. You were already chosen. That's amazing!


“Yeah. There's been things like that have affirmed for me that I'm on the right track. I've been very fortunate to win over 100K in grant funding, which has been pivotal for the success of Nomads. One of them in particular, Parachute Home, has a Home for Dreams Initiative, which is for BIPOC founders. I found the link, and someone posted one of their robes, and I was like, oh, that looks really cozy. Like, let me go look at their website. I was poking around. I'm really nosy. I came across the blog post that talked about the program, and I was like, oh, that's really cool. It had a mentorship with all of their higher-ups in addition to a monetary grant. I found it on the last day you could apply.  I ended up being their inaugural winner. The universe is so weird sometimes. I think a lot comes down to choosing a direction and continuing to go in that same direction regardless of what gets in your way. That’s the number one thing that gets you that luck factor. Unwavering persistence pays off.”


K: A very cool story. I love that.


8. Was it scary when you first went out on your own? How did you get started? 

"I was very scared. It was a mix of excitement and a little bit of fear. I was very excited to get it out to the world and for people to finally see what I had been working so hard on. It was so crazy to have done it during COVID because we were in unchartered territory. Launching a swimwear brand in the middle of a global pandemic when people aren't traveling was really scary. There's that statistic of how many brands fail in their first year of business. Those things are always at the forefront of your brain. You’re hoping it does well and that people like it, but there’s always fear when starting something new."


K: Thank you for being honest. It's always good to hear that everybody is afraid when they start. Pretty much the groundwork for being a founder and starting something new when you don't know where you're going when you don't know what's going to happen. It's scary. 


Size Inclusivity


9. What initial hurdles did you encounter when developing size-inclusive swimwear, and how did you overcome them?

“Nailing the fit is obviously the most important part of it. I didn't work with a company like yours to help me develop. I developed with the factory, which has its own interesting things. I learned so much about communication. I thought  I was being crystal clear, and then I would get stuff back, and I'm like, oh, no, this is not what we talked about.  Had I known a different way to go about it, I probably would have explored that because I spent a lot on sampling, just trying to nail the fit and ensuring that sizing was accurate. Swim typically runs pretty small, and I didn't want that to be synonymous with Nomads. I'm not one of those designers who believe there should be one fit for straight size and a more covered-up for plus sizes. That's the exact antithesis of everything that we stand for at Nomads.”


K: There's a lot of hidden things that go on behind the scenes to make something into a fuller size. Sometimes unnecessary. And sometimes there are things you can hide inside that make it continue to look the same but have more support. People don't want to buy something and then get something totally different and be like, this isn't what I ordered. That's not cool.


10. Designing for a wide range of body types can present technical challenges. Can you discuss some of the specific design considerations you must address to ensure each size fits well and is flattering? 

“Taking into account the different body shapes and ensuring that there was enough of a style range that works for varying body types, especially within the plus consumer. I myself always go for a higher waist. Initially, I wasn't thinking about someone with a full middle section. Also, think through the amount of pull, and the amount of lift, especially with mesh. Making sure it fit comfortably and that it wasn't too tight in certain places. And I think as someone who is plus size, those are things, obviously, that I know about and pay more attention to just because that's my reality. If you're straight-sized trying to design for plus, you may not know that any of these things are a factor. “


K: Yeah, I think that's one of the best things that you can have as a designer, is to have the lens of who your audience really is and be able to be like, you know, I am her or I've been her, or I can empathize with where she is and what she's going through. That's the reason why I got into design in the first place. I started making my own clothes because I was sick of wearing Lane Bryant middle-aged woman's clothing. Nobody wants that when you're a teenager. No, thank you.


A plus size black woman and straight size latina woman modeling black swim tops and swim bottoms.
Two Nomads Swimwear models wearing the Bay Top II and Bay Bottom II in Black Bio.

11. As a size-inclusive advocate, what advice would you give to other designers who want to embrace inclusivity in their brands?

“If it's something that's important to you, educate yourself on it first and foremost. And then if it's something you're not familiar with but you want to implement, like lean on the professionals. There are people who do specialize in size-inclusive design. Years ago, I think it was really hard. But I think nowadays there are more folks who are able to do that.”


“And I think being very intentional about how it's communicated to the customer when you do have it and when you roll it out because that's, I think where a lot of brands mess up is they may have a great extended size offering, but they don't put it in stores or they don't announce that they have it. And it's treated kind of almost like the ugly stepsister when it should be something that’s being celebrated. If that customer doesn't feel welcome and included and they previously weren't able to shop your brand, that's not going to entice them to want to do it just because you have the size. You really have to be intentional about it, be loud and excited about it because then they will mirror that excitement.”


“It's been really interesting to see brands kind of dip a toe and then now are like pulling back and eliminating inclusive sizing altogether. It's really upsetting because, for a few years, we were really on a roll and seeing more and more places do it and now it's not that anymore.”


K: Yeah, I totally agree. Many brands mess up with their marketing and the way they don't use plus models or tell us what size they are and what size they're wearing. Like, come on. It's so helpful for us to make comparisons. I mean, we're doing it automatically anyway. So, like, show us somebody that kind of looks like us and remind us what size she's wearing, and it would help me make the right decision on what I want to buy.


“I'm glad you brought that up that I've actually had to have with my wholesale partners. Anthropologie, for instance, the model that they use to shoot all their plus, wears our XL. So I'm like, you're carrying up to a 5X, but you're shooting it on an XL. I don't know how that customer is supposed to understand what that's going to translate on their bodies. And then luckily with Shopbop, when it syncs up to where we have the imagery to send it to them. They have been open to using some of our e-commerce imagery. So you actually see it on a plus body. They don't necessarily shoot it for us because they only shoot on straight size. But in the past, we've been able to have them utilize our imagery so that plus-size consumers can see themselves represented and see how the fit looks on them. The model is really important. And that's why I at least try to shoot everything on three sizes -  S, XL, and 2X. So people can have more of a guidance in terms of how the style is going to translate on them.”


K: Yeah, I do have to say that is one thing that you do impressively well. Your models and your shots. You pick beautiful models, all different shapes and sizes. Everybody looks so fun and excited in what they're wearing. So that is really great about Nomads.


12. Communication and feedback are crucial in the design process. How do you engage with your customers to gather insights into their preferences and experiences with your size-inclusive swimwear?

“I'm definitely big on feedback and communication. For a while there, when we would get returns on a specific style, I would reach out to customers and see, what is it about that style that wasn't working or what they wished was different. Just to kind of get a better understanding, especially if it was a style that I was seeing consistently returned. And then I just like asking folks, what do you want to see from us? What would you like to have from us in the future? A lot of times people will tell me whether they like it or not before I get into it, or they'll be like, I love this. It would look great with, you know, x, y, and z style if you had that, too. So I love it when people give us feedback and suggestions. I'm definitely open to doing what the customer wants because obviously, that's what's most important.”


“I try to pick things that are going to be loved by the masses. We've got a few new styles coming out for resort that I think are going to do incredibly well. We're doing one new bikini style and then a few new true resort wear styles.”


K: When does that drop?


“December, but it is very much in process, and we just finished the development last month, so we're in sampling.”


K: That's awesome. Very cool. Looking forward to seeing that and checking it out.


Travel


13. Nomads Swimwear, draws inspiration from different destinations around the world. Can you share a particular travel experience that profoundly influenced one of your collection designs?

“I did our first-ever brand collaboration with an amazing artist out of Miami named Raina Noriega. She wanted to pull from her Bahamian heritage to influence the collection. So she had her inspiration of different things you would see on the island, and then she illustrated, each of the prints that we used, and it was so cool just because I think it was different than what we typically do. Normally, if I go somewhere, I'll photograph different things that just appeal to me and then work with them in Photoshop to find some sort of print and repeat. But this was the first time we really did something truly illustrated. And then we actually shot it in the Bahamas, which was very full circle. We shot with flamingos. It was definitely one of the coolest shoots I've ever done, ever. It was one of the most unglamorous, just in terms of all the schlepping.”


K: Oh, I remember those 04:00 a.m. wake-up calls.


“Oh, my word. we didn't even stay the whole day. We were in and out, the same day. It was less than 8 hours. We shot in a bird sanctuary and then on a beach. It's been one of my favorites I've done thus far, I have to say.”


K: It's one of my favorites, too. I love all the colors from that collection. It's so fabulous.


ck model weating a red iguana printed one-piece swimsuit and headband.
A Nomads Swimwear model wearing the Isle One Piece in Iguana.

14. You create one-of-a-kind prints based on your travel photography. What is that process like? 

"I think a good example would be our Iguana collection that launched in March. It's not like we've never seen a reptile print before, but that one was really interesting because one morning in Mexico I was at breakfast and this iguana had come very close to my foot. I was actually a little bit concerned. I was able to get close enough to take a picture of his scales. And we literally used that as the basis for the print. We made it into a repeat and then recolored it. iPhone photo to full print."


K: How do you usually do that in Photoshop or on Procreate or something like that?


“Yeah, it definitely starts with Photoshop. My background is not in print design. I think that's a whole other beast, so recently I started working with a really great print designer. She's really great. She did our Iguana and our Pothos print. The Pothos one was just a photo of a leaf. I was like, dude, work your magic on this. And then she delivered. It's really cool!”


K: Yeah, that is a really cool one. It's kind of like a kaleidoscope.


15. What travel destinations is currently the highest on your bucket list?

“There are a few places I haven't been. I really want to go to Thailand. And I've actually never been to Europe. Whenever it's time for me to travel, I'm always like, I want to go somewhere tropical. Europe is never at the top of the list for me, but I think that could be really interesting. South of France or Italy would be really cool. And then hopefully by then, I can afford to shoot there.”


K: Thailand is really beautiful. The Phi Phi Islands are the most majestic place I've ever been. It's unreal. I love Asia in general. It's always so interesting to see the world. 


Advice 


16. What is the biggest failure you've experienced in your business? What did you learn from it?  

“I think there's been a couple of instances where I have worked with folks where it hasn't necessarily been a good fit. Depending on how the relationship is structured, it can be really hard to get out of those things, and it ends up creating more drama, issues, and headaches. I think ensuring that when working with new people I am set up for success in those partnerships. Making sure that if something is not going as it should, I'm able to course correct. Making sure that there are expectations that are being met, and if they're not, I can point to those things as reasons why I'm not going to move forward with something. Just make sure you're on your PC when you're getting into certain agreements especially those that have extended periods of time. Always start with the shortest amount of time for a contract just to really ensure that it's the right fit for you in your business.”


K: Yeah, it can sometimes be very hard to untangle yourself from partners. So making sure it's a good fit and knowing that you can course correct, I think that's incredible. I think we often think we make a decision and it's final forever and you can't undo it, but you can undo just about anything. 


“Learning how to pivot quickly is impactful and important. I think that's one of the things that I excel at. Not necessarily in that specific situation, but in other situations. Say for instance I've really been banking on this particular fabric. If they can't get it, instead of digging my heels in, I consider the alternatives. Let's go with this. You have to be able to pivot and not get too hung up on things.”


K: That’s a great trait to have as well. You can't get too caught one, one route. There are many ways to achieve the same goal. 


17. What's the best advice you've ever been given in life or business? 

“This is gonna sound cheesy, and I'm sure a lot of people say this, but trust your gut.  I think no one knows your business better than you. No one knows your goals and intentions for your business better than you. So you can take in as much outside advice as you want, but just make sure you're being true to yourself and true to what your vision is for the brand because only you're really going to know that. And other people may be putting their own biases and their own experiences onto you. It's important to be able to kind of distinguish that and still be able to make those decisions for yourself and make sure those are ones that you're going to be happy with at the end of the day.”


K: So important and on the nose. Going with your gut is some of the best advice you can take in business because you have a weird, spidey sense when things feel wrong and there's a reason for that. So listen to your guts.


A plus-size black model wearing a pothos-inspired printed bikini top and bottoms
A Nomads Swimwear model wearing the Current Top II and Current Bottom II in Pothos.

18. What's the most recent lesson your business has taught you?  

"The importance of putting yourself out there and not being afraid to tell people about what you're doing. I think a lot of people don't want to brag about themselves. And it’s not. You're just sharing your passions and what you're working on. It's so interesting, the doors that will open when you put yourself out there and share what you're working on or what you're excited about. I think a lot of the opportunities that I've been given and kind of stumbled into have been from me purely just sharing what I'm working on and what it means to me. So definitely tell people what you're doing. Be excited about it!"


K: I love that advice, and I'm going to totally take that to heart because I feel like I needed to hear that. So thank you.


19. What advice would you give to aspiring female entrepreneurs? 

“Just remain steadfast in your vision and be persistent. Persistence pays off in all facets of things, especially if it's in a situation where maybe you got a no. That doesn't necessarily mean it's a final no. It may not be a right now kind of situation. And that can be for wholesale, that can be for different partnerships, like all that kind of stuff. I think just staying true to your mission, remaining steadfast, and being persistent, all those things will infinitely pay off in the world of business. And as an entrepreneur, I love that.”


20. What's your favorite part about being a business owner? What's the hardest part?  

“There's a lot of things I love. I really like being the one in control of the design and creativity. I think that's such an empowering and fun aspect of the business. My least favorite part is lord anything in regard to numbers and logistics., I really have to gear myself up to do all of those things. And you know, having to make hard decisions. That sucks. It's part of the business, but, it never gets easier. You just figure out how to navigate it a little bit better, but still, at the end of the day, it sucks.”


K: Good advice for me today. Very, very helpful. I needed that reminder today. 


21. What is something you have accomplished that you are most proud of?

“I think our venture into wholesale is something that I'm super duper proud of. It was not on my list of things that I wanted to do in the beginning. When I first launched Nomads, I was very much like, we're going to be D2C, not knowing how expensive it is to be purely D2C and what all that would entail especially if you don't have millions of dollars in venture capital. Being able to secure Anthropologie and Shopbop, both via LinkedIn or Instagram, were huge gets. And in both scenarios, we are the most size-inclusive, sustainable swim brand carried by both retailers. For them to even carry our stuff, they had to update their internal company-wide purchase ordering systems. Those are huge, huge accomplishments that I'm still thrilled about.”


K: That's awesome! I think many people get into it and don't realize the D2C side. I mean, that's only one small facet of the business. And, like, there's actually a bigger world out there in wholesale. And it's tricky, too.


“It is. But I don't think I realized the additional benefits. It can be pretty consistent in terms of the orders that are placed. You kind of know when you're going to be getting those. You can pretty much not bank on them 100%, but, you know, have a good idea of what might be coming from a forecasting perspective. It helps bring your margins down because you're going to be ordering more than you may for D2C. Almost like free marketing in a sense. And nowadays if you want investment, you kind of have to be omnichannel and have both things going at once. So, yeah, it definitely has its cons. I won't say it's like a perfect system, but it definitely has a lot of pros, too.”


22. What's your favorite 'game-changer' tool that you can share with everyone? (ie. hellobonsai, airtable, later, etc.). 

“I'm a big proponent for WGSN. I love being able to utilize their trend forecasting. Even if it’s just purely for their color standpoint. It helps inform the coloring of my destination prints. They charge so much money. But I love, love, love WGSN.”


23. Where can we find you if we'd like to learn more about you? 

“Yes, you can find more about me personally on my personal Instagram. 


And then, of course, follow Nomads on Instagram and TikTok. 


Shop Nomads Swimwear at: https://nomadsswimwear.com/


A blonde and black plus-size models wearing blue and green geode-inspired printed one piece swimsuits.
Taylor and a fellow Nomads Swimwear model wearing the Shoreline One Piece II in Geode.


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