Plunging Headfirst into the Fashion World

PROVO, Utah – Oct 22, 2020 – When she was fifteen years old, Marissa Barlow, a BYU Marriott School of Business strategic management junior from Smithfield, Utah, scoured the internet for hours in search of the perfect swimsuit to take on her family vacation—without any success. This experience sparked an idea to start her own swimsuit company. Now, six years later, as the founder of Nani Swimwear, Barlow strives to empower women and help them feel confident and comfortable in their swimwear.

“I remember trying to find a swimsuit online for what seemed like forever,” Barlow says as she recalls the experience. “I felt like there were only two types of swimsuits: bikinis and one pieces. I’ve never loved bikinis, and I didn't want to wear the one pieces, but I didn't feel like there were many options in the middle. I turned to my mom with the idea, ‘Hey, we should start a swimsuit company together.’ I had a need that wasn’t being met and that's what inspired me to start Nani.” With the help of her mom, other student entrepreneurs, and mentors from BYU Marriott’s Rollins Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology, Barlow’s idea eventually blossomed into a successful swimsuit company.

However, at first the road to starting her own company was a bumpy one. “For the first few years, I wasn't making any profit with Nani. I worked for about three years without earning a paycheck,” she says. “I took on extra jobs just to fund the business. What fueled my drive to keep working extra hours and staying up late at night was the passion that I had, not for the swimsuits specifically, but for the vision of Nani. Nani’s mission is to inspire and empower women, and that mission is still what keeps me going.”
Barlow loves being by the water—whether she is camping by the lake or surfing on the ocean—so she personally understands how important it is to find the right swimsuit. “Swimsuits can affect someone’s self-confidence,” she says. “One woman messaged us and shared that she has diabetes. Our swimsuits have a patent-pending design that includes pockets. This customer was so excited because she could put her insulin pump in the pocket, go outside and be active, and not have to worry about the pump. Hearing so many stories about how our swimsuits are empowering women is the most rewarding part of the business for sure.”

When Barlow first started Nani, she didn’t know much about being an entrepreneur. “I started the company with two other women, and none of us had ever worked in fashion or had any idea how to start the brand,” she says. “There was a huge learning curve because we were all inexperienced in the industry. We started from scratch with literally nothing, and we failed several times in the beginning.”

Although Barlow still encounters challenges, her company quickly expanded in the past few years. The company now sells its uniquely designed swimsuits to thousands of customers from all over the United States, Canada, and Mexico. “We’ve grown so much in the past few years, and I hope that one day Nani will be recognized as a worldwide brand,” Barlow says.
Throughout this growth process, Barlow learned the most through trial and error and by talking to other student entrepreneurs. “Starting a business as a BYU student is the best decision anyone could make because everyone is eager to help,” she says. “Having a variety of people to talk to about being an entrepreneur has made a huge difference in my journey as a business owner.”
The Rollins Center has been one of Barlow’s most valuable on-campus resources. “The Rollins Center continues to connect me with mentors and other entrepreneurs who have great advice,” she says. “All you need to be an entrepreneur is an idea that you’re passionate about. The Rollins Center has essential resources to help you take that idea and get your business moving.”

One of the resources from the Rollins Center that Barlow took advantage of was the Student Entrepreneur of the Year (SEOY) competition, which aims to recognize and award students who start their own companies while attending BYU. As a finalist of the 2020 SEOY competition, Barlow was awarded $1,500 from the Rollins Center to help fund her company. 

Barlow encourages aspiring entrepreneurs to follow through with their business ideas. “You don't have to be the smartest person in the room or even know anything about the industry that you're going into,” she says. “When I started Nani, I didn’t know anything, but I kept working hard and growing.”

“Success comes from asking questions and the ability to adapt,” Barlow continues. “Many people are scared to start their own businesses because they think they don’t know enough, but your lack of experience doesn’t necessarily matter. You just need to be passionate about your idea and dive right in—just go for it.”

Marissa Barlow
Marissa Barlow
Barlow works on creating tech packs for the factory. Photo courtesy of Marissa Barlow.
Barlow works on creating tech packs for the factory. Photo courtesy of Marissa Barlow.
A photoshoot for one of Nani's new swimwear lines. Photo courtesy of Marissa Barlow.
A photoshoot for one of Nani's new swimwear lines. Photo courtesy of Marissa Barlow.

Media Contact: Chad Little: (801) 422-1512
Writer: Sarah Calvert