We are thrilled to bring you an honest and insightful conversation with Rachael Calvert, the founder of swimwear brand MARVELL LANE. As a fuller bust woman herself, Rachael saw a gap in the market for sexy and stylish swimwear suitable for a bigger bust. Frustrated by the range on offer, she decided to launch her own brand (despite the fact she didn't have a fashion or manufacturing background!) So, she took a huge risk and guess what? It paid off. Women across Australia (and the globe) flock to Marvell Lane for chic, timeless and confidence boosting swimwear, that is flattering and the perfect form and fit for a fuller bust. She's faced huge challenges along the way but has persevered and we love her story of grit and dedication and can't wait to see what comes next from Marvell Lane. Here's her story. Enjoy.
So, Rach! What’s in your VESTIRSI Carly crossbody bag right now?
Definitely my iPhone (always), Clarins Lip Comfort Oil, Ultravoilette Supreme Screen 50+, Bare Minerals Bare Skin concealer, an old leather card wallet for miscellaneous cards & car keys - the usual suspects! (Certainly a lot less than your other guests who have children!)
Marvell Lane founder Rachael Calvert wearing Marvell Lane swimwear and the VESTIRSI Carly Crossbody bag.
Favourite beauty products? (The things you buy over and over again!)
- Clinique Even Better Glow Foundation - I have been using this for about 3 years and it’s like a sheer, second skin - I always get asked what I’m wearing when I wear it and I’ll die if they ever stop making it.
- Klorane Dry Shampoo - nothing holds a wave quite like it.
- Natio Mechanical Eyeliner - Brown - such a soft, blendable eyeliner. There is a similar MAC eyeliner but the Natio one beats it on price and everywhere stocks Natio if you run out! I love it and have used it for years.
We love your MARVELL LANE Instagram, where you share a wide range of style tips for fuller busts. Beyond just bathers, you share your favourite recommendations across a wide range of your favourite fashion finds. What are your top tips for dressing a fuller bust in a flattering way?
For me, I am quite curvy relative to my height, think: small waist, fuller hips and bust, so the trick for me is to find pieces which show off my shape, otherwise the fabric just shoots off my breasts and floats around me like a tent. Not at all flattering.
I love a good bias cut slip dress - I have a gorgeous Zimmermann one - classic black, so I’m a repeat offender in this one and a stunning coral pink Spell & The Gypsy slip dress. Straight slip dresses do not suit my curves, so I definitely avoid them. I wear a lot of high-waisted pants and skirts as well. My favourite combo at the moment is a Bec & Bridge Classic Midi Skirt (Champagne colour) paired with a knotted linen top - I have a favourite St. Agni top I love for this look. This will show off my waist and emphasise my curves without being too risqué.
Like VESTIRSI, MARVELL LANE exists to fill a gap in the market. You found it impossible to find fun, functional, flattering and un-frumpy bathers for a fuller bust. However, we’ve all had ideas of businesses we’d love to create and we wish existed, and they’ve remained in our imagination and day dreams… What was it that pushed you to actually go out in 2017 and create MARVELL LANE yourself and did it take you a long time to build the courage to take this leap?
I transitioned into designing swimwear when I moved to Byron Bay nearly 5 years ago and could not find one swimsuit or bikini set that would fit my bust. I don’t consider my bust or body shape to be unusual but the fuller bust community seemed to be a sector of the swimwear market which was largely ignored. You can find straight-size options and plenty of curve-size options but as soon as you’re needing something that is specifically for fuller busts, it seemed to either not exist or if it did, then the style was far more matronly and conservative than my personal style. So I decided to do something about it!
Marvell Lane - filling the gap in the market for stylish, sexy swimwear for bigger busts
Both you and I did not come from a fashion background before starting our brands. What did you find was the biggest challenge starting a fashion business, without a background and experience in the industry, and how did you overcome these challenges?
My goodness, I felt like there were challenges at every hurdle! I didn’t know how to pull a “collection” together, I didn’t know how to storyboard a range and I didn’t even know what a tech pack was from a manufacturing perspective - now we live and die by tech packs for production, especially with 30 sizes! In fact, I didn’t even know what to do for a photoshoot and with e-commerce, beautiful photography makes the difference between whether you’re going to sell a product or not.
Let’s just say that Google is my best friend - it has taught me everything. I also believe that picking the phone and asking someone for advice is best thing to do. For example, I found my swimwear fabric supplier here in Australia and I mentioned to them that I was struggling to find a manufacturer locally who would take on my production - they mentioned that they knew someone who might be able to help me get in touch with manufacturers and introduced me. So, I think being open and mentioning any issues you might have may lead to unexpected surprises or help!
What was the biggest misunderstanding other bather brands had about a young woman with a big bust? What was it that these other brands were missing when creating styles for these women, that MARVELL LANE has attempted to correct through your range?
I think the styling was biggest issue. So many of the lingerie companies (who also make swimwear) assume and continue to assume that busty women (younger and older) want to cover as much of their bust as possible or that women ultimately want support over something stylish. Which is just not true for a large sector of women, particularly women who love fashion!
Instead, MARVELL LANE has found a nice middle ground. We don’t believe you need to compromise support for aesthetic appeal when it comes to design, however I don’t believe that support alone should dictate the design of the product - which is where I think other companies are going wrong. We want the consumer to want the product, to desire the product and to purchase the product again. I’m not going to purchase a “really supportive” bikini top if I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing it! So, we push for brilliant support and a gorgeous design.
What has been the highlight and lowlight of your business journey so far?
Highlight: You always hear stories of businesses launching a new product and it selling out because it’s so popular! Well, this has happened to us twice this season and not because we’re not making enough of the product (although I think we need to start making more). We launched two extremely popular colours (at different times) and both had nearly sold out in one particular style - the Emelie Top - within two weeks - we’re talking about over 300 pieces per colour in the tops! We’re also seeing a really large repeat-customer rate, and I have to say, this just makes me smile so much because it shows the customer is loving our products and wants to buy again! This really speaks to the popularity and appeal of the Emelie Top and that makes me very proud.
Lowlight: There haven’t been too many - thankfully - however this year has been really hard with not being able to travel and visit our manufacturers, which has completely blown out the sampling time-frame and makes it really hard to test new patterns and styles quickly enough to get them to market. It also saps the fun out of product design! Fingers crossed international travel can happen again soon enough though! If only I could find sample machinists in Australia who would be happy to make samples for me, but sadly, due to my niche and the complexity of my tops, they are much less interested in my work.
The gorgeous sell out "Emelie" Bikini top from Marvell Lane
What is the best piece of business advice you’ve received?
Hmmmm… always tricky to narrow down as there has been plenty, however a lovely mentor of mine told me to always remember that there is enough pie to go around for everyone! I think this has really allowed me to remain open towards other labels and business owners - even if they’ve been more closed to me. The fashion industry is notoriously closed and sometimes unwelcoming, however as it isn’t my background and I have a niche size range, I manage to remain largely outside of those realms and try not to let it hurt my feelings.
I also very much believe that you should remain in your lane and not look left and right. In my early days I used to worry about what other labels were doing or how well I perceived them to be doing and how much I wasn’t. This was habitual behaviour that I forced myself to stop engaging in. It’s unproductive and doesn’t help you understand that it takes time, lots of time, to build a business. It’s just so hard in the early years when you want immediate success!
What advice would you give to young women wanting to start their own business?
I don’t know if this is business advice per se, but I have watched people come and go who probably like the idea of business ownership more than owning the business itself. Decide how much hard work you like doing before deciding to launch your own business. Your responsibilities will be unrelenting 24/7 - most of the time really fun but then other times you just cannot escape your business. If you enjoy signing off at 5:00 sharp most days or on Fridays and forgetting about work until Monday morning then working for yourself is not for you.
What is one piece of business (or life advice) you wish you followed, but didn’t?
With the benefit of hindsight, I would have stuck with my creative arts degree or changed university and still done something creative. I just got scared that I would be poor if I chose the arts over law, so I went down the law path (lawyer by profession) and I was miserable! Never choose money over doing things that you love or that interest you. You need to feed your soul.
What are your best selling products and why do your customers love them?
There are two clear front runners, our Emelie Bikini Top and our Sofia One Piece for sure. The Emelie Top has amazing lift to it, which is wonderful for anyone who has lots the fullness at the top of their bust or just love a clean, sleek look. The Sofia One Piece is an enduring favourite and I’m not sure why? I say this just because it isn’t my personal favourite one piece, but it outsells our Camilla One Piece continuously. I just think it’s a sexy style, especially for busty ladies, and we’re often deprived of having a sexy one piece.
What makes MARVELL LANE unique?
MARVELL LANE is unique in many different ways but one of things we do extremely well is our customer service and our individual online fitting service which we offer to all customers. We understand that as so much of the world moves to online shopping, there is simply no way for customers to get an understanding of how a garment might fit them, especially with all the variations in sizing across different brands! So I think it is key that businesses really beef-up their customer service offering, provide a customer with as close experience as possible to a “boutique” experience online and really tailor their sizing advice. We do this and we really see it pay off with our very low return rate.
What is next for MARVELL LANE in 2021?
There is a lot on the horizon for MARVELL LANE and much of it I can’t quite talk about yet! Our US expansion might be back on the cards for 2021 (it was supposed to be 2020, but, well - COVID-19, haha) so that will be a lot of work and extra challenging if we can’t travel to our US base!
How do you define success and what needs to happen in the next 12 months for you to call the year a success?
For MARVELL LANE success means to have lots of very happy customers and when you have lots of happy customers you can then build up enough capital to continue to invest in the business. For example, this year we managed to pay for all of our production upfront, bring on a full-time staff member, put myself on a salary (finally!), have casual staff members to help out when it’s extremely busy, commence designing multiple products (more than usual) and still have money in the bank for future planning. So that feels very satisfying from a business perspective. It doesn’t mean you work any less hard though (haha!) it just means you can make different choices.
You’ve spoken openly in the past about your struggles with depression and working on your own business can be quite isolating. How do you work to maintain positive mental health?
This topic is personal to me because my youngest brother died as a result of suicide and it has left the biggest, gaping hole in my family which can never be repaired. I am also a sufferer of chronic depression.
I think the idea that you can always achieve or maintain positive mental health is not based in reality for many people, especially people like me who suffer from depression. I am also not sure that it’s possible to move through life for anyone without experiencing some ups and downs - that’s life! That being said, because I do experience chronic mental health problems I make sure I exercise most days for the endorphins and I try eat as healthily as possible (without following a diet, that is!) Ironically when you’re in a depressive period, it’s extremely hard to get motivated to exercise or eat healthily, however it’s the only thing I make sure I do when I’m going through those stages - even when I don’t want to do them. I also make sure that I don’t veer into self-medicating with an extra large glasses of wine every night - this can happen without you noticing, so it’s good to be aware of it!
What I will say though for anyone who might read this is that the depressive state doesn’t need to remain constant and there are ways out of it. Key for me is exercise, good diet and most importantly an anti-depressant to help get me out of depths of my deepest lows. So, if you’re following a good diet and exercise and can’t kick your low mood, then visit your GP who may be able to help you!
If you could go back to a young 18 year old Rachael and tell her one thing, what would it be?
Stick to a creative arts course or go into fashion design because you’ll love it. Don’t choose a course just because you want to make make the responsible choice or just make money one day. You’ll end up miserable and unhappy with that choice in your soul. Oh, and hug your family and love them hard and love them openly. You never know what life will throw your way.