Meet the founder: 7 years growing an inspiring community

June 18, 2024

Meet the founder: 7 years growing an inspiring community

Over the past seven years, Deakin & Blue has grown from an idea to a transformative community. Revolutionising everything from the way we see swimwear advertised - swimmers as models photographed through a female gaze and NEVER digitally edited - to the way we feel wearing swimwear, you could hardly call D&B a 'brand'. It's a community, a mission, a movement. It's a revolution.

We asked our founder, Rosie Cook, how she has created this wonderful community and revolutionised the way swimwear is made, modelled, marketed and enjoyed.

Deakin & Blue Founder Rosie Cook


What was the problem you spotted with the swimwear market and what made you consider solving it?

Back in 2016, I set out to buy a swimsuit for weekly swim classes. I owned pretty (but flimsy) bikinis which were good enough for lazing about on sun loungers on holidays but nothing you could actually move or, god forbid, dive in. I looked online and offline, in sports shops, lingerie stores and across the high street and all I found were swimsuits that looked much like the sort of thing I’d worn when I’d last had a swimming lesson - aged about 11. You know the sort - unforgivably thin, made from a single piece of lycra, cut ludicrously high at the bikini line and with absolutely no consideration of the fact that I had a pair of boobs to accommodate. My body had changed significantly since I was 11, but the swimwear market hadn’t seemed to notice. 

That was the first problem I set out to solve. I wanted to find swimwear that was designed for my body shape but also suitable for movement, for ‘proper’ swimming. I wanted something that felt great on but also looked good too. 
I’m fairly comfortable in my body and, I’d already signed up for the classes, so, finding nothing in the shops, I tacked a sports bra into a high-street swimsuit and adjusted the leg height of the suit. It was a pretty shoddy job but when I showed my partner and asked, “can I get away with wearing this at the local pool?” he pointed out that I was standing taller, my shoulders relaxed, and I was smiling. I quickly realised that when we feel comfortable, we feel confident. I wondered how many women might have cancelled their lessons when they couldn’t find a swimsuit. 

I didn’t have to wonder for long. A bit of research quickly told me that tens of thousands of women weren’t taking part in swimming for themselves or with their families because of how they felt in swimwear. And I really got it. That kicked the feminist in me into action. I hated the idea that women were missing out because products weren’t designed for us. And so I decided to see if I could transform my first amateur prototype into a workable collection. It’s mad to think that it was only seven years ago - it seems a lot longer!

How has D&B filled that gap in the market?

Seven years on, D&B makes swimsuits and bikinis that feel brilliant on. Customers regularly use words like ‘held’ and ‘secure’ and I know exactly what that means. It’s about trusting the piece you’re wearing to do what you need it to - hold you, lift you, not ride up your bum. When you can trust it, you can relax and get on with your swim. 

How do we do that? Our main priority is fit and we achieve this through our three curve sizes for every dress size. We say a lot at D&B HQ ‘no two size 14s are the same’ - and what we really mean here is that two women can be size 14, but one might have a B cup bust and another an F cup bust, and so what they need from their swimwear is totally different. Our bikinis and swimsuits take this into account by offering three different levels of curve support and shape, based on your cup size (I won’t lie, it’s a bit of a stock nightmare - we offer 27 sizes for every style, but it’s at the heart of our success).

Today our products come in a range of shapes, styles, colours and prints. I think a lot of women can feel quite expressive and playful when picking their swimwear (maybe you wear black or neutrals all week but will pick a wild print for a holiday swimsuit) so I have designed our collections to give customers a chance to pick something that feels joyful and uplifting. And, of course, we’ve thought about different uses - fabrics which are better suited to colder dips for those winter swimming warriors, seam-free styles for long distance swimmers, and tan-friendly shapes for holiday dippers. I have a range of different D&Bs in my swim wardrobe and bring different ones out for different occasions.

Deakin & Blue Sustainable Swimwear


Can you tell me a bit about what it means to be a sustainable brand?

To be honest, I’m a real believer that the most sustainable thing you can buy is something that you really love, that fits you well and that is designed to last. When something fits really well you don’t discard it after a few uses. You take great care of it, repair it when it’s damaged and so on - and that’s at the heart of being a sustainable consumer. So our focus on great fit is also a sustainability priority. 

We also think about the whole lifecycle of a D&B swimsuit and what we can do at every single stage to benefit the planet and empower the individuals involved in its creation. For example, we think about where the products are made (Hackney, London), what they’re made from (deadstock fabrics and regenerated yarns), who makes them and how they’re treated, how the products are packaged and so on. 

We work really hard (really bloody hard) to not create products which wind their way to landfill quickly and we work with a team who are paid fairly and have brilliant technical skills. Of course, we regularly hear that our products are expensive and we know that. But part of our solution is about a mindset shift for us all as consumers - understanding that we all have a part to play, where we can, in buying pieces that have a positive impact on the planet and people too. We often use the phrase ‘we’re a considered purchase’ and, not to get too righteous, but shouldn’tevery purchase be a considered one?

How do you think the swimwear market has changed over the past seven years?

Certainly there’s been an influx of other ‘sustainable’ brands since we launched - which has mostly been a good thing, keeping the big players on their toes. That fragmentation in the market has settled a little since the triple whammy of Covid, Brexit and the cost of living crisis (it’s a tough market in retail, especially for independent brands) but there are certainly lots of independent brands around. Lots have their own USP or look and feel. And across the fashion industry more generally, we’ve seen more inclusive sizing and sustainable practices. Honestly, I still think there’s quite a lot of talking the talk and greenwashing in particular (you know it’s bad when even Primark boasts their own sustainable ranges) but things are definitely moving in the right direction.

Deakin & Blue Sustainable Swimwear


What was your background prior to D&B?

I worked in Strategy Consulting in the City so my background has always been around problem solving, innovation and helping businesses to grow. It’s probably a little unusual to have such a commercial background and skill set in this sort of role - most of my peers are phenomenal creatives. But mostly I see this as a strength. Cash flow is honestly probably one of the biggest challenges of running a small retail business, so my Excel skills are pretty important! 

How did you feel when you launched?

Excited, of course, but also nervous. I’d spent a lot of time and money developing our first range and it was a real test run. If we got a good response then we’d keep going and if we didn’t we wouldn’t. Thankfully, we had brilliant feedback - from customers, the press and industry peers, and I quickly realised we were onto something. Looking back I can see I was also a bit naïve. I had a real sense that we’d made a brilliant product, so ‘of course it would sell’. I knew very little, at the time, about marketing and building a community. Thankfully, I’ve learned a lot along the way. 

If you could pick one defining moment or event from D&B’s lifetime, what would it be?

It would probably be our most recent campaign shoot down in Saunton for our latest collectionBut First, Me. We worked with three incredible D&B customers who swim in the North Devon sea every day. We spent a blustery April day photographing them in our new range (which launched in May). Most of the D&B team were there in person supporting and helping run the day. 

It was a lot of fun - our three models were patient and radiant and brought so much joy to the shoot. But also, the team was just having a great time mucking in together, working as a really collaborative group to help us navigate winds and the cold, sandy costume changes and so on. 

I had a few moments where I deliberately stepped back to just watch the events around me. As a small business owner, it’s so easy to be in the nitty-gritty of the latest reports or decisions and to not zoom out a bit. I felt a bit overwhelmed but also hugely proud of this brilliant team running this brilliant business - it really felt like a marker of how far we’ve come.

Deakin & Blue CEO Founder Rosie Cook


What about one disaster or crisis?

Just the one?! There have been a few but I think, seven years in, I’m much hardier to weathering storms as they arise. In the early days, in a crisis, I would (frantically) recite ‘no one will die if we get it wrong’ to myself. A little extreme maybe, but when you’re asking customers to part with hard-earned money and to trust in your brand and business - well it’s something I take really seriously. It might not be life or death but it has always felt like a huge matter of trust - and if people can’t trust me or what I do, then what do I have?

I think the crisis that still echoes a bit in my mind was one that took place back in May 2017. We were scheduled to launch our very first collection in June of that year. I was also getting married about six weeks later. With the launch date looming I had press releases, adverts in magazines, editorial coverage, event attendances and social media posts all ready to go - and significant money spent getting these things in place too. 

I was at a wedding dress fitting with my sister and mum when I got a call from our production studio to say there’d been a significant issue and the products weren’t being shipped as planned that week. For reasons that I still don’t really understand, they could send me sizes 8 and 10 but nothing else for at least 6-8 weeks. I felt like such a fraud trying to launch this business which was all about inclusive sizing and all bodies being valid, being faced with a situation where I might only be able to launch in our smallest sizes. I remember the poor woman in the shop handing me a glass of fizz as I cried - I’m not sure what she thought was going on! It was pretty stressful. 

But, as all entrepreneurs do, I pulled on my big girl pants and I navigated it. We launched with a preorder in place for all sizes so that we could still commit to our paid marketing activities and before long it was old news (and I got married, and the dress fit brilliantly). Perhaps most importantly (other than the happy marriage), is that the experience forced me to redesign how I wanted to work with a production partner and it’s one of the many reasons I love having our studio so close by in Hackney (20 minutes from my office). 

How significant is it that you’re a woman creating women’s swimwear?

I think it’s pretty fundamental. I talk a lot about the male gaze and how, even as women, we are conditioned to look at ourselves and one another’s bodies through a male gaze because of how pervasive this language and messaging around women’s bodies is. But, as a woman, I work hard to try and reframe the way we talk about, think about and develop swimwear for women’s bodies. This informs everything from the way we name our sizes and the detail of product design through to our choice of models and the look and feel of our marketing.

On a practical level, I have a personal understanding of the way a woman’s body can change over the course of a month, or in relation to experiences such as pregnancy or breastfeeding, which are also useful for understanding a customer’s requirements for swimwear. I also have an acute awareness of what it is to be a woman in society and all the challenges that come with that. So yes, I’d say it’s important when it comes to me truly understanding our customer and what she wants (and I think I’ve got this down because I am her!).

Deakin & Blue Real Swimmers Model


D&B is supported by women, both in your team and the participants, models and customers – what kind of community has this created?

Honestly, it has created the most wonderful, supportive, kind and inspiring community. It’s easily the most rewarding bit of the job. Every month I receive reviews or emails or watch customer photos or videos that give me goosebumps. I’ve met so many incredible women on this journey - like the three customers who modelled for us in Saunton - and continue to do so regularly. 

D&B enhances women’s lives – did you anticipate it becoming so much more than a swimwear brand?

That’s a very nice way of putting it. Thank you. I hope it really does enhance lives. It has definitely enhanced mine. I think it’s such a privilege to love what you do, and I genuinely love running D&B. It’s funny because in some ways I never thought of it as a swimwear brand but as a movement or a mission and so I’m glad that we continue to measure its success in that way.

Deakin & Blue Team