For many women of a certain age, wearing a bathing suit in public is an exercise in strategic camouflage. Such was the plight of Lynn Werner, who ran video-game and software sales for Walt Disney's (DIS) West Coast region until 2001, when she left to take care of her infant sons. Werner dreaded lounging by the pool. "I was in Maui three years ago, grabbing a towel to cover my legs every time I got up," she recalls. She went to buy a pair of baggy board shorts, but the female offerings were inappropriate for a woman in her 40s. "I kept thinking," she says, "I've got to try to fix this."
Back home in Marin County, Calif., Werner decided to create her own line of board shorts, with mix-and-match bikini and tankini tops for more mature women. She took a course in fashion design at San Francisco's Apparel Arts and contracted a freelance design consultant. While Werner knew her experience in sales could move the product, she admits "I didn't know how to get it made."
It took her almost a year to discover the right microfiber fabric in prints she liked, which she found at a trade show in the South of France. Soon after, her relationship with her pattern-maker fizzled; six months later she moved production to a factory with better equipment. "Now I see what kind of thread you need, the elastic, the lining," she says. "It's crazy how much goes into each piece."
After three years in development, Lynnina Swimwear was launched this June with more than 40 individual pieces—ranging from $49 to $69—all made in Los Angeles. Werner's sales skills have already paid off. After cold-calling from Werner, high-end chain Canyon Beachwear began stocking its shelves with her cougar-chic tankinis.
While Lynnina isn't profitable yet—Werner still underwrites the company's costs herself—business has been strong enough that she's contemplating taking out a line of credit. So far her only employees are her twin sons, who help her package Lynnina's online orders. There are also other, subtler measures of success. "Now," she says, "I don't sit by the side of the pool with a towel around me."
Amount that Americans spent on swimwear in 2009: $4.3 bn
Number of freelance consultants used by Werner since 2007: 15
Number of swimsuits owned by the average woman in the U.S.: 4
Price range of suit separates in Lynnina's first collection: $49-$69
Data: Lynnina, NPD Group