Victory Beachwear: Defeated For Now

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Photo of two men carrying a green cooler on the beach. They are wearing the Chilmark, a 1920s inspired full coverage bathing suit.
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I'm Peter. I'm the Founder of See the Stars and a self-described "Venture Socialist." I use the best tools (or maybe the worst) of capitalism to make the world more compassionate. Presently, I lead our consulting practice and seek out the business ideas in which we invest. Learn more about me »

The idea started in 2016. My first product sketches were inspired by The People of Chilmark, one of my favorite paintings. I love Thomas Hart Benton’s classical styling of people on the beach in the early part of the 1900s. I felt like every normal person in the photo was depicted as their most beautiful, Roman sculpted version of themself. Set on a beach in Massachusetts, all of them, with their blemishes and awkwardness were reimagined as if they were perfect, nearly God-like for a moment in the artist’s eye.

That’s what I wanted to do with Victory Beachwear – create the opportunity for all of us, no matter how fat or strangely shaped to feel perfectly confident in our bodies, on the beach. It was a noble goal then and it still is.

But, this summer, I’m putting our work on hold. 

I can proudly say I’ve put more than “a good effort’s worth” of my time and money into creating Victory Beachwear. I’ve asked tons of other great people to put their time into it. So, before I go any further, I need to say thank you to all of you who have humored me and supported me and lent your creativity and sweat and even tears to get Victory Beachwear this far. Thank you Marley and Eric and Laura and Jay and Joanne and Sean and Kelly and Kim and Liz and Evie and Benjamin and Patty and Molly and Andy and Anna and Bethany and Mikko and Kai and Steve and Dad and Jess and Mike and all of our customers. You all believed in the idea and gave of yourselves to help me get this far. If any of you thought I was crazy to try this from the start, I forgive you. Just don’t tell me 😀 

I’m making a list of the things that to this point have stumped me and kept me from turning Victory Beachwear into a sustainable business. So, when future me picks this up, I need to focus on solving these challenges.

  1. Finding the right audience. This has proven way more difficult than I thought it would be. I started out trying to create a beachwear brand that was so broadly inclusive that it wasn’t focused enough to realize success as a brand and in the world of modern advertising. I tried to narrow it to become a brand for men who struggled with their body image and recovering from eating issues. This was hard. The number of men who struggle with eating issues is probably only a few million people, nationwide. And, to be honest, that’s not enough to support a clothing brand’s sales and scale beyond a fledgling hobby business.  Even with the help of an advertising agency, we couldn’t find and engage enough people to sustain profitable sales.
  2. Creating and manufacturing beachwear. Without tens of thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of dollars to hire people with experience in creating swimwear and apparel I dove into a world I had no business swimming in. I wanted to create a mass marketed, full coverage 1920s inspired swimsuit for big men. In the middle of a pandemic when supply chains were broken wasn’t the best time to do this, either. I still wear the few Chimark prototypes we have left, but it’ll be a while longer until we can produce them for others.
  3. Bringing big-sized clothing to market. For a while, we put the swimsuit on hold and tried to sell shirts and hats with sayings on them that would inspire body confidence and love, but we struggled to get larger sizes consistently out the door. To be honest the on-demand manufacturing platforms that allowed us to do this without investing tons of money up front weren’t great for big sizes.  We found that they didn’t stock enough large sizes in the products we wanted to sell. When we found a quality product with sizes to 4XL or 5XL, we couldn’t bring it to market. More than a few times, they would run out of the colors or sizes we needed in a matter of weeks. When we advertised these products and potential customers found it was out of stock, they let us know. So, without the capital to buy hundreds of shirts in these sizes up front, the shortcomings of print on demand route sank this product line.
  4. Struggling with the distortion wrought by my own experience. This part probably stings the most. In my “day job” I solve lots of marketing problems. I have raised tens of millions of dollars for nonprofit organizations. I have sold nearly a hundred million dollars worth of software and agency services. But, when I tried selling swimsuits and shirts and hats to big guys, I came up short.

    Notwithstanding my lack of experience creating beachwear, here’s where I got stuck. 

    In 2023 I shared my story of a lifelong struggle with disordered eating on the TEDx stage. My journey to process and recover from this experience is what led me to create Victory Beachwear in the first place. But, while I think for some people it may be relatively easy to make clothing for others, my body dysmorphia and the depth of my emotions affected how I perceived “bigness” of myself and others. And, it became clear to me that as much as I felt anxiety around my body (XL and 2XL), people who were larger (4XL and 5XL) needed to see themselves represented in ways I couldn’t (and I’m sure many of you can’t) understand. So, from advertising to manufacturing and back again, I found myself woefully unequipped to affirm others and meet their needs as humans, nevermind customers. I feel like in some way my failure has let others down, because after all, I took this endeavor to make the world more compassionate, not to get rich. Here’s to figuring that out better someday, before I try to do any of this again.

I can’t say thank you enough to those of you who had a stake and made an investment of your time in Victory Beachwear. I still have a basement full of sample hoodies and t-shirts and sun shirts. If you’d like one, hit me up at peter at victory beachwear dot com and I’ll get some out to you.

Until next time, remember, it takes all kinds. 

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