At Los Angeles Trade Technical College, talent is everywhere. Cayla is a classmate, a friend of mine, and the designer behind the Los Angeles swim wear line: Drip Swimwear! In this in depth interview, Cayla explains her journey as an artist, and her mission to empower women and promote self-confidence through swimsuits.
Tells a little bit about yourself! How did you end up at LA Trade Tech?
My name is Cayla Presley, and I’ve always looked at Trade Tech as an option, but I ended up here after a long journey of going from university to university, career choice to career choice, and finally deciding, I going to take that leap and add the technique behind the talent that I’m already building on.
I started here in August 2016 as a design student and because I have my own business, I thought that I should pursue Fashion Merchandising as of February of 2017. I consider myself an artist before businesswomen, but I’m here to build on top of the things that I’ve already learned on my own ( and get my degree of course).
Wow, what was your educational journey like?
Can you tell me a little about it?
I graduated from Hamilton High School Liberal Arts Program in 2009, and from there I was going to go to FIDM, but I didn’t have the support from my family as an artist. They wanted to make sure that I would live the life that I said I wanted to live, which is to own my own business, be independent. Unfortunately, they didn’t believe that going right out and getting a degree in art would allow me to do those things, so they suggested that I get a degree in something a little more practical and then pursue art after that.
Well, I tried that, and it just didn’t make me happy. I could never focus, I was always thinking about art, thinking about fashion and starting my own line. I started out at San Francisco State University right out of high school, and my major was African Studies and History. I wanted to be a museum dosant, or an art coordinator, someone who would pick the exhibits and oversee a museum. It didn’t really work out for me in San Francisco, I loved the city, but I didn’t like the school.
So,I came back home for a semester and then attended Cal State Bakersfield for two and a half years. However, it just wasn’t the right fit for me, so I came back home again, and I really had to do some soul searching to figure it all out. I said to myself, “Okay girl, you’ve been to three different schools, community college, universities, what is it that you’re looking for.”
I finally decided, ‘I’m going to go ahead and take that leap and start my brand’, and that’s how I got here.
How did you figure out your brand, and find the courage to start it at that point in time? What was that moment that made you want to go for it?
After I moved back home from Cal State Bakersfield, I was still taking online classes, and at that time Business was my major. I realized just by taking Business 101, there were a lot of things that don’t necessarily have to be taught for you to understand them. You can hop in and start practicing before you get a full on degree because it’s really just about good customer service, having a good product, and knowing how to get it out there. I’ve worked customer service jobs pretty much my whole life, so I knew I had that at least. I was working for Macy's at the time, and I had the retail background.
I actually didn’t know that my first product would be swimwear, I always thought that maybe it would be a t-shirt line or something like that, especially since I didn’t know how to sew on a machine. Drip Swimwear wasn’t actually something that I had planned for. The idea started when I had just gotten back from a vacation in Vegas, and my friend called me and she said, “Girl, we going to a pool party, you gotta be ready in 45 minutes. But make sure you look cute because everyone is going to be there.”
Problem was, all my swimsuits were dirty. Fortunately, I had this one cute jumpsuit that had two strips at the top, I was wrapping and tying, trying to make myself an outfit out of these two strips.
I had cut the shorts off, and my mom was there helping me. Finally, I found a way to make it stay and make it look like a swimsuit. So, I put on a pair of jean shorts and wore it out to the party, and it seemed like from the time I walked through the door to the time I made it to the pool, everyone was stopping me and asking, “Oh, what’s that you’re wearing? Is that a body suit? A jumpsuit? What is that? That’s cute! ”.
That’s when I realized, this might be it. This might be something that I could try to sell and see if this will allow me to use my business savvy and creativity and piggyback off it and see where it goes. So, I started on Instagram and eventually built a website and a following and now I’m here.
That’s really exciting and inspiring! What advice would you give to your younger self or other designers who want to start their own business?
I think most designers and artist know that they want to do art for a living, but between family, society and the self-doubt that you fight each and every day when you’re trying to pursue your dreams, it’s hard to say ‘I’m gonna just take this leap because this is what makes me happy’.
In all honesty, being a designer and an entrepreneur, there isn’t always money in the beginning. There’s pretty much no money in the beginning, you’re just pulling things out of thin air and you’re creating this whole world of things that you see in your dreams. So, that’s going to be hard, and you’re going to have days where you question yourself and say, “Why am I doing this? I could just go and get a job and take care of myself, I can live a normal life.”
If I had a stable job, my moods could be more level because my routines will be the same, and everything will be predictable, but will you really be happy?
My advice to my younger self and to anybody who is trying to pursue the field of design, artistry or entrepreneurship is: GO FOR IT!
It’s so simple, and it’s so cliche, and you would always think people who have gone for it would have more to say, but it really is that simple. We often stop ourselves before we even try, and if I had never tried and said, “Okay, I made something, let me try to sell it, let me try to sell it not only for money, but also to see who relates to this”. Take that jump, because the only thing can happen is that it doesn’t work, and guess what, now you know another way that you don’t have to try. However, if I was 18 again, starting college, i wouldn't have started as a history major, I would have started as a design student, because I knew I wanted to be a designer. GO for it, Don't be afraid, just take that leap.
Because you always end up going back to it anyway.
What do you think has been your biggest obstacle on this journey?
I’ve experienced a mixture of fighting with myself and trying to build my confidence as an artist and an entrepreneur, trying to find the finances, and trying to find the words to say to the right people that will help me find the finances needed to fund my dream.
For some people it’s simple, they pitch it, “I got a good product, give me your money” but Drip Swimwear means so much to me, that I’m not just asking for money from anybody.
I need somebody who understands that I’m out here selling self confidence. I offer a product that allows women to feel beautiful, but most importantly allows them to focus more on their body type and not their size. Which is what every product is about. It’s been hard to trying to convince myself, “Ok Cayla, you can do this”, even though there isn’t really a blueprint that I’m following, I’m just using trial and error, and it gets frustrating sometimes.
It’s also been difficult wondering if I can find the money, and it’s been a real struggle for me.
But I just try to stay positive, I listen to a lot of motivational speeches, and I look for an opportunity to learn in everything, especially my failures.
You’ve come a long way, so what’s next? What do you need to get where you want to be? What are your next steps as a designer and entrepreneur?
I’m trying to find the right mentor. I’ve had my share of mentors, but every time I grow, I need someone else who's at that next level that I’m growing into to be there for me. I’m very conscious of who I surround myself with, because it is a full time job trying to grow and trying to learn, and trying to really be something beyond what you can even see sometimes. It’s a full time commitment. I can’t expect myself to work on myself and try to build up other people around me, I need people who are building themselves up, so we can feed off of each other’s growth. So my next steps are definitely continuing to look for the perfect mentor or set of mentors who can help me along with my journey with Drip.
Of course, everybody who’s a designer or entrepreneurs ultimate goal is to expand, but I really want to expand in the right way. I’ve the opportunity to get my products in department stores, beyond e-commerce, but I’m looking for the right platform that won’t degrade my brand and won’t diminish the message and all the things that I’ve built this brand to be. I’m looking for the right lane for Drip Swimwear and allowing it to be the global swimsuit phenomenon that I know it has the possibility to be.
How did you develop your brand voice and what are the values behind it? How did you start to pull all those values into the brand that is Drip Swimwear today?
Drip Swimwear to me, represents my journey towards self love and towards a positive body image. It represents the self-confidence that I want to project onto other people. For me, the swimsuit focuses on body type not size. That’s something that I’m always emphasizing, because as a curvy girl I’ve always had issues finding a swimsuit. If it fits cute on top, it’s too small on the bottom, if it fits well on the bottom, it looks crazy on the top. Not being able to find something that flattered by body was frustrating, and can take a toll on a women’s body image. It’s like, “Is there something wrong with me? Why can’t I find anything that looks good on me?”. I know that I’m not the only woman that feels that way. From my experience with Drip Swimwear, I’ve found we all have some small insecurities. The girl that you think has it all has her own self-confidence issues, and vice versa. Drip Swimwear’s values come from me trying to introduce self-love, confidence and body positivity to all women of as many sizes as my swimsuits can go up to right now, and even that is expanding. I want to be sure that I’m always pushing for women to love themselves and love their flaws. I really want girls to feel good when they put on a swimsuit because it flatters them, and their body language should show that even if their mouth doesn’t.
Think you can be a mentor? Want to connect with Cayla?