CEO Sit Down: Kathleen Sheppard on Tiller Swim

A company transforming the swimsuit industry one suit at a time.

Photos taken from Tiller’s Instagram

Finding a good bathing suit can be tough. Finding a sustainably made one can be even tougher. That is where Tiller Swim comes in. All of the swimsuits made by Tiller are made out of sustainable, fully regenerated nylon and are reversible. Yes- you are hearing me correctly- Tiller is giving you a sustainable, two for one deal on swimsuits in this summer’s most flattering styles. I sat down with CEO of Tiller Swim, Kathleen Sheppard to give you some exclusive insights as to how her company came to be and what the future has in store for all you Tiller fans.

Kathleen, tell us about yourself!

I graduated from Babson College where I concentrated in entrepreneurship and marketing. After graduating, I started working in advertising for a Boston-based media company, while simultaneously beginning the early stages of Tiller. After dabbling with brand ideas for a couple of years in school, I began more seriously planning for launch once I began working full-time and ultimately launched Tiller in April 2019 with a Kickstarter campaign. I’ve since moved to Los Angeles, California, where I still work full-time in media while running Tiller.

What was the inspiration behind Tiller Swim?

I grew up by the water, spending the majority of my time sailing and swimming competitively, and ultimately teaching and coaching both, so I’ve always had an affinity for spending time in and around the ocean. Since my time in water was spent doing activities in a swimsuit, I wanted to create swimwear that was high quality, versatile, comfortable, and actually good looking (easier said than done!). Once I started designing the suits and looking into production, I couldn’t help but be disgusted with the woes of the fashion industry. Not only are people working in fashion being exploited for their labor in horribly unsafe working conditions and barely making enough money to survive, but the fashion industry is one of the top contributors to waste and pollution. It wasn’t even a choice for me to center Tiller around sustainability- it was definitely an obligation. Tiller now prioritizes the treatment of people and the planet in everything that we do and plan to continue innovating our processes and partnerships now and in the future.

What has been the biggest challenge in starting your company?

The biggest challenge is that there’s absolutely no playbook for starting and running a company (especially right out of school!)- every brand or organization is 100% unique and no two experiences are alike. Because of this, any advice and “how to’s” need to be taken with a grain of salt, something that may work for someone else may not work for Tiller (and vice versa)! With that said, running a one-man show with no previous experience is so rewarding and every experience is a learning opportunity.

There are tons of other women’s swimsuit companies that pop up on the marketplace every day. What makes Tiller Swim stand out?

Tiller currently uses recycled materials in our swimsuits, which is something that is still overlooked by many other swimwear brands to this day. Some people have a tainted image of recycled clothing, but our fabrics will definitely change your mind about any preconceptions- they are super high quality and buttery soft but hold their shape to be the most flattering. Additionally, almost all of Tiller’s suits are reversible, which allows for multiple ways of wearing each piece, ultimately extending the life of all of our products.

What was the motivation behind creating suits out of sustainable ECONYL® thread and that are reversible?

Ultimately the best way to be a sustainable consumer is to not be a consumer at all, but we’re helping to be the next best thing. ECONYL® thread is fully regenerated nylon that has been broken down to its original state. It is created from things like abandoned fishing nets, post-consumer goods, industrial carpeting and plastic bottles, so it’s allowing for fewer resources to be used in the creation of our fabrics while simultaneously cleaning up landfills and oceans. As for the reversible designs, this is our way of extending the life and usability of each piece. Looking for a staple suit? We’ve got you covered- the first side is a solid timeless color. Trying to stand out and be completely unique? Also got you here- the second side is a unique and fun print! Best of both worlds.

Is it hard to find manufacturers and partners that align with your mission of sustainability and giving back?

It is extremely hard to find people to work with that align with sustainability and being conscious members of the industry. With that said, awareness of sustainable productions and operations is on the rise and it seems that production facilities and partners are waking up to this huge realization that change starts with us and it starts like…right now.

What is your advice for consumers who are looking to make more informed and sustainable decisions in purchasing?

Do the research and start with the small steps! In the beginning, it feels impossible to start living more consciously, but once you know what to look for it gets easier. Transparency is a huge tell of sustainability so reach out to brands and ask questions (FAQs, email, Instagram DM, any form of communication works!). If a brand is willing to share how and where a piece was made and what it is made from, that’s a great start. Some have a “Sustainability” or “Transparency” section of their site which can really help as well. Breaking it down even further, you should learn what fabrics are good and bad. Main rules: natural fibers are the best for clothing and recycled or repurposed for swimwear and activewear. If you can’t abide by those two rules, then really think about how the piece you’re buying will serve you. Ask yourself:

  1. Is this good quality/will it last me a long time?
  2. Will it serve a purpose that something I already own would not?
  3. Would I be able to resell it once it no longer serves me?
  4. Was it made in a responsible manner (i.e. sustainable, good treatment of workers, etc)

If you cannot answer ‘yes’ to any of these questions, then you’re just buying something to buy something. This is usually a good indication that you should keep moving honey!

What does the future of Tiller Swim look like?

The main initiative we’re focusing on is shifting to using biodegradable fabrics (and no it will not biodegrade on your body). This is something that we’re passionate about to reduce our footprint and negative impact even more, so look out for that in 2021! Additionally, we’ll be expanding into some other product lines later in 2020 (i,e. clothing, accessories, upcycled pieces) to give you a reason to shop with us all year round.

And, just for fun, what is your favorite suit that Tiller sells?

Oof, this is a tough one! I’m pretty obsessed with the new Topanga Top & Surfside Bottom in Sky & Swirl reversible, but my tried & true go-to is definitely the Laguna Top & Lido Bottom (really in any color, it’s so flattering and just the perfect swimsuit!).

Laguna Top and Lido Bottom (left), Topanga Top and Surfside Bottom (right)

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