Tim Gorgol wasn't watching "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" on Feb. 9 expecting any kind of announcement about the "Sports Illustrated: Swimsuit Edition." The creative director of Miami-based swimwear brand Indie Soul, founded in 2013, is a regular viewer of the show. So when cover model Hannah Davis appeared to reveal the 2015 cover and Gorgol realized it was his bikini she was wearing, he was shocked and overjoyed.
"I saw [Fallon] open up the curtain and I literally screamed and fell off the bed," he said. "I was taking pictures of the TV and comparing it to the shot they had sent me." In mid-January, Gorgol and his team at Indie Soul received cropped outtake images from the magazine so they could provide credit information, but he didn't know if the images would end up actually running in the issue, much less the cover. "Sports Illustrated is the mecca for a swimwear designer and the swim industry," Gorgol said. "Even just to be in the book -- you can imagine they receive over 5,000 swimsuits, so to even have one is like winning the lottery." The magazine sold 800,000 copies of its Swimsuit Edition in 2013.
Just like the lottery, the odds of ending up in the yearly magazine are low and the payout can be huge -- especially for small company like Indie Soul, which designed four of the suits in the issue and an additional six suits in images released on the website. Last Tuesday, the day the issue hit the newsstands, traffic to the brand's website increased five-fold, and Gorgol says he's already taken orders from a dozen new retailers. "We already are earning some respect in the wholesale community," he said. "Stores and chains where maybe we weren’t on their radar or even people that we have met with for years are all of a sudden like, 'Oh, I remember you, let's talk.'"
Since the cover release, Gorgol says he's seen double-digit sales growth on his site and flagship store in Miami, and has already received over 100 pre-orders for the cover suit. The impact is global: Gorgol says he's had increased traffic from Australia in addition to Europe and the Middle East.
Indie Soul bikini's typically cost around $90 per piece and are hand-dyed and crafted in Columbia. (The cover bikini top and bottoms cost $98 each.) "What our consumers love is that two people can buy the same bikini and there's going to be slight differences," said Gorgol. "They feel like they're getting couture -- it's our niche in the market, we don't know another brand that does this." A suit worn by model Rose Bertram, seen below, took six hours to dye.
Gorgol took the bespoke element of Indie Soul's suits to the next level for the Sports Illustrated, however, after he saw wholesale orders grow by 5 percent last year when one of his bikinis was featured in the 2014 edition. The magazine editors specifically request certain design aesthetics for upcoming shoots, and Gorgol takes those requests very seriously. Of the 100 suits he submitted for consideration last year -- all in size small, of course -- about half were custom made, including the one that ultimately made it to the cover. "They wanted a vintage '30s, '40s theme," he said about the cover bikini. "It's always a twist when they send me a theme. In my mind I think of where they're shooting and I thought they'd be shooting this in a castle in Scotland somewhere but they shot it on a blackberry farm in Tennessee -- that's what I love about them."
Happy as he is about the placement, Gorgol doesn't think his bikini had anything to do with the cover choice. "People ask me, 'How did 'Sports Illustrated' decide to put your bikini on the cover?' and that's not how they decide," he said. "This is a men's magazine and it's about athleticism and they want a shot that stops people in their tracks. That's more important than a trend or a bikini or a shape."