When Mika Oakes became a mom, it didn't take long for her to notice the lack of swimsuits available to fit her postpartum body. She wanted something that allowed her to take on the responsibilities of motherhood while still maintaining her identity. Unable to find anything that matched that criteria, Oakes was forced to settle for larger sizes that offered little support or function.
Then and there, she decided that future mothers would have the swimwear options she didn't — and that she would create them herself. In May, Oakes launched Moloco, a functionally minded, yet still stylish, swimwear brand that allows postpartum women to comfortably and discreetly nurse their babies.
"Moloco was born out of the desire to create something that I couldn't find when I was breastfeeding and pumping myself," Oakes tells Fashionista. "I really wanted to find a way to take the traditional breastfeeding clip-down model and make it better and more stylish."
With a fashion background that includes design and product development, Oakes was able to use her prior knowledge to create this missing category. "One night, I sat in front of a mirror with a bunch of samples and scissors all around me. After trying things on and cutting things up, I conceived the initial design concept," she explains. Over the course of the next two years, through fittings and fabric tests, she brought her vision to life. After realizing that there was nothing like Moloco on the market, she was able to patent her practical designs, as well.
"The swimwear industry in general is a niche market, and then when you tack on 'breastfeeding swimwear,' that's a niche within the niche," says Oakes. "That said, I believe there's a market for these specialized items." And considering how little swimwear designs change year to year, it's no surprise that this innovation was the first of its kind.
Moloco's debut collection consists of four styles that are offered in three colorways: black, tomato and mushroom. There's a bikini top, a string bikini bottom, as well as a high-waist bottom and a one-piece swimsuit. The bottoms retail for $88 each, while the top is $128 and the one piece is $178. Currently, each style is available in sizes XS to L, but Oakes assures that an XL option will be released shortly.
The bikini top and one-piece employ Moloco's patented design, which features a wrap-tie style that includes hidden nursing panels that provide additional support. (According to the brand's website, these panels should not cover the nipples.) When it's time to breastfeed, simply lift the swimsuit top without any need for adjustment or hardware.
Not only is Moloco fashionable and functional, but it's also environmentally and socially responsible — a point that was important to Oakes from the get-go. "I wanted to create a direct-to-consumer lifestyle brand with low impact on the environment," she says. The products are made in a family-owned factory in New York City, which allows the company to ensure ethical working conditions for all factory workers, oversee quality control and reduce the impacts of shipping.
Plus, consumers can see the importance of sustainability firsthand once they purchase an item from Moloco. "In our efforts to minimize waste, all suits are packaged in a reusable zipper pouch that is great for storing wet swimsuits, mama stuff and baby stuff," says Oakes. "We cut out all of our polybags in our production order, and had our factory deliver the final products within these pouches so we could lessen the use of throwaway plastic. We also use recyclable mailers to ship everything out."
The same principle applies to Moloco's fabric, which is sourced from a small Italian mill dedicated to sustainability — proof that these practices don't compromise quality. "The nylon spandex blend we use is fast-drying, non-pilling, chlorine-resistant and has UPF for sun protection. It also holds you in and feels really supportive," explains Oakes.
Part of the reason a niche company like Moloco can succeed is due to its mission, as Oakes aims to build a community that celebrates the bodies of women, especially mothers. "I want Moloco to be a place where women can come to find information about all things parenthood, travel, inspiring other moms that they can relate to. It's a tribe," Oakes explains.
On that note, the brand recently launched a blog, titled "Our Mamas," that will include helpful guides from other recent mothers. Oakes also has plans to release new colors and prints in the coming months, along with new silhouettes, continuing to make sure mothers feel supported in their swimwear and in the world.