November 28, 2023

Surfing the Waves of Entrepreneurship: Erika's Journey with SEPTEMBER

Erika's Journey from Surfing to Swimwear Entrepreneurship


In this engaging interview, we dive into the inspiring entrepreneurial journey of Erika Togashi, the founder of SEPTEMBER a swimwear brand that stands out for its functionality, elegance, and sustainability. Born and raised in New York City, Erika brings nearly two decades of expertise in apparel and technical outerwear design. Her quest for creating the perfect swimwear began during a surf trip, leading to the birth of SEPTEMBER. Join us as we explore the challenges, triumphs, and insights of a seasoned designer turned entrepreneur, navigating the dynamic world of e-commerce.

Erika Togashi, the founder of SEPTEMBER

Interview with Erika

To start off, can you give us an insight into your background and what sparked the creation of your swimwear brand, SEPTEMBER?

Erika: Sure, Chris. I'm Erika Togashi, a native New Yorker with a 20-year career in apparel and technical outerwear design. I've worked with brands like Patagonia and The North Face. The idea for SEPTEMBER came during a six-week surf trip to Sri Lanka and Indonesia. In Bali, I noticed a gap in the market for stylish, sustainable swimwear that was also functional. That was the turning point for me to start SEPTEMBER, about five years ago.

Transitioning from design to running a business must have had its challenges. Can you share some of these, especially in terms of operations and manufacturing?

Erika: Absolutely. While the manufacturing process has been smooth, thanks to a great factory in Bali, the real learning curve was in running a business. From time management and finances to strategic planning, there were many aspects I had to quickly adapt to, like organizing photoshoots for the website. It was a journey filled with learning and adapting on the go.

What about your initial marketing strategies? How did you manage to attract your first customers?

Erika: Initially, I worked with well-known female surfers in the women’s surf industry, based in the US and Australia, which helped build credibility. Collaborating with them for photoshoots and surf trips created a compelling brand story and connected us with our first customers. It wasn't a planned strategy, but it effectively spread the word about SEPTEMBER.

Looking at your distribution channels, how do you balance between direct-to-consumer and wholesale, and what are your strategies to boost sales?

Erika: We're currently balanced between D2C and wholesale. I've just started with paid advertising, which is a new venture. The biggest challenge has been expanding sales and managing the rising costs of acquiring new online customers. For 2024, increasing our presence in wholesale accounts is a key goal, as customers still value the tangible experience of feeling and seeing the product, especially for swimwear.

That's a strategic approach. As an entrepreneur, what keeps you motivated through the ups and downs of business?

Erika: Being my own boss is a significant motivator. The flexibility and autonomy are invaluable. More importantly, the customer feedback and community we’ve built are incredibly motivating. Hearing from customers who love our products reinforces the impact and connection our brand has.

As 2023 has been an eventful year for you, can you share some highlights and your goals for the next year?

Erika: This year has been great, especially being part of the REI Path Ahead Ventures accelerator program, which supports BIPOC brands. It has helped me strategize and plan for growth. For 2024, expanding our wholesale presence is a major goal, as physical retail presence lends credibility and satisfies the customer's desire for a tangible product experience.

Lastly, what advice would you offer to aspiring entrepreneurs?

Erika: Entrepreneurship is a rollercoaster of highs and lows. It's crucial to be mentally and emotionally prepared. Networking and seeking support are vital. It's important to ask questions and reach out, as the entrepreneurial journey can be quite solitary.

Chris: Thanks a ton, Erika, for this amazing chat. It's been really insightful hearing about your journey with SEPTEMBER and all that you've learned along the way. Best of luck with everything ahead. Can't wait to see how SEPTEMBER continues to grow and evolve!

Erika: Thanks, Chris! Really enjoyed our conversation and sharing my story. Here's to hoping it inspires others out there. Cheers to future adventures!

Key Takeaways:

  • Identifying Market Gaps: Erika's journey underscores the importance of recognizing and filling market gaps.
  • Adapting to Business Challenges: Transitioning from a designer to a business owner involves learning diverse skills like strategic planning and marketing.
  • Strategic Partnerships: Collaborating with industry influencers can be a game-changer in building brand credibility.
  • Balancing Sales Channels: A mix of D2C and wholesale is crucial in today's market, considering customer preferences for both online and physical shopping experiences.
  • Community and Feedback: Customer feedback and community building are key motivators and growth drivers.
  • Future Focus: Expanding wholesale presence and adapting marketing strategies to changing customer acquisition costs are essential for growth.

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