Daniella Teutsch and Sara Wolf started their athletic clothing company, HydroChic, in 2007 to give modest women more attractive swimwear options. But they quickly found that their market included another group of badly underserved women: those who had undergone medical procedures or had skin conditions.
By talking to customers, the duo discovered that women who’d had mastectomies and bariatric surgeries wanted garments that would support and conceal. And women who suffered from skin cancer or psoriasis needed all-over skin protection. Combined, these women had quietly become a significant part of the New Rochelle, N.Y., company’s customer base.
So Teutsch and Wolf began designing athletic wear with them in mind, and now they offer everything from swim tops with built-in mastectomy bras to workout gear that offers compression, as well as skin-protecting suits with sleeves and longer legs.
Indeed, while improving the lives of all sorts of women has always been a focus for Teutsch and Wolf, catering to women with special health needs has become one cornerstone of their business. And it has paid off — both financially and personally. Teutsch says newly empowered customers frequently write to say “they never wanted to be active and felt uncomfortable being in the water” until finding HydroChic.
Dipping a Toe Into Entrepreneurial Waters
Before starting up, Teutsch, 59, and Wolf, 45, were educators — Wolf taught history in Westchester, N.Y., and Teutsch was a special needs teacher at a private high school in Boston. On the side, they both worked as sales representatives at a women’s hat business, which is how they met one another 16 years ago.
Entrepreneurship had always appealed to the two women, and as they discussed ideas for future ventures, their brainstorming always stayed in the fashion world. After kicking around several possibilities, they found inspiration during a day at the beach together in the summer of 2006.
The women discovered a shared love of swimming — and a shared distaste for revealing bathing suits borne of their needs as religious Jewish women. But because most suits on the market don’t offer much in the way of concealment, “Sara would wear a long t-shirt, and I would wear culottes” as a solution during summer outings, Teutsch says. They longed for more flattering options, and decided to take matters into their own hands.
The pair began sketching designs and looking for fabric sources and manufacturing outfits. They also began conducting market research, which helped them find like-minded women who “wanted something different, with more coverage, that’s really well-made and looks great,” Teutsch says.
She added, “Right away, we understood that we were not alone, and that the concept of active, full coverage swimwear which we had created resonated with women from all walks of life for many, many reasons.”
Using funds from family and friends, they launched their first line in the summer of 2007. It wasn’t easy going at first, but they smoothed out some of the wrinkles in the process. Today, Teutsch and Wolf design the garments themselves, manufacture them in China using materials from Italy, and then ship them to clients the world over.
They currently sell about 15,000 items a year, both online and through 11 stores in locations as nearby as Canada and as far away as South Africa. Revenue has grown 15 percent to 20 percent a year, Teutsch says, and the company has eight full-time employees — most of whom are women.
Comfortable Athletic Wear for Every Body
Teutsch says that what speaks to their diverse range of clients most is HydroChic’s emphasis on modesty. For the founders, this focus came from the combination of a desire to cover up and a need to offer protection from the sun. Their children are fair-skinned, and skin cancer runs in their families.
But women with other health-related concerns have also found solutions in HydroChic’s offerings. “We knew people who had had mastectomies,” Teutsch says, adding that “as we went along, we got feedback from friends and families, and also started getting testimonials” that helped them better understand the special health needs of this portion of their customer base.
The pair believes “that breast cancer should not be an excuse for giving in to a sedentary existence.” Likewise, “post-surgery bariatric patients should be able to celebrate their new figures and stay on track without worrying,” Wolf says, and “skin cancer, lupus and psoriasis sufferers should have the protection they need to enjoy the outdoors.”
HydroChic also serves plus-size women by offering a large range of sizes, younger customers with fashion-forward options, and women who maintain modesty for religious reasons, including with swim-friendly hijabs, Teutsch says.
Indeed, inclusivity is a priority for them. And to help as many women as possible, they “brainstormed almost every segment of the population” as they designed their current product line and considered new items.
A Wave of New Products
HydroChic has several new pieces coming out later this year, including yoga pants, bikini bottoms (requested by younger clients) and a zipper jacket, as well as re-designs of standards that will be made from a new, chlorine-proof material available in a range of prints and patterns.
“Each year, we have something new that our customers will like,” Teutsch says. “It’s exciting for us.”
Product expansion is a major goal for the entrepreneurial team going forward. But above all else, they remain focused on helping as many women as possible feel good about themselves — on their own terms — while also staying physically active.
“The thing we feel very strongly about is that women can pick whatever works for them,” Teutsch says. “We’re here to make it more comfortable for modest women to be part of the mainstream. We feel a lot of satisfaction in making that happen.”