Over the past few weeks, we’ve been teased with glimpses and snapshots of Ellie Furuya’s new swimwear line, Rii Swim. We sit down with her to find out more about her eco-conscious project ahead of the brand’s pop-up launch next week.
Tell us a bit about your professional background.
I started my career by dabbling in the food and lifestyle industry in both PR and editorial roles. I joined National Geographic shortly after as Social Media Manager and Nat Geo Wild’s Regional Programmer. I was there for five years, during which I got the chance to meet some incredibly inspiring figures who dedicated their lives towards changing the world for the better. My mindset definitely shifted towards living more sustainably and being more conscious about reducing waste in daily life — especially with this being drilled into us at work every day!
Was there a specific moment/event that inspired you to start Rii Swim?
I’ve been thinking about this project for around two years, and only recently mustered up the courage to go for it. I once had this phase of obsessively ordering swimwear online, but the pieces would usually come from Australia or some far-off country because I’d never be able to find a decent — let alone eco-conscious — swimsuit to my taste in Hong Kong. The swimwear I ordered would look cute online but would usually turn out to be way too skimpy for me to feel comfortable wearing out in Hong Kong. I’d end up wearing them only for certain holidays abroad.
I also found it hard to find eco-friendly and high-quality swimwear that retail at less than HK$1,000 per set. Those lines tend to be priced much higher and are thus less attractive for consumers to opt for when shopping for swimwear — and I wanted to change that.
Is this your first entrepreneurial project?
Yes and no. Yes, in that it’s my first-ever business in the official sense, but I have been running my own brand @furellie for a long time, so it also feels like an entrepreneurial project that parades as a hobby. I swear there’s a lot of work behind it, too!
What did you find most challenging about the process?
For someone like me, the hardest part was simply the act of getting started. I have such fear of going out of my comfort zone and starting something from scratch — and the fashion-retail world was definitely unknown territory for me. Once I got the ball rolling though, I started finding so much joy and fulfilment in the learning process so it was surprisingly smooth-sailing from there on.
Tell us more about the “recycled ocean waste” aspect of the brand.
All of our swimwear is made with ECONYL® recycled nylon techno-fabric, which uses anything from discarded fishing nets from aquaculture or ghost nets (ocean waste), pre-consumer waste such as industrial plastics and fabric scraps, and even carpets destined for the landfill. It’s highly durable, indistinguishable from virgin nylon, and massively saves on the use of crude oil, reducing the global warming impact of nylon by up to 90%. The specific fabric we use is the OEKO-TEX® STANDARD 100-certified Vita by Carvico from Italy, which is composed of 78% recycled polyamide and 22% elastane.
What are some of the characteristics of the Asian swimwear market you’ve learnt so far?
There is a certain degree of conservatism in Asia still that I had to consider when designing the pieces. I wanted the swimwear to exude confidence and female warrior-hotness, while also giving the wearer the security of proper coverage. Thong bikini bottoms seem like a good idea until you’re on a teambuilding junk boat with your co-workers, you know what I mean?
Do you have a favourite piece in the range?
My favourite has to be the Nico two-piece, which is super versatile in how you can wear the top. The strings — which are purposely designed a little thinner — can be wrapped around the chest like a bandeau, or crossed at the front. The top & bottom pieces are actually available to purchase separately, but I prefer to style the strappy top with high waisted bottoms for a luxe-retro look.
With the benefit of hindsight, what’s one piece of advice you wish you’d been given at the beginning of this Rii Swim journey?
Get more feedback, earlier on!
When I started the project, I became a little too bubbled off and didn’t get the feedback from peers that I needed, which resulted in so many more rounds of samples than was necessary. Once I started seeking out friends and family for feedback — from thoughts on initial designs to a simple understanding of swimwear buying habits — I got a lot more done quickly rather than basing designs off my own speculations. You should have seen my very first swimwear sketches — they look nothing like the collection we’re launching.
What is your long-term goal for Rii Swim?
Hopefully we will edge eco-friendly swimwear into a more “affordable luxury” bracket, and normalize the use of recycled fabrics in retail.
When can we expect to see the brand launched?
We’re showcasing from 13 to 21 September at the Team Concept Store on 42A Hollywood Road.
The new pop-up concept store’s debut theme is “Women Empowerment”, and will be showcasing various female-owned brands, including Rii Swim. This is a great opportunity for our customers to actually get a good look and feel of the material and to try on the swimwear in person, especially if they aren’t too sure about their sizing.
We start taking orders & shipping globally online from 22 September after the pop-up concludes.
Images courtesy of Rii Swim / Nikola Lines Photography.