Swimwear Designer & Wanderlust Entrepreneur Mari Suyama Talks Nomad Life, Luxury Swimwear, & Design
Mari Suyama, based in the Miami area, is a luxury swimwear entrepreneur, designer, and adventurer who’s always on the move. Exploring 38 different countries and learning about unique cultures during her voyages, Mari has a deep passion for understanding people from different walks of life.
She used the many adventures that shaped her as a person to start Noa Kai, Noa meaning freedom and Kai meaning sea as she is all about beach life at her core. Living near the ocean became the motivation for Noa Kai as she states that swimwear is the “uniform” for the true explorer.
This brand takes a unique approach to luxury swimwear that’s essential and minimalistic. Noa Kai hopes to empower women to build their business and untether from all the clutter that never really mattered in the first place to get in touch with what does.
Mari wants to share her love of the gentle ocean breeze and the pure turquoise sea which taught her about freedom, family, and going with the flow like the soothing waves rocking back and forth!
It seems that you really love the idea of being a lifestyle entrepreneur. You could have picked any lifestyle business model, so why swimwear?
Tropical living is my passion! I actually grew up in Canada, but I would spend my summers in California as a baby and from there we started going to Hawaii every year as a family. So those two things went hand in hand for me my whole life and when I actually got the opportunity to move to Hawaii, I jumped.
So, either it’s something you have in you, or it’ll always be a dream for you, but for me it has to be my life and what is the uniform of that life? My swimsuits! So, it’s just one of those things that I’ve always been comfortable with it. What do I pack for my vacations? A swimsuit, right. And it just made sense since my travels have always revolved around luxury and relaxation.
I also went to school for journalism and became a travel writer, so I did that for a while. And when I moved to Hawaii for my marketing job, I did marketing for an agency that had a modeling branch.
My favorite times were where we did the luxury magazine swimwear shoots where I befriended girls that had a true passion for tropical life and fitness as well, so it was nice to be surrounded by that as well as other amazing people in the industry.
So, then you moved to Miami, what was that experience like compared to Hawaii?
So, Miami is the epicenter of swimwear in the US. Miami has more of a business culture, so it’s very accessible. It’s where people come to do their buying.
For a swimwear brand, Miami is a great place to be because you have access to Latin America, Canada and people do come here every year for the swim show, as you know. But Hawaii doesn't have a swim show yet.
So, any difference in the swimwear trends between Hawaii & Miami?
As for the swimwear, I noticed that we started in Hawaii, so our swimwear is made for the surfer body type whereas in Miami, the emphasis is more on curves. We are trying to spice things up in terms of color as well since Miami is into the glitz & glam. We won’t go full flashy since our color tones are neutral as we are inspired by nature.
We are trying to find the perfect balance. But at the same time, we also stand out from the rest in Miami because of our neutrals and earth tones which is a breath of fresh air to some people. To kind of compensate for the neutral minimalistic simplicity of our brand, we've actually added a resort wear line called Noelle X Noa Kai.
So, pairing that with our swimwear, you have this balance because you can't pair resort wear all the time with flashy swimwear, but our swimwear is meant to let you and your personality shine through and what you wear on top, how you accessorize.
That's what we really want to give people the freedom to play with!
Being a designer in the social media age must be an interesting experience, how do you balance in the spectrum of getting inspiration as well as incorporating innovation?
So, we pull inspiration from some travel Instagram sites, so we don't usually look at other brands to see what they're doing as far as design. We’re also inspired by locations and colors. Color schemes are very important since we do travel a lot physically.
We send out a lot of our suits to digital nomads, because wherever they go it's usually beautiful tropical or there's a beautiful pool. A lot of influencers we collaborate with also give us feedback we draw inspiration from as well since it’s always good to hear from people in swimsuits!
For innovation, we actually try to stay away from trends since our brand is about simplicity. We value sustainability as well. We don't want to create the trendiest throw away fashion pieces that will be gone in a few months or the next year.
We want to be that perfect black dress or black t-shirt for example that is your go to piece. When it comes to design, we think less is more.
What countries/cultures have influenced you as a person & a designer?
One place in particular that has really captured my attention is Lake Como in Italy. The classic nature of the scenery was just so tranquil, it really spoke to me. And that's been one destination that's really inspired our color palette as well.
Hawaii, as you know, has been a big inspiration as well. Tulum as well since it is our second home. We also draw influence from the marketing and photography from the places we’ve traveled and the local models we work with for each of the places we’ve traveled. That’s how Tahiti inspired our ocean prints.
I am Japanese and I have never been there before, so that is also one place I would love to explore and learn about so I can implement that in one of my newer designs. Brazil is also a very underrated place as it has a healthy balance of flash but simplicity. They have a great party and sports culture!
Brazil sells fantastic designs, similar designs on the beach for like $5 and you look at it and you look at what you can get in the US and the quality is very comparable. Their pieces are very timeless.
So, I guess what's your least favorite part of the design process?
The sizing is my least favorite part. Yeah, sizing is very difficult because when you're dealing with swimwear, a lot of women are very self-conscious. When you're creating a small, medium, and large, you're trying to fit 100 different women into just three sizes, right?
And I think that in general for fashion, it's a really hard thing to do, and especially with swimwear or with undergarments. It's a very tricky thing when it comes to sizing and fit. Tailoring swimwear can be very difficult since you’re working with a small piece of fabric.
We tend to style our pieces for maybe more petite, less curvy body types. This is common in Hawaii; however, sizing gets difficult when you go towards the mainland. We try to make it as comfortable for as many body types as possible but it’s definitely a challenge.
That’s why we always recommend trying the swimwear in person!
Check out Noa Kai and follow Mari on her adventures!
- Website: https://www.noakaiswimwear.com/
- More About Mari: https://www.noakaiswimwear.com/blogs/noakai/meet-mari-of-noa-kai
- More About Noa Kai & The Mission: https://www.noakaiswimwear.com/blogs/noakai/what-is-noa-kai
Some Of Mari's Essential Designs:
Some of the designs from Noelle X Noa Kai:
Noelle X Noa Kai Photo Credit: Miranda Tillinghast