Designing dreams

Alumna making a splash with her own swimsuit company

May 23, 2017

Model Sarah Elainna wears an Iztali swimsuit, designed by UW-Stout alumna Missy Isaksson, during a recent photo shoot in Miami. Christopher Brown photo

Less than three years into her career as a businesswoman, Melissa “Missy” Isaksson knows she has a long way to go to realize her dream of creating one of the leading swimsuit brands in the world.

For now, the 2012 University of Wisconsin-Stout graduate of the apparel design and development program still mostly is a one-woman company. She designs the suits — mostly bikinis — and makes them by hand. She fulfills orders, arranges photo shoots for models and maintains her website and social media sites.

At the end of her busy days, however, she’s seeing encouraging signs that her designs are more than good enough to compete well on a world stage. More importantly, she’s doing what makes her happy. “I love what I’m doing, and I love the swimsuits. I really like the challenge of creating these pieces,” she said.

The name of her company, Iztali Swim, means reality is the dream, a reflection of how she wants to live her life.

“It’s kind of a wanderlust idea. There are so many amazing, beautiful places in the world. They’re almost dreamlike and unreal. I want people to have that feeling when they travel the world and wear my swimwear. Create the life you want to live, and make it your reality. It’ an inspiration I like to remind myself of every day,” she said.

Success in Sports Illustrated

Isaksson’s swimsuits already have been to many beautiful places, courtesy of Sports Illustrated magazine. She previously was a swimsuit designer for the company Kate Swim, with several of her pieces appearing in the annual Sports Illustrated magazine swimsuit issues, shot in exotic locales, in 2013 and 2014.

She has continued her success with Iztali Swim. In the 2015 SI issue, one of her suits was worn by a model in a full-page spread and five other designs were featured online. In 2016, she had two bikinis in the magazine and eight other photos online. In the 2017 issue, with business picking up, she wasn’t able to submit as many designs as usual but still had two bikinis featured online, one worn by model and TV host Chrissy Tiegen. 

An Iztali bikini called Sky’s the Limit, worn by model Samantha Hoopes, was featured on a full page in the 2015 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.“The SI exposure really creates a major flow of traffic to your website,” she said. “As a small company, it really helps because people don’t know your brand. It gives your business credibility.”

The Sports Illustrated impact — it’s estimated more than 70 million people see the issue — is undeniable, with about 60 percent of Iztali’s orders being placed by men. They see the Iztali designs and buy them for their wives or girlfriends, Isaksson said. International orders have come from Australia, Bali and France.

I’ve had guys send me photos of their girlfriends and ask me if they think she’d look good in (that swimsuit in SI). It’s so endearing. They see a model and see their wife and think they would look killer in that,” said Isaksson, originally from Eau Claire.

Designing for all women

Although most Sports Illustrated models wearing Iztali and other swimsuits are svelte — the magazine this year featured women of various sizes — Isaksson says her designs can be worn by women with many body types. She also can custom-fit the woman who isn’t equally proportioned on the top and bottom.

“Robyn Lawley, an Australian model, size 12, wore three of my pieces in her 2016 photo shoot posted online, and she looked incredible. The average woman can definitely wear my swimwear,” she said.

Isaksson designs her swimsuits to stand out in a crowd. “You’ll rarely get basic pieces from me. I like to do really interesting, unique and some edgy pieces. I feel a really interesting swimsuit will make people look your way while drawing their attention away from any body issues you may feel you have,” she said.

She draws inspiration for her designs from everyday things she sees and experiences. “I’ve been doing a lot of macramé. A piece based on that turned out to be one of my best sellers,” she said. Another of her best sellers was based on a T-shirt she cut up and knotted.

Plus-size model Robyn Lawley wears an Iztali design in the 2016 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.

Skills learned at UW-Stout

The skills she learned in the UW-Stout apparel design and development program, along with a minor in photography, have helped Isaksson succeed.

“We did so much pattern-making. All the edits we did to the patterns really help me in my business now. I can just look at a pattern and do what I want to, and it almost always turns out,” she said.

Assistant Professor Kathryn Kujawa noted that Isaksson focused on swimsuit design while earning her degree. “Missy was a unique student who lived with swimsuit designs swimming in her imagination all day long. I never encountered a student with more passion, knowledge and downright obsession for swimsuits,” Kujawa said.

Along with Sports Illustrated publicity, Isaksson has been building her brand through Instagram, with more than 24,000 followers, and other social media outlets.

One of her swimsuits also appeared in Seventeen magazine.

“You really want people to see what you’re making,” she said, citing a social media campaign she worked on with the Coachella music festival and efforts to get celebrities to wear her designs.

After returning from a photo shoot this spring in Hawaii, she still hopes to do photo shoots in 2017 in Thailand and Australia — a few of the dreamlike places she loves to visit and that inspire her to create new Iztali swimsuits.

###

Photos

Top: Model Sarah Elainna wears an Iztali swimsuit, designed by UW-Stout alumna Missy Isaksson, during a recent photo shoot in Miami. Christopher Brown photo

Middle: An Iztali bikini called Sky’s the Limit, worn by model Samantha Hoopes, was featured on a full page in the 2015 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.

Bottom: Plus-size model Robyn Lawley wears an Iztali design in the 2016 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.