The sandy white beaches, international models, surfing competitions and Brazilian bikinis that fill the days of Chad Howett and Gabriel Pimentel may seem like a fantasy for most college students, but to these two young entrepreneurs it’s nothing more than another day at the office.
In 2002 the childhood friends decided to start i-drops Brazilian Beach Wear, Inc., a company whose aim was to bring an international flavor to swimwear in the United States. Since then i-drops’ success has grown so rapidly that the company recently outfitted a bikini television special called Supermodel of Sports, which aired in July on Spike Television.
Pimentel designs and purchases a variety of Brazilian style bikinis from manufacturers and Howett markets the goods through fashion shows, surfing competitions, and beach parties. The duo’s work ethic and personalized approach to sales has led to contracts with various businesses everywhere from the southeast United States to Trinidad.
The two 25 year-olds have used their personal experiences and education to help market and distribute their products to retailers. Pimentel, a former fashion model whose mother had been a nationally known model in his native Brazil, used his families’ experience to create unique swimsuits. With help from his mother and brother Pimentel takes a hands-on approach that includes designing the swimsuits and choosing the kind of threading to use on each one.
"I have a good eye for fashion," said Pimentel, who earned a degree in international business in 2002 from a college in Brazil. "It runs in the family. When we develop a new style we make a pilot (i.e., sample), test it by washing it several times and if we like the results we produce it."
If the trio approves the swimwear, Howett delivers them to store owners and retailers. He then helps clients decide which styles would bring the most sales in the region they are targeting.
"We have reps everywhere who visit our clients once a month and take them out for lunch, check what’s selling and follow up on the styles," Howett said. "Different markets demand different bikinis. So giving more personal attention helps our clients a lot."
An i-dea is born
The idea for i-drops came from Pimentel, whose experience in the fashion world led him to believe that there was a growing international market for Brazilian beachwear. After spending a few years between the United States and Brazil he contacted Howett in the hopes of establishing a business partnership. Howett, a former marketing student at the University of Central Florida, had not seen his friend since his senior year in high school. But he believed the idea had potential after hearing about the popularity of Brazilian bikinis from female friends.
"I thought ‘Hey, let’s bring this to the United States,’" he said. "With Gabriel’s eye for fashion and my business experience here I felt I was ready to make something out of this idea."
Howett earned money to start up the business by working various sales jobs where he established business contacts and gained marketing experience. Meanwhile, Pimentel worked in a fashion studio and established contacts in some of the most popular fashion cities in the world including Miami and Sao Paulo. The two men then decided to test their product with potential buyers.
Howett, a former college cheerleader, used a small shipment of bikinis that Pimentel sent him as research. He sold the samples to his cheerleading teammates and began to understand which quality and styles were popular amongst women. Howett then snuck into a surf expo in Orlando where he became fascinated with the swimwear business.
"[The expo] just blew my mind," he said. "I just saw the whole market atmosphere and the unique culture of this business. Everyone was there from Roxy to Quicksilver to hundreds of swimwear companies, skate companies, and beach apparel. So I began to research and make a business plan and with the little money we had we decided to invest in a booth for the next convention."
Confident in their designs and with a business plan in mind the two developed their own line, and a few months later presented it at the convention. They immediately received offers from companies ranging from Hawaiian Tropic to the United States Surfing Federation, which promised to advertise the i-drops brand.
This summer Pimentel traveled all over Europe and South America, to help i-drops expand its international business, while Howett handled online sales coming from their website i-drops.net. The two friends hope that their company’s worldwide appeal will continue to grow, but they agree it takes effort and teamwork to make it a success.
"This may sound great," Howett explains. "Two 25 year-olds guys running a bikini business. But it’s not just bikinis and models and catwalks. That’s a small easy part of the work. Along with it go the accounting, bookkeeping, and many customers you have to stay up with. The best advice I can give to young entrepreneurs out there is don’t give up. Don’t get overwhelmed; don’t grow too fast and work with people you trust. You’ll learn as you go."
Copyright © 2004. YOUNG MONEY®