In 2016, Victoria’s Secret dropped out of the swimwear market, a business worth $500 million to the company. That same year, Melanie Travis founded Andie Co., the direct-to-consumer swimwear company allowing consumers to order, try on and send back as many swimsuits as they’d like. Regardless of a massive brand bowing out from the sector, Travis said, “There’s room for competition. This is not a winner-take-all market.” Instead, it’s a market worth billions of dollars per year and growing.

“Swimwear is bigger than the men’s shaving market, and God knows how many razor startups [there are],” Travis said.

Travis was on the Glossy Podcast to talk about how the direct-to-consumer model has worked to consumers’ advantage, how a new equity model is “quietly” growing among DTC entrepreneurs and how Andie managed to not pay rent for the past two-and-a-half years.

Here are a few highlights from the conversation, lightly edited for clarity.

A no-discounts rule
“Our customer has come from brands like Eres and Marysia — beautiful brands with a great product, but a one-piece is over $400. We have done a really good job as a brand providing that same quality and aesthetic, but at a much more accessible price point. I’m really proud of that. We [used to] discount the second suit [in a transaction], but that just doesn’t really mean anything. That was a key learning [point]. We basically don’t discount at all anymore. If you can avoid it as a brand, you should.”

DTC helps keep prices low
“We get a lot of in-bound [inquiries] from the big box retailers, and we certainly will talk to them, but it’s really shocking. I have no background in wholesale or any of that, and the prices at which they buy the product are just extremely low. We have a certain margin that we preserve for the customer, and if we sell it to a big box, we won’t make any money. So we can keep prices low by staying direct-to-consumer, and that’s obviously a model everyone is familiar with.”

Giving equity to get DTC off the ground
“Direct-to-consumer is hard, and building an apparel business from the ground up is really hard. My background is digital marketing and brand-building, and to be honest, I’m just not that good at product or fashion. And so very early on, I wanted to partner with someone who did specialize at that, so we could have an optimized supply chain and make the best possible product. I went out to find manufacturing partners that understood my vision and were excited to partner. We struck a deal where we would get really good pricing in exchange for giving them some equity in the company. It’s a model that I think more DTC brands are quietly doing. It’s only an upside for the customer because it enables you to have a really high-quality, well-made product at a much more accessible price point.”

Bringing customer service in-house
“We used to outsource customer service — we did it to save money. But when a woman is wearing a swimsuit, it’s the most naked she will ever be in public. So the shopping experience is wrapped up in all these psychological issues and traumas. If we really wanted to put our money where our mouth was and say, ‘At Andie, you have the best swimwear shopping experience,’ then we needed to invest in a best-in-class, in-house customer support team. So we started hiring in-house, and four or five of those new employees are just focused on talking to customers, whether by text or phone or email. That definitely grew our internal headcount a bit more than I had initially anticipated, but it’s been very worth it. It’s not just good for customers, but I think it’s good business. When a customer engages with one of our support team members, she’s more likely to order more, keep more and then come back and buy again. From a numbers standpoint, it makes sense.”