Shopping therapy – with Betsy Campos – episode 12

“The idea behind it is women embracing themselves as they are and they all are one of a kind.”

On this episode of The Dialog Podcast, Betsy Campos, a former student at George Brown College and fashion designer explain how her work helps women to embrace themselves. She also compares the swimwear industry in Canada and Brazil and talks about how this new generation is being influenced by social media.

Luiz Felipe Lamussi: Hello and welcome to The Dialog Podcast! On this episode, you will listen to GBC former student, entrepreneur and fashion designer Betsy Campos talking about how clothes can empower people. She owns a swimsuit shop called UNIKA, which creates custom swimsuits for women of all shapes and sizes.

Lamussi: Thanks for coming today. Your parents are Brazilian, right?

Betsy Campos: Yes.

Lamussi: So, obrigado por vir(Thanks for coming in Portuguese)

Campos: De nada. Thanks for having me.

Lamussi: So, we are here to talk about how fashion can make people feel good about themselves, but first I want to understand about your company. It is called UNIKA, right?

Campos. Yes, UNIKA, you said it right.

Lamussi: So, tell me a little bit about it. What is the concept behind it?

Campos: Growing up I spent my summers in Brazil and swimwear is engrained into my culture. It is really hot over there so nine times out of ten you are either at a cottage or a beach in swimsuits. I found that swimwear was always available in Brazil. Obviously, we have winter here and coming back to Toronto, I realized the options weren’t there. I also found that the sizing was very off. So, if you are a larger woman or a bigger busted woman you were not able to find things that did fit you. Whereas in Brazil, there are millions of options.

So UNIKA started because of a personal frustration while shopping. Even with my mother we could never find stuff that was nice. Obviously, things are a bit more conservative in Canada and North America compared to South America. Swimwear in Brazil is very different obviously. So UNIKA was born out of the frustration of shopping, listening to friends and family while they were shopping and their experiance.

As well as because swimwear is not available all year here. Which I never understood because when it is cold is when Canadians go away. So, I thought I had something going because of that. And UNIKA means only one, as you know.

Lamussi: Yes.

Campos: So, the idea behind UNIKA is women embracing themselves as they are,  and they all are one-of-a-kind. So I really wanted to emphasize what I do with the name of the brand, which caters to all shapes and sizes.

Lamussi: And, could we explore more about the differences between Brazil and Canada?

Campos: Northern styles are very conservatives. US and Canadian markets have the same styles. Whereas I find Latin America or South America and even Miami has the same influence, because there are so many latin people over there, of sexier cuts. Or, things that are not so covered up. Not that you need to show or expose yourself necessarily, but the Brazilian bikini is very exposed.

It is all about embracing your curves and I even menswear is conservative. If you take the men’s bathing suit, for instance, they are on the whole speedo style. In Brazil, you have this classic speedo, and then you have the short speedo. And North Americans wear the long and loose boy shorts.

So, I think it is very interesting. Even when my cousins would come over to my store, they say “this is so covered up.” Because I do carry North American styles but people come to me because they get options they can’t find in Canada.

Lamussi: An how do your clients from here or even from different countries because Canada is a multicultural place. So how do they see these different cuts?

Campos: In the store we have them displayed. And I always love when a women want to pursue something out of their comfort zones. So I have a woman come in and she is uncomfortable with her body and she wants a one piece. Then I will start challenging her to choose a two piece but working around the areas on your body that you don’t like.

So I think that’s the whole thing, the niche that we cater to and why we do so well is the fact that I can take anybody’s body and listen to their concerns like stretch marks, scarring, surgery, c-section scars. I’ve worked with women that have had breast cancer and they don’t have breasts. So we work around their issues and limitations with their bodies and cater to them.

Lamussi: And you design and sell swimwear, which literally exposes peoples bodies.

Campos: Exactly and I always say to my clients that being in a swimsuit is practically being naked. So if you don’t feel confident and you are uncomfortable, people can see that.

You know it is like going to your graduation and your mom makes you wear your uncle’ suit, and it doesn’t fit you in and you can see on the kid’s face. They are uncomfortable and they hate it.

So I always say that if you are not comfortable with it, you are not going to feel good on the beach, especially when you are most exposed and vulnerable. So I always try to guide them towards what I feel would work best for them, the last option is up to them, they pick their fabric and then we make it.

For instance, there is this client who is paralyzed on half of her body, which makes her two different sizes. And it is always a challenge and something new to explore. But it also feels so good for not only me, but I do have a team of six women that I work with now, when they leave and they are happy.

But I think the biggest reward for me as the owner of this is when I see them come back because it means we did something good and they want more. When someone comes back in the store I’m like “yes, we got them, this is great.”

People think it’s just swimsuits but it’s not, sometimes it’s like therapy because I’m listening to stories and to be honest nobody is happy.

I have a size 30 woman who is 400 pounds. I have a client who had a double mastectomy and doesn’t have breasts. I have clients that are pregnant, who have done plastic surgery four times, and they are all feeling the pressure of social standards and nobody is happy.

I get stories like that all the time. Or even teenage girls because the average size is changing. The average US size now is 16. And that’s up from size six. So the average sample size is 00, it used to be size six and now we are at 16 and that’s concerning obviously.

I have 14-year-olds who are coming to me with F-cups. You can notice that they are so uncomfortable with themselves because they are going through puberty. On the other hand, you can’t take them to a plus size shop because is all gramma’s swimsuits and prints.

In cases like that which we need to make them feel comfortable and confident so it is a process which we need to say you are bigger-busted but it’s okay, you have other options besides a plus size suit at another store. So that’s the beauty of what we do. Like I always say, we are almost a part-time therapists as well as swimsuit designers.

Betsy Campos, owner of UNIKA. Photo from personal archive

Lamussi: It is really interesting what you do. If we talk about bikinis and swimsuits we never immediately think about this consequences and how important it is for women when they are wearing it. And it is tough.

Campos: It is tough. And social media now is the devil. People are all the time comparing themselves. Literally, every girl who brings me a swimsuit is bringing me a picture of a Kardashian in a swimsuit. And they think that is normal. But they don’t know they had plastic surgery, lip injections and things they’ve done to their body that I didn’t even know you could do.

So it is so sad to me that we are constantly trying to conform to society’s idea of what is the perfect beauty standard, what is the perfect size and what is to be worn and that’s something we go against the grain with. I think that’s why we are good at what we do and why we get so much press because when these young girls come to my store I think they are 19, 20 years old. But these girls are 13 years old and I’m like wow, I did not look like you at 13 years old, I did not dress like you. It’s so crazy to me in this digital world and the pressure to look like these people.

Lamussi: But even on social media, a good part is that a lot of celebrities are starting to show their “real” bodies.

Campos: Yeah, like Ashley Graham is somebody that I love. She is very honest, and she shows no filter, no editing photos. She has acne on her face and she is very honest and I think people are very intrigued by that. When you show people your most vulnerable state, they relate to you better. Knowing that you are human and you are going to have a breakdown and you will not have a perfect body or have stretch marks.

Lamussi: You become real.

Campos: Exactly. You relate to these people. I was in Los Angeles a few months ago and I was in the elevator with someone that I follow on Instagram that has millions of followers. I looked at her and I was like “wow I can’t believe that I believed that your Instagram is what you look like, this is not real life.”

And my friends use these apps that you can make your hips bigger and fix your nose, face and I don’t even put a filter on and you guys are doing all these things.

Lamussi: Hashtag #Nofilter.

Campos: Yes! And I can’t believe that this is a thing, people do this. And this is a whole toxic level for the next generation. I’m scared to have a daughter because I can’t even imagine like what it is coming.

Lamussi: Okay, thank you so much for the talk. I think you are doing a really interesting work. You are selling swimsuits but you are also listening to those people and helping them lot.

Campos: Yeah, it’s therapy. I called shopping therapy.

Lamussi: It is really cool, thank you so much for coming.

Campos: Thank you for having me.

Lamussi: That’s all for today, folks! I’m not going to stay here talking about how women should always feel great about themselves, mansplaining what you already know.

On the other hand, I can share the experience I had with my young sister, my friends and the people I dated. I had relationships with different women throughout my life, with totally different body sizes and shapes. And all of them, no exception, had some lack of confidence about their appearance.

I used to spend sometimes hours listening to them complaining about their clothes, their bodies, that nothing looked good on them. Sometimes, before a party or a special occasion, I already knew we would go through all that routine of “I have nothing to wear tonight! I don’t want to go anymore.”

As I said, it was not one, it was ALL of them. I’m going to be honest, sometimes I didn’t know how to deal with it. There were some moments that I left them there and… Other times I wanted to help but didn’t know how.

So, try being supportive to your girlfriend, boyfriend, mom, sister, friend, whatever. Not only society standards are hard to reach but feeling good about ourselves can be a hard inner thought process.

Society demands so many things all the time that without noticing it, we start demanding the same things for us. We get frustrated about ourselves and now I’m not only talking about clothes but also about school, career, money, family.

So don’t push yourself too hard. And if you are on the other side, just be there, listen and don’t judge. It is horrible to hate someone but it is the worst when we hate ourselves. So be patient. Okay? Yeah, I digressed here a little bit.

Send me your story, thoughts, comments or anything at podcast@dialognews.caIf you like the work we are doing here, please subscribe at the iTunes app or any other podcast app that you use. That’s all for today, see you next time, bye!

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Shopping therapy – with Betsy Campos – episode 12