Mi Ola Surf :: sexy bikinis that stay on

as my hubby and i are coming up on our anniversary, i got to thinking back to our honeymoon.  where i thought i was a tough guy.  and went out into 8′-10′ surf.  and had to get saved by a young, strapping 25 y.o. lifeguard. in fiji. and i had a bikini malfunction. of the major variety. but i’m alive to tell the story.

yes, it happened.

namotu boats bringing surfers home

so my next feature is apropos.  my gal pal Helena Fogarty founded Mi Ola Surf. a bikini company made by women surfers for active women. these suits are tried and true.  their testing involves digging sand castles, carrying kids on your hips, and getting pummeled (or not) by heavy surf.

i was curious how my friend from the northeast, who’s held cool gigs at Chanel and Ferragamo ended up living in Costa Rica.  here’s the story…

Helena Fogarty of Mi Ola Surf at LA Fashion Week

What brought you to Costa Rica?

Google.  Seriously.

8 years ago, I learned to surf.  I took a girls trip to Maui to a surf camp after graduating from NYU Stern’s MBA program.   We went in June, and I came back to NYC – completely obsessed with surfing and with nowhere to surf.  (The East Coast was experiencing a particularly FLAT summer.) 

I was looking for waves, all over, but not finding any.

Mi Ola Surf woman surfer holding surf board

Finally, I booked a trip to Costa Rica for Labor Day weekend to surf.    I literally searched for SURF CAMP and 1 in Costa Rica came up first.  I read the reviews and then booked my trip, same day!  I went to Tamarindo Costa Rica for a week.  Surfed my heart out, and fell in love with Costa Rica.   At the time, I was consulting for Ferragamo and every chance I could, I took a long weekend down to Costa Rica to get some waves.

When and why did you start Mi Ola?

I started workshopping the idea of Mi Ola in June 2010 because I’d been surfing hours every day, and every day I struggled with my bikini.   

Why do women put up with such flimsy, badly designed bikinis?


Had no one thought “Gee, we should make a bikini that’s great looking and stays on?”  It turns out there are 3.6M women surfers in the US, 500,000 that actively surf at least twice a month, so the business seemed viable.

Mi Ola Surf woman surfer walking to water

In June 2010, I also found out I was expecting my daughter.   Great news!  However this news made it a little difficult for me to be the primary tester while surfing.   So, things slowed down a little bit.   I made prototypes with a seamstress in Costa Rica and got friends to test them out.

Then, in August 2011, when Mini was 6 months, I started making real formal samples in NYC.

How have your experiences at U Penn and Stern pave your path to Mi Ola?

HA!  It’s been a long winding road!

Let’s just say that I’ve known I wanted to be a designer since I was very young and then kept on denying that impulse for more practical and opportunistic jobs… until I found the problem I needed to fix  – with Mi Ola.

Mi Ola Surf woman surfer leaning against tree

How did you originally get into the fashion industry? Channel? Ferragamo! DREAM jobs, no?

From the time I was in 5th grade, I knew I wanted to be a designer or an architect.  Then, I spent years of my life looking for a more sensible occupation.   Penn is a great shool, and is fairly pre-professional.   When I was there, I was searching for my “path” while taking painting classes on the side.   (Duh!)   I settled on studying Biological Basis of Behavior, Neuropsychology tract, a common major for Pre-Med.

In my junior year, my dad passed away from cancer.  At that point, I didn’t have much of a taste to be a doctor, or even to finish my degree.   Luckily, my fantastic Mom convinced me to finish, and I had amassed enough credits that my last year was a breeze.

Mi Ola Surf woman surfing

After graduating, I worked for a medical publishing company.  Believe me, during the recession of the mid-90s, this was a dream to have in NYC!  I was the cool kid who understood the internet and I used that to get more responsibility.  Then, after a few years, to move to an agency where I built the first e-commerce sites for Avon and Bloomingdale’s.   From there, I went to Hearst, where I built the first Harper’s Bazaar site, and wrote for CosmoGirl magazine.  

I worked on the digital side of fashion for a few years, and then got my MBA from NYU Stern, with the intent to move from digital to the actual label management side.  Post NYU, I worked at Ferragamo and then at Chanel.


Everyone I’ve met in fashion is pretty great.  Yes, it’s true, when you walk into the Chanel elevator, you get the once over to see what you’re wearing.  However, often it’s true because the person doing it hasn’t seen what you’re wearing on a real body yet.  (only on the runway models.)  At least, that’s how I decided to interpret it.

It’s an image business, there’s no denying it.  But I’ve found most people to be AMAZING.

What type of performance testing do you do on your suits?

We surf, duck-dive, wipe-out.   We boogie board.  We do yoga.  We play volleyball.  We carry toddlers and see if the bottoms can withstand a toddlers feet trying to push down our bottoms.   We swim.  And we cannonball!

Mi Ola Surf woman surfer in water

We also sit, read books, attend bbqs, and drink a beer in them, to make sure the suits are ready for anything. 

What challenges as a working mom straddling two countries do you face? 

Oh boy… I’m the primary breadwinner and I’m MOMMY.   It’s hard.  I have to travel often for work and I do feel like I’m missing out on my daughter’s life.  But, I’m also doing it to provide for her.  It’s tough.


What advice do you have for people wanting to break into this industry?

Hmmm… I’m open for advice from others!  It’s a tough industry with more brands than you ever have heard of.   Plus, I’m creating a company that empowers women, and we’re in an industry that often exploits women.    I mean, I’m showing sexy, active women in small pieces of clothing.   However we do it in a way that each one of us would like to be in that photo looking great.


What’s been surprising about the surf industry?

How many models there are, and how hard models work – at photo shoots and events!  

What’s been the funniest moment at your most recent trade show?

Trade shows are very weird.   As a company, we spend a ton of money, getting there, getting a booth built, getting our samples and materials there, hiring a model, etc.    There’s a huge build-up in how to make this tradeshow effective.  And then the show opens, and it either happens or it doesn’t, or often – something in between.

Funny moments happen, but more so because sometimes we’re just tired and we’ll do anything to make it interesting.

This last tradeshow, Surf Expo, we made custom metallic tattoos, which were a huge hit.   We also had Miguelitos – coconut milk & rum – at our booth    We try to make it fun and hospitable.  But really, these shows are a marathon of work!

Mi Ola Surf woman surfer cutting back on wave

Do you catch any flak for using pix of gorgeous, slim, trim, surfer-bodied women in your marketing?

I do.   And a NY surfer actually suggested that we weren’t using real surfers.

Listen, authenticity is very important to me.  I’m keeping it real.  Everyone we feature surfs and often does other water sports.  We highlight different body types.  We don’t Photoshop.   But, at the end of the day, we’re a bikini company.

If you want to see a voluptuous post-baby momma type in our bikinis, I’ll take some selfies, but I’m not sure that’s going to boost our sales.


What’s the biggest complaint women have about suits?

The biggest complaints are not feeling comfortable in swimwear.  Sometimes due to what you’re dealing with you your own life, your body confidence and sometimes because swimwear is often badly made!

Face it, not many of us, even if we’re in great shape, are comfortable being in our skivvies in public  And that’s basically what a swimsuit is.


When you spend a lot of time in swimwear – whether you’re a surfer, swimmer or live by the beach…you become a lot more comfortable and confident.   Even so, if your bikini betrays you when you reach over for your book, you’re going to feel exposed.

At Mi Ola, we keep you covered, so you can relax and have fun!


What are you funding plans?

We’re self-funded thus far, but we’re doing an Indiegogo campaign right now and are laying groundwork for a bigger round later this year.  As an entrepreneur, you’re always selling.  Every conversation opens doors.  I’m grateful for everyone who’s supported us thus far!

About meesh

Meesh has a passion for people, creative projects, and technology. She enjoys painting furniture back to life, gardening, playing with her kids, and connecting people.


  1. Helena Fogarty says

    I’d love to hear what you want in a suit that stays on. We’re developing new styles, and have started looking at tankinis or 1 pieces….