‘This isn’t just a swimsuit you are buying’: Tessa Hartmann On Her Swimwear Label HartiSWIM

By Nathalie Eleni

6 months ago

These pop-art inspired bathing suits should be at the top of your holiday packing list


C&TH’s Nathalie Eleni sits down with entrepreneur and TV personality Tessa Hartmann CBE, who tells us all about her sustainable swimwear label HartiSWIM.

The Country & Town House Responsible Buyers’ Guide

Q&A With Tessa Hartmann CBE, Founder Of HartiSWIM

HartiSWIM Founder & Creative Director Tessa Hartmann CBE

HartiSWIM Founder & Creative Director Tessa Hartmann CBE

Hi Tessa, thanks for joining us today. Can you kick us off by telling us what inspired you to start your own brand?

Well, I have had my own branding agency for over 25 years, working with fashion and luxury lifestyle brands. I had always dreamed of setting up my own label but never really found something that was different enough. Fashion is a hard game and you need something authentic and original. When my husband, Sascha (who paints under the name of Harti), found his art took off after lockdown, I suddenly realised that we owned all the IP (intellectual property of the art) and that fashion brands used to pay huge fortunes to licence pop art or cartoon characters – think of the money Moschino must have paid over the years, for example – so I thought to myself, why not take his pop art characters and create a sustainable swimwear brand? We live in Jersey, an island surrounded by turquoise waters and white sands, so swimwear made sense.

Can you tell us about your design process?

I pulled out what I felt where the strongest pop art characters from Sascha’s artwork, and we then started to play with placement prints on swimwear. I have two daughters in their twenties so I wanted to make sure that as a label, we were ageless. I wanted a brand that a lady who’s over 50 (like myself) would love to wear and feel glamorous, and equally I wanted to make sure we had product in there that would suit those young things. The key ingredient is glamour – we call it ‘glamour with a conscience’. We sampled loads of shapes and between myself, Tallia and Valentina, we knew what we wanted to produce.

I have an old friend David, who also happens to be a swimwear agent, who has been incredible throughout this whole process and I work with a wonderful creative, Lisa. Together we have a great little team. Like anything, I had no idea the development and set up would take so long – over 18 months. But I absolutely love it. For the first time I am the client, I get to call all the shots on creative, styling and product, instead of working for other people like I have done for all these years. It’s terrifying and liberating at the same time.

How do you ensure that your swimwear designs are environmentally friendly and sustainable?

I knew from the beginning that the brand just had to be fully sustainable and a transparent business model. All the artwork is hand painted by Harti and reproduced across our collections, using a sustainable digital print process.

We also use fibres that allow our customers to play a role in solving the ever-growing problem of ocean plastic. Living on an island, we see first hand the impacts of ocean pollution and so as a brand; we believe in a salutary re-birth of our broken planet. We were dedicated to creating an innovative brand that uses our collections and art to bring awareness to climate-change. One of our swimsuits equates to 13.1 plastic bottles (bottle count as certified by Repreve).

Our narrative always involves storytelling, which I believe our customers also feel very strongly about. It’s not easy nor cheap to produce truly sustainable products, but I ask you, what’s more important: cheap fast fashion or a planet that we can protect for our kids? At our heart, HartiSWIM is a new generation eco-luxe label designing swimwear that is made to be loved forever.

Woman on beach in swimming costume

Can you share any specific challenges you have faced in creating sustainable swimwear and how you overcame them?

The sourcing of the fabric was an an interesting journey. There is so much greenwashing out there so one needs to be careful about authenticity and certification of fabrics. We discovered a wonderful sustainable fibre made from bottles collected within 50 kilometres of coastlines in countries or areas that lack formal waste or recycling systems. This premium fabric also features built-in sun and chlorine protection, which we know is also important to our customers. We all have a responsibility now and it’s important that we do our part for the next generation. We were also able to calculate that just one of our swimsuits equates to 13.1 plastic bottles, which is a great stat. I think by sharing this with our customers, they know that they too are playing a part in this global challenge.

What steps do you take to ensure the quality and durability of your swimwear products?

We manufacture in Thailand; our team has been to the factory and we are so pleased to be able to be fully confident in the production process. We sampled and tested for some time. All our swimwear is lined and has a beautiful fit. We are trying to change the consumer behaviour patterns – we all need to buy less and buy better, so the swimwear needed to stand that test.

We also decided that our patterns will never go out of date. This trend of replacing season after season is killing our environment and if we are selling a swimming suit for £225 people want to know that it’s going to stand the test of time, washes well and will always be on trend. We are doing this by simply using the same graphics and versions of the graphics on different styles, that way if you invest in a HartiSWIM it won’t ever look dated. We want to encourage people to collect our swimwear like they collect art.

How do you stay up-to-date with the latest trends and innovations in fashion?

I like to stay in the know on what’s going on in the general environmental news cycle, which I’ve been following for three years, and attend conferences where I can. I also support many ocean conservation charities and do my bit to contribute to a better blue planet.

Fashion is one of the worst contributors to climate change and it is set to double its emissions by 2030. The fashion industry is responsible for eight to 10 percent of global emissions – and British shoppers buy more clothes than any other country in Europe. That’s insane right? Most of fashion’s environmental impact comes from the use of raw materials; cotton for the fashion industry uses about 2.5 percent of the world’s farmland. Synthetic materials like polyester require an estimated 342 million barrels of oil every year. Fashion uses an insane amount of water too. The reality is the top 16 countries in the G20 need to reduce consumption by 60 percent – and by 83 percent in the UK – to make a difference. Its just about changing our mindset. We can still have fun with fashion, swapping, renting, alterations, recycling and investing into better (but fewer) items.

Harti

Harti

Does your swimwear inspire your husband’s artwork, or does his artwork inspire your swimwear?

The swimwear is inspired totally by aesthetical elements from my husband’s artwork. Painting under the name Harti, Sascha’s professional interests and sustained learning have culminated in an electrifying, truth-telling series of artworks expressed on vast canvasses that capture and question the sense and meaning of life, God and belief systems, consciousness versus nothingness, our insignificance in the universe and quintessentially our lost self. His practice typifies the post-modernist pop art movement, with a nod towards the pre-Baroque tenebrism style for heightened dramatic effect. Harti’s aim is to stimulate self-auscultation, engage self-archaeology, question everyday absurdities and challenge the viewer to peel back layers of their own mind, while combining it with the need to entertain.

This isn’t just a swimsuit you are buying, there is meaning in every character on our prints. He calls the pop art characters ‘the collective subconscious’. We also used his artwork names for each series, so that when you buy a swimsuit, you know from which piece of art it originated from. He did a wonderful collection of cushions and furniture with Andrew Martin Interiors and we are now working on releasing his own collection of cushions featuring the art too.

What are your future goals and aspirations as a sustainable swimwear designer?

Look, I love what I do. In 2017, I had breast cancer and never imagined I would be here right now doing this. I am very grateful to be able to do something that I love, that makes a difference to the world in which we live. We all have a responsibility to look after this planet we call our home. I will continue to do what I can with HartiSWIM to create innovative pieces of wearable art and to extend the brand where I can.

We also have removable cups in our swimwear and a place to put in your ‘chicken fillet’ as they say. This is also good for women like myself who have two very different shaped breasts after cancer.

Aside from that, I would love to show at Miami Swim Week so that’s the next goal right now! We hustle here at HartiSWIM HQ. It’s in our DNA.

Woman in swimming costume, blue boots and pink wig

You are always incredibly glamorous. What are your beauty rituals?

I am addicted to beauty and always have been. I educated my daughters from a young age the important of looking after your skin and thankfully I think they took that on board. ‘Always take your make up off’ should be on a sign in our house but its so important and can pay dividends in the future.

I love Chanel’s Revitalising Cream – it’s made from 95 percent natural ingredients and has bio-based packaging. I am also a huge fan of Weleda products especially its Skin Food Nourishing Cleansing Balm, Day Cream and its Lavender Relaxing Bath Milk – that has saved the day on many occasions.

I also love lipstick; give a girl the right lipstick and she can conquer anything. I have a staple Pillow Talk from Charlotte Tilbury, a classic red from L’Absolu Rouge Lancome (ironically I have been wearing the same red colour for 30 years from Lancome) and I have a wonderful YSL Rouge Rose lipstick, which is a staple with all my HartiSWIM. It’s a wonderful coral red and looks fabulous in the sun.

My kids say my hair is my trademark. It’s short, bright blonde and bold. It’s also super easy to manage with my hectic work lifestyle – I can’t imagine having long hair anymore. When I’m in London, I go to Jo Hansford who is amazing and in Scotland I go to Taylor Ferguson. They just know how to do good hair.

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hartiswim.com