Gabrielle Haywood, CVO and Creator of Knee-Kini
"As a proud Latina who has embraced her curves and everything extra that comes along with them, I was looking for a bathing suit that would cover my hips, thighs and knees. One that pulls together my silhouette in a flattering and flirty manner, yet give me the breathing room to be active. I was so excited when I heard about the Knee-Kini because I strongly believe this product is what I've been looking for and I highly anticipate it's release."
S. Cruz - Orlando, FL
"I love the Knee-Kini because it helps boost my confidence at the beach or pool. When I was 18 years old, I was in a tragic car accident where I was severely burned and needed skin graphs. Not only did the skin graphs leave unsightly marks, the donor sites where they took the skin are on my upper thigh. Boy shorts don't cover them and since I feel very self conscious in any type of bathing suit; the Knee-Kini stylishly covers those areas and not in a "granny" type of way. I still feel young and flattering in them and now I can not wait for my beach vacations thoroughly."
T. Johnson-Rainey - Pittsburgh, PA
I realized too well when I noticed I had not put on a swimsuit in fourteen years! I also realized at the same time that my thighs did not look the same as they did fourteen years ago. Hmmm…what to do?
I really wanted to start an exercise regimen and wanted to do something fun like swimming or dancing. Something I enjoy and knew I would stick with. For health reasons, I especially wanted to take water aerobics classes. I went to a few sessions. When attending, I would kind of make my own swimsuit, so to speak. I saw other women basically doing the same thing, creating something comfortable to swim in. I would put on leggings, then my one piece swimsuit on top of it. Then sometimes I wore a t-shirt over all of that. Oh, by the way, the one-piece swimsuit was the one I bought fourteen years ago. I was glad I could still fit it, but was definitely not happy with the way my thighs looked in it.
Although, there were only women in the class, I didn’t like putting together a make shift bathing suit, just to have more coverage for my thighs. And, just because it was water aerobics or aqua therapy classes, didn’t mean I didn’t want to wear something pretty. I still wanted a swimsuit that had bright color patterns. A stylish swimsuit that looked good and felt good, but covered more of my thighs. Something a little more age appropriate but stylish.
When I went looking for something with a little more coverage around the lower bottom, I found mostly black legging types or more of a triathlon type suit. Nothing really stood out that was fashionable and stylish with coverage.
I love bright, fun and bold colors and wanted a swimsuit that displayed more of my personality. And most of my research showed, that most women like colorful bathing suits that they feel good in. So one day I sketched a swimsuit that I sort of envisioned. Then sketched another and another. Talking with other women in class and a little research, I found that there were hundreds of women that could not find the type of swimsuit I was looking for. Women wanted a nice, fashionable swimsuit that had more coverage from the thigh area to the knee. With that said, the “Knee-Kini” was born.
Who is, what is or why the name “Virginia Dere”, I’m so glad you asked.
When I was growing up, my brothers and I learned to swim at a very young age. We took swimming lessons in our local park, swim classes in school and my mom took us to the beach quite often. We use to go to our local beach and vacation in Cape Cod a lot. The water there was breath taking. At the beach my mom would spread out our blanket, our lunches and would sit and watch us have the time of our lives.
Occasionally, she would come in and just get her feet wet. She would lift her dress just enough to splash her feet around. What I didn’t know until I was much older, my mom never learned to swim. I thought, “that couldn’t be true”, but it was. I never knew my mom couldn’t swim. I also found out as an adult that there were many people that could not swim. I felt so humbled by how my mom made sure we had those experiences. She made sure we learned to swim at an early age. She took us on beautiful vacations and afforded us the opportunity experiences beautiful bodies of water. She gave us opportunities that I guess I just assumed she had, but she never did.
Myself and the Virginia Dere company would love for all women, if they so desire, to enjoy swimming. We want women to not have to forfeit style, fashion and bright colors just because they may desire more modest coverage. So ladies, you now have a choice in modest fun swimwear! You now have available to you, “Fashionable coverage with just a little more Legverage”. Now you just have to decide where you’re going to wear your “Knee-Kini”.
“Thank you Virginia Dere, for such a selfless and beautiful childhood”.
Time is literally zooming by, way too fast!
How We're Making Waves
“We want YOU to LOOK, how YOU want to FEEL” and that’s wonderfully healthy!
Our swimsuits are designed not only to look good but they’re technologically designed to make you feel good in it.
And here’s why:
Because Gabrielle knows all too well the debilitating issues stemming from chronic pain, she not only has empathy and compassion: she has a true desire to help others dealing with this widespread issue.
In her search to find relief from chronic pain, her doctor recommended Aqua Therapy. During her appointments with her aqua therapist, she was often in an open room with many other patients and was extremely uncomfortable in that open environment with so many other people. Experiencing excruciating pain is difficult enough, but having that experience in front of so many other people seemed to add to her pain as well as her discomfort. Compounding that discomfort was a surprising new issue: the way she looked and felt in a swimsuit made her feel even worse. It wasn’t so much about how others saw her, it was more about how she saw herself and now felt in a swimsuit. She made a makeshift swimsuit with leggings and swimsuit on top, covered with a t-shirt. In the course of not feeling her best and not looking her best, she met and discovered other women feeling the exact same way. Many women struggle with body image, self esteem issues and anxiety when it comes to wearing swimsuits. Often times women will not even attend aquatic events due to being self-conscious in a bathing suit, publicly. Body Positivity is a major concern for women and wearing a swimsuit is in the top five areas of anxiety.
Gabrielle decided that she needed a swimsuit that felt age appropriate, offered a little more modesty in the thigh area and still was colorful and fun. She researched the market offerings and found the options were extremely limited, so she went after the solution herself, and designed the KneeKini. In her research, she also discovered that many women were becoming more and more health conscious and swimming was a major part of exercise regimens, but the market was not meeting the demand with more diverse options in swimwear.
The more research she did, the more her market grew. Within that discovery, Gabrielle was taken aback by how many women of color and Black Americans did not swim at all.
It was heartbreaking for her to discover why blacks did not swim, as Gabrielle grew up with a great love of swimming. Swimming was a major part of her childhood; whether in the local park, family fun or in mandatory gym classes. Segregation and fear have long kept many Black Americans from learning to swim. Blacks were historically denied access to public swimming pools and beaches. As a result, swimming never became ingrained in much of their culture.
According to a recent national study conducted by the YMCA’s USA Swimming Foundation and the University of Memphis, 64% of Black American children can not swim, and according to a report in 2012, a statistic from the CDC and Prevention stated that 70 percent of black children and 60 percent of latino children don’t know how to swim. This means black children drown about three times as often as their white counterparts. This disparity is rooted in a history of discriminatory access to swimming pools.
Swimming can quickly move from innocent summer fun to life ending tragedy. If parents can’t swim, it is less likely that their children will learn to swim. The YMCA has embarked on an ambitious nationwide program, that aims to teach thousands of kids how to stay safe and their initiative seeks to expand access to water safety lessons.
“Swimming is a life-changing skill we should all know, no matter our cultural backgrounds”.
So, Virginia Dere, is passionately “Making Waves” by being an advocate for adopting healthier lifestyles to include aquatic activities. We want more women taking part in aquatic events, especially women of color who have a higher rate of Diabetes, Heart Disease and High Blood Pressure. Swimming is an excellent exercise for combating some of these health issues. By partnering with the City of Pittsburgh (City Parks Aquatics), the YMCA of Pittsburgh, and the Kingsley Center, we would like to advocate for more Safe Swim Lessons, Sponsor Lifeguard training and introduce the “Dip Your Toe” movement for more women to get involved in becoming healthier through aquatic activities, especially women of color.