Ask almost any woman their least favorite thing to take into the fitting room, and they‘ll probably say a swimsuit. Between the mirrors that seem engineered to highlight problem areas to the teeny-tiny suits themselves, the whole process is at best frustrating and at worst demoralizing. But local entrepreneur Lori Coulter has thrown women a life preserver.
In 2004, Coulter launched Lori Coulter TrueMeasure, a made-to-order swimsuit company born out of her own mother‘s search for the perfect suit. “I started the business after my mom was planning a trip to Naples, Fla., and couldn‘t find a swimsuit she liked anywhere,” says Coulter. “We looked high and low with no luck. She said to me, ‘If you could make a swimsuit that fits, you‘d have a gold mine.‘” That was all Coulter needed to hear. As a graduate student at Washington University, she had already studied retail technology. “I became fascinated with 3-D body scanning technology and knew it would be perfect for creating swimsuits that would help women look and feel great. I developed a business plan around it, and my company was born.”
A self-described fashionista, Coulter knew there was a market out there for her product. “I‘m into fit and function, not just fashion. The skimpy bikini isn‘t what most women are looking for. I wanted to develop a line of tasteful and elegant suits that were still sophisticated and sexy,” she says.
While the appeal of being able to own a suit customized to your body shape is obvious, Coulter says the technology wasn‘t always in place to make it possible. “There wasn‘t really the technology or the supply chain out there for consumers, and even today the process continues to improve,” she says. Her very first swimsuits, made for customers at a friends and family event, took three months to create. “Now the process can be as fast as three days,” says Coulter.
Customers visit Coulter‘s design salon inside Macy‘s at Chesterfield Mall to meet with a trained TrueMeasure consultant. “We recommend they make an appointment, but walk-ins are welcome, too,” says Coulter. She describes the digital body scanning process as simple and completely private. “Customers are given a robe, asked to change into their undergarments and 12 seconds later, our system records 140 exact measurements,” she explains.
Next comes the fun part. “The measurements are entered into our system, which identifies body shape and recommends silhouettes that will flatter it. Special software designs the suits on the screen based on the customer‘s choice of color, fabric, bra type, lining type, hardware and strap size. “There are more than a million combinations, but all the color and fabric swatches are on hand in the salon, and a consultant walks customers through every step of the process,” she says.
Average turn-around time is two weeks, but rush orders can be ready in only three days. “The suits are made in Missouri using couture construction techniques. When the suit is ready, the customer is invited back for a final fitting. If any adjustments are needed, we make them; otherwise, you‘re on your way with a brand-new swimsuit.”
The cost for the process is $225, which includes the digital scanning, design session and of course, the swimsuit. Coulter also sells cover-ups, flip-flops, monogrammed totes and other resort accessories.
The future looks bright for Lori Coulter TrueMeasure. “I‘m interested in partnering with additional retailer, and I‘m planning on expanding our relationship with Macy‘s,” she says. “Right now, although we have done several trunk shows on the road, customers have to be in St. Louis to take advantage of our services. But hopefully, we‘ll some day be able to provide women everywhere with a swimsuit that makes them feel confident and beautiful.”