From Malibu to Montauk! It’s been a dizzying decade for Francesca Aiello. The 27-year-old is at the helm of Frankies Bikinis; a phenomenally popular swimwear-turned-lifestyle brand that was born during her high school days and proceeded to grow up via Instagram, with plenty of supermodel and celebrity endorsement along the way. In a full circle moment, Aiello has teamed up with her childhood bestie, Gigi Hadid, on a collection that’s selling like hot cakes. The collaboration is particularly poignant, as it’s rooted in nostalgia and pays reference to things near and dear to the duo’s heart—including sweet baby fawns to reference Hadid’s journey as a new mom. We spoke to the entrepreneur about her career thus far, growing up with Gigi, her Hamptons pop-up, and more. Warning: you might want to book a beach vacay after reading…
What’s your summer mood in one word?
Are you traveling, or do you have any fun plans?
I was just in Hawaii for a few weeks and I’m headed straight to New York for work from there, so I have a break from travel right now. Being home [in Malibu] has been a dream. My summer plans are to spend as much time as possible on the beach with my best girlfriends, soaking up the sun all summer long!
What’s one ‘first’ you want to tick off your bucket list this summer?
I would absolutely love to travel to Italy, and eat tons of pasta in my bikinis—that would be a really special first for me, because those are a few of my favorite things.
Tell us about this collaboration with Gigi! What were some jumping off points?
From the second we sat down at Gigi’s home in New York to start brainstorming and conceptualizing the collection, I was brought back to our high school days sitting on the couch talking about our hopes and dreams. Gigi and I have been friends and known each other for so long, and we wanted this collection to be rooted in nostalgia. From spending our high school summer days in bikinis on the beach to days she spent on her family’s farm; every detail of the collection was incorporated to bring back memories of these long, warm, summer days and the memories that came with them. We wanted to make the collection feminine, filled with flirty details, and something that everyone wearing would feel comfortable and confident in.
What’s your earliest memory with Gigi?
We have so many memories of days in the pool and at Little Dume (our local beach in Malibu) wearing my bikinis—way before Frankies Bikinis was even a thought. But, one of my favorite memories I have of Gigi speaks volumes to who she is as a friend and as a person. Whenever we would have sleepovers, she would often have to leave to go to volleyball before the rest of the girls woke up. When we woke up, she would have hand-written notes waiting for each of us to read. I always think of this memory because she has always been the type of person that makes her friends, family, and anyone around her feel loved and supported.
Cute! Do you remember the very moment you had the idea for Frankies Bikinis?
The creation of Frankies Bikinis happened very organically, and I initially did not really have an “idea” to start a brand. My mom (and now business partner) encouraged me to begin having custom swimsuits made because I could not find styles that I was interested in on the market at the time. I had seen a woman on the beach wearing a skimpy bikini bottom, and could not get over the amount of confidence she was exuding. Skimpier cut bikinis were not available anywhere at the time, and I had so many ideas of designs that I wanted to wear, so my mom helped me source seamstresses that could make my visions come to life. I began wearing these custom bikinis, my friends started asking for some and also wearing them. Around that time, Instagram had just launched. I created an account to post photos of me and my girls in the bikinis and called it @frankiesbikinis. One of the world’s biggest supermodels came across the page and actually reached out to see if I could send her a few of the bikinis, which I did and she ended up posting a photo in one of them and tagging my account. I remember the day that happened. I was sitting in class and by the time my mom picked me up from school my fingers hurt from replying to the overwhelming amount of people asking where and how they can get their hands on these swimsuits. In that moment, we decided that I could pursue this on a larger scale and make Frankies Bikinis into a brand. That was 10 years ago this July!
You were so young! Who are some people who’ve proved instrumental in their guidance?
My family and my mom have been my biggest support system throughout this journey. My mom saw the passion I had for designing swimwear, wearing swimwear, and seeing people wear my designs, and has always supported me in following my dreams. We have always been extremely close and best friends—so much so that I used to sneak into the back seat of her car when she would go to work when I was younger just so I could spend the day with her. She has always treated me as an equal and offered nothing but support, so being able to work with her side by side every day is really the greatest blessing. I also am inspired daily by so many other female entrepreneurs. Seeing women pursue and build out their dreams is so encouraging to others who are doing the same, and it’s something that I think is instrumental in any female entrepreneur’s growth.
As a female entrepreneur in 2022, what values are important to you?
It is so important for me to be a business owner, and have a brand that people know is designing for all women. I am not designing specific styles that only flatter specific body types, I design styles that all women of all shapes and all sizes can wear and feel their most confident in. I think this is so important because everyone has been in a position at some point in their life [whether with fashion or otherwise] where they didn’t feel accepted or included, including myself, and I want Frankies Bikinis to be a destination for everyone to come and know without question that there is a bikini set or an apparel piece that gives them the feeling of, ‘Wow this was made for me.’ Another important value is the relationship I have with my team. I am in our office every day working with every member of my team, and I’m a part of every single decision that is made. I truly love being in the office, interacting with my team, and seeing all of our hard work come to fruition. We are one big family who all share the goal of making each collection and launch unique and organic to our brand, and they constantly inspire me to push my creativity and make each step for the brand bigger and better.
You were the youngest designer to show at Miami Swim Week, at just 19. What are some other career highs you are proud of?
I was honored to be a part of Forbes 30 Under 30 class of 2022 which is probably my biggest career high to date! Brand expansion is another career high that I have been continuously growing. I started the brand started with swimwear and have expanded our offering to include apparel, accessories, clean beauty and athleisure, so to push the boundaries of what people think a ‘swimwear brand’ can do has been something that it really special to me and something I work very hard at doing organically and correctly. I have also had the pleasure of working and collaborating with some of today’s most influential women: Naomi Osaka, Hailee Steinfeld, and Sofia Richie. And Gigi of course! These women, along with so many others, inspire me so much and to be able to work alongside each of them has been something I will never forget.
What’s one resource you’d recommend to young entrepreneurs?
I love Marianna Hewitt’s podcast Life With Marianna. It’s so easy to listen to and digest while being incredibly informative.
Frankies Bikinis is popping up in MTK this summer, again. What do you like to do in the Hamptons?
Yes we are partnering with Bluestone Lane for our second seasonal pop-up shop. Montauk reminds me a lot of my home town of Malibu, so it was a no-brainer to bring the “Malibu Fantasy” (the theme of the pop-up) to life out there. It is important for me to have people be able to experience Malibu, the place that I draw so much inspiration from, even if they live across the country. So this pop up really gives me the chance to bring that story to life and let people see and feel the quality of the pieces in person. We will also have exclusive Montauk merchandise to add a little more excitement and something special to our customers out there.
Lastly, what’s #1 on your summer playlist right now?
Kendrick Lamar’s new album Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers!
Images: Alana O’Herlihy