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Ever felt like trying on a bikini was like walking up to the mean girls’ table? One local designer makes it her business to take the judgment out of swimsuit shopping.

PHOTO/Allison Young

For some, buying a bathing suit is exciting. Each bikini is a promise of all the pool parties, river fests, and days at the lake that the summer is sure to bring.

But for others, going shopping for swimwear is like taking a crash course on how to judge your body. From muffin tops, to under-boobs, to saddle bags, it seems that all become strikingly obvious in the ill-fitting suits one finds in the malls. This can be especially true for the women who have a little extra bosom or booty.

Then there’s the matter of style—a concept that apparently goes out the window once your body is no longer a size small—did you want that shapeless tankini with spaghetti straps or a halter top?

This is where Strange Bikinis comes in.

In 2011, Ali Conway was living in Los Angeles, frustrated with shopping for bikinis and feeling as though she could never find one that was both stylish and flattering. So, as a graduate of the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, Conway came up with her own solution—design and create bikinis that both felt and looked amazing, keeping in mind the wearer as well.

The business began online with custom orders. Then in 2015, Strange Bikinis found a boost. Conway was named the winner of the year’s Biggest Little Startup Fair, a competition in which local entrepreneurs presented their business pitches to a panel of experts, with the hopes of winning a $25,000 prize.

In the six years since Strange Bikinis was created, the brand has grown from a side project of making a few swimsuits for friends and family into a small storefront and an online store. It also has massive support on social media, with a follower count totaling in the tens of thousands.

While Strange Bikinis has seen a huge rate of growth in the past few years, it has still managed to maintain the standards that Conway built the brand on—high quality bathing suits in bold designs, created by a company that doesn’t outsource work to sweat shops—even if that means keeping the business small—and tries to reduce waste by using fabric remnants whenever possible.

Warm welcome

The company prides itself on its message of body positivity and inclusion, and, while it would be nice to see the same level of diversity of size and shade in their models as they have in the swim line, it is still encouraging to see a brand stand on a platform of acceptance and self-love.

The Strange Bikinis storefront is at 2115 Dickerson Road, part a lesser-known hotbed of action in Reno that embraces the offbeat, vibrant nature that has become the city’s cultural calling card. Amid neighbors like the Reno Homebrewer, Wedge Ceramics Studio, and Sierra Water Gardens, Reno’s “industrial arts district” seems to be a good fit for the brand.

It is difficult not to feel nervous during one’s first visit to the Strange Bikinis store. Walking into the store feels a little like sitting down at the popular table, uninvited. On the walls are tiny bikinis and photos of beautiful women wearing them. Walking around the store are customers and employees who look like they spend their free time managing their Instagram fame.

However, it is not long before the customer service that the company is known for kicks in, as associates take special care to help each customer find a suit that makes her feel amazing.

“I was pretty scared about going in the shop,” said one customer outside of the store. “I was a little worried about being judged. But everyone ended up being super down-to-earth, and I ended up finding a bikini top that I loved.”

Custom threads

For her debut collection, Deep Dreams, Conway has created a line that pairs the laid-back feel of Southern California with an edgy, modern aesthetic. The deep v-necks, side slits and lace-up fronts make for a Kardashians-at-the-beach vibe.

The tops range from your standard triangle bikini to others with slits, wraps, and lace-up fronts for the more daring, while the bottoms go from full-booty coverage to barely-there thongs. Or if one-pieces are more your speed, Strange Bikinis offers a few designs that don’t skimp on the sex appeal.

While all the styles look great, and range in sizes from extra-small to extra-large, the element that truly sets Strange Bikinis apart is the ability to modify each suit to fit to the needs of every customer. Patrons can buy swimsuits as they are in store and online, or have them customized. Suits can be tailored to your exact measurements, modified to add a little more coverage, or made reversible.

If you are looking to buy a suit, it will cost a pretty penny. Bikini separates range in price from $55 to $89, while the one-pieces go from $150 to $179. But if you want a “custom kini,” be prepared to shell out more dough.

Currently, the store is only open limited hours—Fridays from 3-7 p.m., Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sundays from 1-6 p.m. Customers can also browse the collection online and order from there or book a custom design and fitting consultation with Conway.

“I think that it is sometimes intimidating for people to come into the store, because they think I only make these cheeky little swimsuits,” said Conway. “While I do love making those suits, really I love making swimsuits that make people feel good, and whatever that is, I can throw my spin on it and get it out there. With making the suits to order, the options really are endless.”