Billi Doyle was a military kid with a dream, one that her family nurtured and supported growing up in Oklahoma. Doyle saw her parents' deep commitment to service in the military, which really impacted her. They continuously stressed the importance of values and working hard.
Doyle's mother retired in 2018 as a Lt. Colonel from the Air Force Reserves after 20 years of service as a dentist. Her father, who is now deceased, was a medically-disabled Army veteran. Her step-father served overseas with the Navy during the Vietnam War. Sacrifice and hard work was ingrained in her.
"My grandma taught me how to sew and I was always interested in design…I spent a lot of time with her as a kid. She was very artistic so maybe that rubbed off on me. I moved to Dallas from Oklahoma so I could go to design school," she shared. The first thing Doyle ever made as a teenager was a dress, which she laughingly described as "awful." But that didn't deter her and if anything, made her more committed to succeed.
Doyle graduated from the Art Institute of Dallas in 2007 and started her business immediately. "The first three or four years, I didn't really know what I was doing," she said with a laugh. When asked if she ever thought about quitting, Doyle laughed again and said, "Every day."
Doyle launched Honey Bee Swim after her graduation and began designing bathing suits and cover-ups, eventually adding yoga and athletic wear. What's unique about her creations is that they are made in America with fine Italian fabrics. With much of what America purchases being made with cheap labor and fabric from China, Doyle's business stands out.
"It is really difficult and frustrating to be an American designer. People want everything so cheap now. Other companies get everything made in China and it's really hard to compete with them," said Doyle. The negative impacts from sourcing and manufacturing in China have also really affected her business the last few years.
Now, businesses in China are also actively committing fraud.
"I've been getting knocked off by China for the last couple of years. They steal my pictures and sell knockoffs with my pictures on them and you can't fight them. I would go out of business if I did," she said. Doyle finds it hard to deal with it all, saying that watching someone take something you created and pretending it's theirs is "beyond frustrating."
The COVID-19 pandemic has also significantly impacted Doyle's business as well. Typically, the late winter and spring seasons are where she does the majority of her business. But with the virus causing worldwide quarantines, no one is vacationing. This means people aren't purchasing luxury line bathing suits, which was always the bulk of her business. "It's our busiest time. We'd normally be selling 100 bathing suits a month and right now we are selling five," Doyle said.
So, she started making masks.
A lot of thought went into the making of the masks. Doyle shared that she spent a lot of time researching the fabrics that were most effective and chose polyethylene which is woven tighter than cotton. "We made probably 10,000 masks. We gave some away and sold the rest of them," she said. Her masks are safer and she even sells filler packs for them.
Although it appeared things were looking up business-wise, pretty soon masks made in China were eventually restocked in most stores. "People are not buying American-made masks now because they can get a three or four dollar mask at Wal-mart because it's made in China," said Doyle.
"More things need to be made here in America, but how can you promote and encourage people to do creative things here when no one can make money doing it," she said. Doyle continued on and explained that the country is in this trend of buying everything cheap and only worn once for social media posts.
A 2019 New York Times article interviewed Gen Z teenagers who admitted they want things cheap and much of what they buy is for a one-time photo op. Another article featured on Business Insider showcased that this type of shopping is on its way to killing brands because the number one motivator is the price.
Doyle hopes that when people make a choice to shop, they will begin to question sustainability and even the conditions of the shop where their clothing is made. Although the current trend is fast and cheap, the cost is much higher than the purchaser realizes in terms of devastating impacts to the environment and economy.
To learn more about Billi Doyle and shop her sustainable and American made clothing, click here.