Executive Strategies for the Americas: Slim wear: Brazilian bikinis are the flavor of the season. All the better for Amir Slama, whose Rosa Cha design house is taking the fashion world by storm

Slim wear: Brazilian bikinis are the flavor of the season. All the better for Amir Slama, whose Rosa Cha design house is taking the fashion world by storm – Strategies

Elizabeth Johnson

FORGET THE UPS AND downs of Brazil’s macro-economics. When it comes to micro — as in very small — Brazil’s sexy allure is going global. During the past year, several Brazilian fashion designers have received increased recognition abroad, including Alexandre Herchcovitch, Tufi Duek, Fauze Haten, Clements Ribeiro and Jussara Lee. But the brand achieving the greatest popularity among high-end customers is the Rosa Cha collection of bikinis and beachwear.

Rosa Cha is a Brazilian design house, not a person. The mastermind behind its bathing suits, now worn by Hillary and Chelsea Clinton, Sophia Loren and the Queen of Sweden, is Amir Slama. Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue has featured Rosa Cha for the past three years, and the bikinis are becoming increasingly popular among Hollywood stars — Jennifer Lopez, Salma Hayek, Linda Evangelista, Courtney Love, Marisa Tomei and Mariah Carey have all donned Slarna’s creations.

Slama started Rosa Cha in 1988 to earn money to get married. At the time, he was a high school history teacher by day and a bartender by night. Slama decided to dust off some old sewing machines that belonged to his father and start making bikinis. He and his wife (then fiancee) drove around Sao Paulo with their trunk full of bikinis to sell to local retailers. Today, the company has 160 employees, US$25 million in sales, 18 stores in Brazil and contracts with department stores worldwide.

Although Slama’s bikinis became popular among Brazilians, he never imagined that he could sell them abroad. But in 1995, Jacqueline Druz, a Brazilian living in the US, suggested Slama let her market the bikinis outside of Brazil. “I was sure she wouldn’t be able to sell any of the collection in the United States,” says Slama, who nonetheless agreed to let her try. Within weeks, Druz had sold the entire collection. She also showed the collection to Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Cosmopolitan magazines, all of which decided to feature some of the suits.

The following year, Slama altered the size of his designer bikinis, creating three types: Brazilian, for the less modest; European, which is slightly larger; and American, which covers the most. Slama insists, however, that the suits retain their Brazilianness. “We changed the models slightly, but the Brazilian form and spirit remain,” he says. Shortly thereafter, Rosa Cha swimsuits began appearing in Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale’s and Neiman Marcus. Today, Rosa Cha is sold in 160 stores throughout the US, as well as in England, Italy, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Korea and Japan.

“The market has been very Brazil oriented,” says Carmen Diaz, a buyer for Lanuguage, one of the first stores to carry Rosa Cha in the US. “I’ve received calls from Canada from people who saw the suits in Sports Illustrated.” According to the Brazilian Textiles Association, Brazilian fashion industry exports reached an estimated US$1.3 billion last year, 25 percent more than 1999. And the association expects a 20 percent increase in 2001. “Today, Brazil is becoming more and more popular abroad, and for the first time it is showing a more sophisticated side,” says Slama.

Armed with such sentiments and statistics, Slama hopes to open a store in the US within a year. But he is also keeping his eyes fixed on expanding marketshare in Brazil’s US$6 billion bikini industry. Despite its global notoriety, Rosa Cha still sells just 9 percent of its swimwear outside of Brazil.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Americas Publishing Group

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group