Tropical Hemp Bikinis, made in Tuvalu?
The Brandon Sun
If retired armed forces member Donald Phillips can make a few bucks and boost the economy of the tiny South Pacific country of Tuvalu in the process, he'll be a happy man.
The Neepawa owner of the bikini manufacturing company Designs by Donald is in negotiations with private interests in Funafuti, the capital of Tuvalu, a group of nine atolls in the same vicinity as Western Samoa and the Solomon Islands.
He wants to set up a corporate office in Funafuti and hire Tuvaluan women to crochet and knit his bikinis, which are made out of hemp yarn, in their own homes, then ship them back to North America.
A few months before Phillips retired from the Canadian military in August 2001, after 20 years of service, he began to look around for opportunities he could pursue upon his retirement. It dawned on him while looking for a marketable product and talking with girls and women that there was a need out there for good quality women's bikinis.
"I came up with pieces of the puzzle," he says. "Swimwear. Hemp. Tuvalu." Phillips admits his Tuvaluan business plan may strike the average Joe as odd, but his business savvy tells him his relatively tiny operation has to be different to be successful.
"The only way I can compete with the big guys is by positioning myself as being different," Phillips says. "I'm going to be the first guy on the market to have handmade hemp swimwear made on an island in the South Pacific. No one else has anything with a tag on the back saying, 'Made in Tuvalu,' and I want to exploit that point right from the beginning."
Canada currently has no investments in Tuvalu, nor has the country any investments here, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
With worldwide labour costs averaging 54 cents U.S. per day, Phillips felt he couldn't compete against the products being pumped out of countries like Bangladesh by major companies at dirt-cheap prices.
The ready-to-wear swimsuits Phillips sells cost $45 per piece, or $90 per suit, and he adds 20 per cent for the ones that are made-to-measure. Three Neepawa women now make up Phillip's manufacturing team.