Buffalo, NY - Melissa Simone ’13 dove into the fashion world in 2018 with the founding of her namesake company, Melissa Simone, promoting her innovative swimsuit designs on Instagram. In just a few short years, her styles have become celebrity favorites. Cosmopolitan magazine recently listed Simone among “13 Black-owned fashion brands to know about.” But her path to success has not always been a day at the beach.
Growing up outside Toronto, Ontario, Simone was recruited out of high school to play basketball at Canisius University. She started as a small forward and played three years before an injury held her out of her senior year. After she earned a degree in psychology from Canisius, Simone pursued a master’s degree in the field from Queens College in Queens, NY, where she played basketball for one more year.
While looking for employment after graduate school, Simone learned that her work visa had not been renewed. With just a credit card and minimal savings, Simone hired an immigration lawyer to help get her visa back. The process took nearly two years but it was life changing.
“During that time, I purchased a sewing machine and began to explore my real passion – sketching, designing and creating swimsuits,” Simone recalls. “My first attempts were not good but I realized I could take something I love and make a go of it. I learned from my mistakes and kept getting better.”
Her visa eventually came through and Simone began to look for public relations work in New York without success. That’s when she decided to dive deeper into her swimsuit creations. Inspired by the suits worn by 1990s super models Christie Brinkley and Tyra Banks, Simone soon had a portfolio of unique designs that blended retro with current trends.
She moved to Los Angeles and with the help of a friend, found a contractor to produce the swimsuits. She promoted Melissa Simone Swim on Instagram and her website, and soon began filling orders out of her bedroom. When celebrities such as Kylie Jenner and Bella Hadid were spotted on social media wearing Melissa Simone designs, the brand went full sail.
Today, Simone has six employees working out of her LA office and her products are sold around the world from the company website. Fashion retail stores in New York City, Los Angeles and Miami also carry the Melissa Simone brand. The New York Post, Vogue and Essence magazines have written about her swimsuits calling the designs trendy, chic and bold.
Simone says she hopes to have her own retail outlets in the future with an expanded product line to include beachwear such as cover-ups and sandals. For now, she looks forward to the continued growth of her swimsuit line – and that of her 10-month-old son.
Simone gives credit to her Canisius University experience for teaching her how to navigate the challenges in life, whether juggling basketball and course study or wading into the sometimes-turbulent waters of fashion design.
“Canisius taught me to weather the storms and I really learned who I was there,” Simone concludes. “I’ve relied on that foundation since I started my company, especially now as I balance family life and a successful business.”