Summer is a beautiful time in Chicago for sandy beaches, kayaking the Chicago river and of course boating.
A native Chicagoan recalls spending her summer’s on Lake Michigan and enjoying the boat parties. From her experiences, she got a business idea – a fashionable business idea.
She’s a real life Elle Woods, as she stands before me, a petite blonde in head to toe pink, except she started out as a lawyer and had to learn the fashion industry.
Meet Carla Ham, founder and president of Belle & Whistle, a one of a kind bikini line that draws from the burlesque scene and the Chicago boat scene, to bring the modern day belle a combination of glam, sophistication, and practicality.
In her recent launch, Ham has transformed the industry with a special attention to detail and a solution to woman’s biggest beach problem – a place to put her valuables.
Coming up with her design, Ham not only created several different looks with various fabrics in rich jewel tones like fuchsia pink, royal blue and emerald green with embellishments from sequins to rope to metallic jewels. She also created a solution for women to place their valuables on them while also adding to the look instead of detracting from it.
A Swimsuit with a built in Waterproof Clutch:
So, she created a waterproof silk back tie for each suit called the Peek-A-Boo Pockets that have a a zipper at the end to hold a cellphone, keys, an I.D. and cash. The design seamlessly flows into the suit and is pictured below in the blue bikini.
“My goal is to grow a memorable brand with show stopping bikinis, while cultivating Chicago’s unique, fashion industry by headquartering here in my hometown, ” says Ham. “We have a lot of talent here with an interesting mix of backgrounds and styles.”
Ham worked with a designer to launch the line. And she explained that it took several steps, including fitting the suits for each body type. For each size she sells on her website, she had a different model to make sure the fit was created with each woman’s unique frame and body in mind.
Then came the details of the suit. With sequins and other delicate additions, Ham tested each design for quality – one of the most extensive parts of the fashion creator’s journey to this cocktail swimwear launch.
Ham’s collection is sold exclusively online, but she also has started to debut her line this summer at various festivals including one of the most creative markets, Chicago Reader’s Made in Chicago 2016 Market.
It’s so exciting to meet another fashion designer part of Chicago’s startup scene who started as one who admired fashion, but had to learn the industry and the details of making clothes for women’s bodies. But the true value is that she saw a need – cocktail inspired swimwear, and she made it not only for show but also for use. One of the hardest parts of fashion is that it’s not practical. It’s not practical to walk in the city in heels all day or to bring a purse with you to a boat party.
Ham created a line that is beautiful, practical, and adds sophistication where no other swimsuit has gone before. It’s truly inspiring to see what one woman could create in a year simply by seeing a need and looking to fill it.
Ham continues to practice law and grow her new cocktail swimsuit line.
In her first year, Ham created seven designs: the showstopper, the goddess, the vixen, the diva, the starlet, the seductress, and the princess. One of the distinguished cocktail swimsuit looks is featured in the 2017 Dallas Cowboy cheerleader calendar.
I asked Ham if she has seen her design worn at Chicago boat parties this summer. She looked at me and said, no but she was excited to see an Instagram photo of a client in her designs.
Amanda Elliott is a writer and speaker and a relationship builder. She believes that meeting people in person is important. After attending numerous fashion, startup, and creative events, she founded Windy City Cosmo is 2015 to help people make connections in the city as they build their businesses, start and end relationships and see and be seen. Over the past three years, the entrepreneurs she’s interviewed have become the most successful in Chicago and Windy City Cosmo won an award in 2017 for her work for female entrepreneurs.