Before the creators of the basewear brand Têra Kaia bonded over bras, they connected through climbing. Like many active women, co-founders Bridget Kilgallon, Olivia Martens, and Lauren Breitenbach found it nearly impossible to find basewear or swimsuits that fit properly and met the needs of their active lifestyle. “Well, this is silly,” Bridget had said. “Why don’t we just make something that actually fits and performs both as a sports bra and a bathing suit?”
So, the women banded together in Bridget’s San Diego apartment, gathered measurements from actual women with a wide range of body types, and started sewing. “We’d pretty much call our friends and ask ‘can you come over so we can take your measurements?’”
They immediately learned how varied women’s bodies are, from breast size to proportions to muscle mass. “It’s not surprising that things don’t fit these days,” Bridget said of their discovery.
After collecting dozens of measurements, it became obvious there was a need for two different products with two different cuts, a high cut and a low cut sports bra. “If you’re a climber and have a broad body but not a lot of breast tissue, the needs for you are going to be totally different from somebody who has DD breasts and needs support,” Bridget explained.
While Olivia used to make her own swim suits back when she lived in Hawaii, no one on the team had any formal sewing experience. In fact, Bridget confessed to having a love-hate relationship with crafting, especially sewing swimwear fabric. “It’s stretchy, it slips, and it’s really difficult to deal with!”
After plenty of sessions wrestling fabric, and about 40 iterations later, they came up with the TOURA, a design worth recreating and field testing. They sent their hand-made prototypes to women they met on Instagram asking them to take them out into the wild for a test run.
With the feedback they received, the team improved the design even more, and then began the quest of securing a manufacturer. “That was a whole other can of worms to uncork,” Bridget laughed.
The manufacturing component has been the brand’s biggest challenge. First and foremost, Têra Kaia’s style is not standard. “We created this thing from scratch,” Bridget explained. “We didn’t use what you would learn in fashion school. Teaching your manufacturer to create something that’s not done in a standard way is super difficult.”
More than once, Bridget remembers opening up the sample from the manufacturer only to find they did not comply with the brand’s specifications. This, along with cost and timelines has posed a series of hurdles.
“When you’re getting started, it’s difficult to produce the quantity of garments you need to have a sustainable business,” she said.
“Everything else is great!” Bridget was quick to add. “The biggest ‘up’ is our customers. We hear hundreds of stories and positive reviews that make it all worth it.”
Recently, Têra Kaia launched a campaign that encourages women to “be your outside self.”
“It’s the idea that whoever you are when you’re outside is probably your truest self. We encourage women to be that person, no matter if it’s eccentric, unique, different, whatever it is that makes you special, and allowing that to shine.”
Uniquely, the brand wants the wearer to shine brightest, not the basewear. “We don’t use bright and attention-getting fabrics because we want the wearer to be the thing that shines, not the clothing. The wearer is the art and the basewear is the frame.”
Têra Kaia eventually hopes to broaden their product line in the near future. They’d like to add bottoms and shorts that pair with the TOURA top, and they dream of swapping out the fabric for a more sustainable option.
In that same vein, the brand would like to expand production to include basewear designed for different environments; something more apt for salt water, the snow, and even the office.
With her busy schedule building a brand, Bridget still carves out time to be her “outside self.” While she climbs a bit less these days, she’s started to transition into some different activities like swimming, kayaking, and paddle boarding. “If I get some time to get outside and soak up some sun and maybe get a little salt water in my hair, I’m happier than a clam.”
She expressed that she’s constantly driven by the work. “Getting up in the morning to work doesn’t feel like a chore to me, it feels like something I’m excited to do.”
While they’re extremely motivating, it’s not just the customer reviews or “breastimonials” that inspire her. “What the brand stands for, encouraging people to get outdoors, get more in touch with themselves and with nature. When you have that as a driving motivator, it doesn’t feel like work anymore. To have that kind of impact is the best thing ever!”