Gwyn Prentice is the ultimate mom boss (with Kansas City roots), who has devoted her career to making the world a better place for women. A graduate of Dartmouth and Columbia Law School, her belief in empowering women was a constant thread running through her work as a philanthropist and attorney, guiding her towards projects that focused on doing good for the world. Her work with Women’s Employment Network and the Truman Medical Center’s Charitable Foundation was a true highlight of her career, where she founded and co-chaired Fashion for a Cause, an event that has gone on to raise over $1.5 MM.
In 2012, Gwyn’s love of style and fashion led her to create Helen Jon, a brand of high-end swimwear centered on the idea that women should feel comfortable, fashionable and beautiful in their own skin. Since then, Helen Jon’s thoughtful, sophisticated designs have created a 600 percent growth in sales across the world. Now, the brand retails in more than 350 resorts, boutiques and stores in North America, Europe, the Caribbean and the Virgin Islands, including Montage resorts and Four Seasons resorts. Helen Jon has been featured in Woman’s Day, O Magazine, InStyle and Pop Sugar, and has been worn by celebrities including Gwyneth Paltrow, Reese Witherspoon, and Bella Hadid. Helen Jon is made in Los Angeles, California.
I have a secret obsession with swimwear, and after wearing Helen Jon I am completely hooked. Her suits are AMAZING. The cut and the fabrics she uses are perfection. There is no “cheeky” in her bottoms, and the tops are made to support a variety of cup sizes. This style I have on made me actually look like I had some boobs (which are non-existent after 2 breast fed babies). The bottoms covered my toosh, and were not too skimpy and not too full coverage. They are the most perfect bottoms I have ever tried on.
I was thrilled to have the opportunity to interview Gwyn. I love that she is making swimwear that fits all body types, and that she truly has a woman’s body and curves in mind with her designs. I think you will enjoy her answers as much as I did!
How did you decide to get into the swim industry?
-I could never find anything I was comfortable wearing and I thought other women might feel the same way. I always felt somewhat naked in swimsuits – like I was running around in my bra and underwear and was envious that men could basically wear shorts to the beach and pool. So I started wearing men’s swim trunks and finding swim tops to match. After doing that for 15 years, I thought I might have something to offer other women who felt that they couldn’t find swimwear that they loved and actually wanted to wear. I now wear Helen Jon swim shorts and surf pants to the beach and pool and feel comfortable and confident.
What was your biggest challenge in starting your own business?
-my biggest challenge was, and continues to be, staying confident and optimistic. Before I started the business, I had meetings with others who were knowledgeable about retail. One woman, who is a buyer for many resort stores, was doubtful I could break into the already-saturated swimwear market (however, once we began, she has been one of our biggest advocates). Another man told me a story about a woman who lost 30 million dollars trying to start a line of skirts. I didn’t have 30 million dollars to lose but that story always haunted me. Proceeding in the face of doubt was tough but I have learned that, in manufacturing, there are ups and downs and I try to appreciate the ups and learn from the downs.
What is the most rewarding thing about your job?
-the most rewarding thing is when Helen Jon makes a positive impact on the lives of others. From the small moments, when a customer tells us that they love our products, to the bigger moments when we were finally able to offer health insurance to our employees. The positive feedback we get from our customers and employees is what I hold in my heart during the moments of doubt.
What advice would you give to someone taking the leap to start their own business?
-my advice would be to go for it, know what you don’t know, stay focused, and remain true to your values. Go for it since starting a business can be scary but moving forward in the face of doubt is essential. Know what you don’t know since there are people out there who can offer invaluable advise and are happy to share it when asked. Finding partners, mentors, and employees who know more than you do will help you avoid potential minefields. Stay focused since it is easy to follow the the newest trend in your industry but believe in your vision and try to offer the the best service/product in your industry and others will take note. Remain true to your values since, at the end of the day, treating others with respect – whether it is your co-workers, customers, or service providers – will remain with you no matter what happens. And I am a big believer that positivity flows back to those who treat everyone around them with respect and honesty.
Being a mom and business owner is not easy! How do you juggle it all?
-this is a struggle every day and some days I feel successful at it and some days I feel like a failure. I try to stay present – focus on Helen Jon when I’m working and focus on my kids when I am with them. When the two collide, I try to be patient and keep everything in perspective, reminding myself that, in the grand scheme of life, I am lucky to even have the collision. I find spending 2 minutes meditating every morning helps keep my head (and blood pressure) level. But my husband and close friends have been an incredible source of support – my husband is very hands-on with our kids and ALWAYS props me up in my moments of self-doubt and my friends offer constant non-judgmental support.
Lastly, if you aren’t working or with family what is your favorite way to “escape” and create time for yourself?
Reading! As my kids have gotten older and go to bed later and later, I have found that the time I have to read has almost disappeared. I love reading, everything from comic strips to historical non-fiction. I usually read two books at the same time – an “easy” read and a more difficult read and then, when I have a moment, I will pick up the book that matches my energy level. Right now I am reading Grit by Angela Duckworth and Shattered by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes.