Founded by two longtime friends, Carl Cunow and Nathan Romano, Onia is quickly becoming one of the country’s leading luxury swimwear brands. Stocked at East End fashion meccas including Scoop and Theory, we spoke with the fashion entrepreneurs behind the burgeoning label.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background in the fashion industry?
We both grew up in the garment business—Carl more on the production side and I was always more in marketing and sales. Instead of going to college I packed up and moved to China to work for a trading company in Shanghai. I wanted to learn the ins and outs of what it takes to make a product and it was a great opportunity for me to do just that. Carl worked at Steven Alan on the development and production end with men’s shirts.
How did you guys meet and decide to work together?
We met in high school. While I was working at Steven Alan, I saw a void in the contemporary market for swimwear that was well made with a focus on high quality fabrics and trims. Similarly, Nathan noticed a void in the non-surf luxury market. There was a big influx of surf brands hitting the market and there was a big influx of European brands, but there was nothing in between.
Who do you see as your core customer?
We’re both New Yorkers and design with the New Yorker in mind. Our guy is a traveler. He’s always on the go and so he needs something that’s as high quality as it is versatile. Our customer might be out shopping and then decide he wants to jump in the pool—our swim trunks work seamlessly for both.
Where did the name come from?
Onia means boat in Hebrew. My wife was the one who came up with it. We were on the beach in Tel Aviv and she saw a far out boat; I texted Nathan and the rest is history.
What do you think sets your brand apart from other high-end swimwear labels?
Functionality—our pieces are impeccably constructed. The quality of our fabrics and trims and the way we sew all of our pieces is far beyond your everyday swim trunks. If you took our pieces apart, you’d see that they are sewn like high-end trousers. There are so many components that go into making each and every one of our pieces. We work with dozens of factories around the world that specialize in various components so as to ensure we are using the best of the best.
Are you influenced by fashion trends?
We look at what’s out there, but more so than fashion trends we’re influenced by technology. We’re constantly striving to find the latest fabric innovations. We see our pieces as lasting well beyond a single season.
Any swimwear pet peeves?
Logos all over.
What’s the hardest part about heading up a very fast growing fashion business?
Finding the right people to work with. It’s very important to only work with people that understand your brand and your vision.
Why do you think your pieces are so popular in the Hamptons?
We’re a brand built around the on-the-go New Yorker and given that many of them summer in the Hamptons it makes sense that we’re well represented out East at stores like Theory, Surf Lodge, Scoop and Steven Alan. We’re actually planning on capitalizing on our popularity by opening a pop-up next summer. We’re in the process of scouting locations.
What’s in store for 2014?
2014 Onia is going global. We’ll be expanding into new markets including Japan and Australia. We’re also re-launching our shoes, towels, and carrying cases. In keeping with the running aesthetic of Onia’s trunks our shoes are designed for cross purpose; they’re water resistant—they’re made using leftover fabric from our swimwear—but wearable on the fashion conscious streets of New York City. Similarly our towels can be used for both drying off and lounging since they’re made from a quick drying poly-nylon on one side and a 100% lightweight terry on the other.
Is women’s wear a possibility?
It’s definitely of interest in the near future.
Any tips for guys when they’re shopping for swimwear?
Recognize what the purpose of the suit is. Are you surfing? Longing? Jet-setting?