We’re pretty big fans of the eco-friendly, sustainable brand Arrow + Phoenix Swimwear here at Zoe Elle. We had the honor of writing an article about both the brand and its owner, founder, and designer, Kayla Bell, in March, and in September, Zoe Elle founder, Taija Thomas, was able to catch up with Kayla via an Instagram live stream, which can be seen posted here! During the live stream, Taija and Kayla discuss, among other topics, the need for more women of color within the sustainability movement, how Kayla manifested Arrow + Phoenix’s two Sports Illustrated features, and why body inclusivity and size inclusivity are important.
“As a sustainable designer, I really appreciate you creating the platform that you have,” Kayla tells Taija during the stream. “Just because, when I first started putting together Arrow + Phoenix, I was 16 years old—so about 10 years ago—and people thought that [it] was crazy … to make swimsuits that were recyclable and promoted sustainability. And so to see where we’ve come [in the] fashion industry, in regards to sustainability, is huge. … And, now, I’m like, ‘Okay, I’m glad sustainability is the topic of conversation, but I want to see more people of color, specifically more women of color, in this space.’”
When Taija asks what Black women and communities of color can do to be visible within the sustainability movement, Kayla says that she thinks the biggest thing is just starting. “We never know what [our] ideas can transpire into down the line. When I first started Arrow + Phoenix, for example, I just knew I couldn’t fit the swimsuits that I wanted to fit because of my bra cup size. … So it was just like, ‘Okay, I’m going to create it myself.’ Through the past 10 years, that’s expanded into activewear, sustainable skincare, [and] Arrow + Phoenix Sanctuary. So it’s just kind of like, did I set out to create a sustainable space and lifestyle brand owned by a Black woman? No. But, look at what that seed that I planted grew into.”
“My parents were the only support I had, truthfully,” Kayla says about starting her business at age 16. A lot of people didn’t take her seriously, but that only strengthened her resolve to prove their doubts wrong. She had decided, “If this [concept] doesn’t exist, I’m going to build it, and I’m going to build it with other women. I didn’t set out to have an all-female team, but I do, and they’re all women of color, and it’s the greatest thing in the world.”
Taija and Kayla also talk about Arrow + Phoenix’s two Sports Illustrated features, because, um, that’s kind of a big deal! In 2019 Crystal Dunn wore an Arrow + Phoenix bikini for a shoot in St. Lucia, and in July, Anita Marshall donned an Arrow + Phoenix bikini in the Dominican Republic. “It’s ironic to me, but it’s also a sign, I feel, that both years we were worn by Black women,” Kayla says. Sports Illustrated means a lot to Kayla, because when she was a college student she went to a Sports Illustrated event, and saw a lot of well-known models, but none of the designers were people of color. At that moment, she thought, “It would be really cool to get into Sports Illustrated one day.” And, essentially, she spoke it into existence. C’mon manifestation!
“Sports Illustrated means a lot because, aside from standing for sustainability, [Arrow + Phoenix stands] for body inclusivity and size inclusivity, and so to be in a magazine that celebrates women of all shapes, colors, body types—There are women in there with natural hair, which is incredible. … It means the world, and I hope that we continue to be in there, and it just grows. But, I’m really proud of us as a brand and us as a team for being in Sports Illustrated, because we get to be on the right side of history. Every year, their issues get more and more progressive, so to be in that space is just incredible.”
Taija praises Kayla for her brand challenging the norm, and having models that are gorgeous without being made up and over-edited to look airbrushed-flawless. Kayla explains, “Outside of swim, for as long as I’ve been building Arrow + Phoenix, I’ve been an entertainment stylist for different athletes and performers and such, which is great. I love that career as well, but at the same time, nobody—including them—looks like that 24/7. If I want to have a beach day with bae, I shouldn’t expect to look like Beyoncé. I need to look like myself and still feel confident and empowered and sexy. So, for me, it’s just been really important to showcase models that, yes, they do look like models and they are models, but they’re also everyday women, and I think that that’s so important.” Amen, sis.
“That’s always what I have wanted our brand to be known for,” Kayla says. “Kind of like that duality of yes, you may or may not see this [swimsuit look] on the runway. You can see it in Sports Illustrated or wherever you may see it, but also, it will look like that on you, too. … We are all women, we’re all beautiful, we all come to the table with our own beauty, and who are we that … we [feel like] we have to subscribe to society’s standards of beauty when we don’t, you know?” Kayla wants to create a new normal for the upcoming generation, a normal she, unfortunately, didn’t get to experience when struggling to shop for swimwear when she was younger. In this new normal, it will no longer be a rarity to see diverse body types, natural hair, and brown skin modeling swimsuits.
Arrow + Phoenix has not only sustainability at its core, but also body positivity, body inclusivity, size inclusivity, and diversity, and that makes it a truly wonderful Black woman-owned business to support. Click here to shop the website, and follow the brand’s Instagram, Twitter, and blog, The Wayve, to keep up with the latest.