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Meet Merilyn Lopez of KindKinis in Echo Park

Today we’d like to introduce you to Merilyn Lopez.

Merilyn, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
Four years ago, my life flipped.

I was working at an orphanage as a counselor in my hometown of Los Angeles. The position seemed like a culmination of all my life’s work to that point, from my degree in Psychology to be the only English speaker in an immigrant family having to navigate the complex US health care system for my autistic brother. I thought I was prepared for all the slings and arrows of a demanding career. In my work, I witnessed the hardships children faced growing up with abuse and I tried to help guide them through their trauma. It was tough work, but so fulfilling. Then I was brutally assaulted by one of my clients. I suffered a concussion, two broken ribs, a dislocated jaw, and severely pinched nerves. Now, I was the one I need of assistance, as I was unable to work for an extended period of time. My accident was a blessing in disguise, as it gave me the time to reflect upon my life’s journey and how I should continue because, despite my accident, I still wanted to help.

My parents arrived in East Los Angeles after immigrating from Mexico in hopes of giving their growing family a better life. I am the oldest of three with two younger siblings, a sister, and brother who was diagnosed with severe low spectrum Autism at the age of two. My parents didn’t speak English, so I became the go-between translator for everything at a young age. From parent-teacher conferences, medical visits, meetings with government officials, or even when lost in downtown LA. Nothing was off-limits! A tough but not uncommon experience for newly immigrated families. Many times, I was at sea myself, unable to help. I remember sitting in the passenger seat while my mother drove through the city, crying as she was lost on the way to another doctor’s appointment for my brother. It was very difficult to see my mother so vulnerable as we adjusted to our new circumstances given my brother’s physical needs.

These difficult moments shaped me, steering me onto a path of philanthropic pursuits. I graduated from the California State University of Northridge with a degree in psychology, interned at an emergency helpline, later became a therapist for autistic children, inspired by my family’s journey with my younger brother. But after my assault at the orphanage, I experienced a period of deep reflection. I know I had to be resolute and not let the experience define me, but I was unsure of how to move on.

Having grown up in Southern California, I am an outdoor, beach girl at heart. Whether it was hiking in the San Bernardino mountains or weekends spent at Huntington Beach, I loved being in that sunshine. Being a petite, Hispanic women I always had a hard time finding clothes, specifically swimsuit brands, that spoke to me. The options always had picture-perfect models, tall and leggy. Definitely not representative of me or my friends.

The more I researched, the more it crystallized. Eureka! I quickly began to formulate a business plan. I also began to think about brands that I admire. Those that offer quality at affordable price points, but always find a way to give back, especially to those in need. Brands like TOMS, Warby Parker, and Bixbee. With a specific market to disrupt and my inspirations clearly defined, I was finally able to pivot to a new path… and soon KINDKINIS was born.

KINDKINIS’ value premise is simple: to be a swimwear brand that caters to all different shapes and sizes of women, but most importantly, we are helping to bring relief to the clean water crisis by donating the proceeds from each sale to local and international organizations that build wells in developing countries. We are also aiming to engage our online community with real-time progress reports with women in the communities to help show everyone how influential they can be at making a real change to those in need. Using the purchasing power of individuals to benefit the greater good is what we’re all about. The KINDKINIS mission transforms our customers into benefactors. Empowering ourselves to help empower others.

It’s been a challenging but beautiful last few years as the brand has grown from a bedroom office into a full-fledged business. It hasn’t been perfect, but I continue to learn so much from every mistake. But when I think back to my upbringing or my accident recovery, I feel blessed to know that my core values remain. And I can’t wait to see where this journey leads.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
The road has been bumpy from the start. Forging my own path has been one of the most rewarding and challenging adventures of my life. Struggles and setbacks have come at almost every shift and turn along the way. Understanding the mechanics of business with my naivety has been not just a struggle, but at times a blessing, because it allowed me to try things that others might talk themselves out of. I started KindKinis with my entire savings. No loans, no investors. My initial investments had to be planned out strategically into my products, basic branding needs, web domain and packaging. I knew very little about a lot of these areas, so it was a crash course, to say the least. I realized early on that trial and error was not the route for me, because I knew from the beginning that I literally couldn’t afford to make any huge mistakes. I was hoping to launch large scale marketing ads but was shocked to find out the price attached to it.

So I quickly realized events and word of mouth was the only viable strategy at the beginning. I started doing pop-up events in trendy markets such as: Venice Beach, Culver City, Pasadena, and DTLA. I even started taking my booth down to my local park which brought surprisingly unexpected results. Just as I was getting locked in with my event activations, the current pandemic came blasting its unwavering force onto the world. This has completely shut off any kind of pop-up/event opportunities for us and our sales have really taken a hit. I have since pivoted into social media marketing by targeting my focus to community groups on Facebook and Instagram. The struggles continue on, as does my unwavering effort to stick with it when the going gets tough, and I am not sure what’s tougher than a global pandemic! I definitely have my work cut out for me, but I am focused and determined to find a way no matter what comes my way!

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the KindKinis story. Tell us more about the business.
In our case, we want to bridge the gap between swimwear, charity, and education while at the same time toning down the sex appeal. With Kindkinis I want to de-emphasize the sexualized market and making it more about the beauty of who we are based not just on how we look, but in our efforts to give back to those whose needs are far beyond what we can effectively imagine. The evolution of where and how women bring value to societies will be of dier importance in the years to come, and we believe that women-owned businesses are a vital part of bridging those needs. We want to bring empathy and leadership to more business industries because it is clear that we need it now more than ever. When women are not only involved in businesses but are leading the way, they generally tend to move things towards more compassionate and empathetic values and strategies.

KindKinis specializes in trendy, inclusive sizing, body positivity swimwear at affordable pricing while having a powerful component of giving back to communities that struggle beyond what we can understand.

I believe that our consumers will really see us as an alternative to the commercial competition and see that at KindKinis we really care and that we want to elevate our women while creating better solutions. I believe I am the perfect person for this movement because of the experiences I have in philanthropy, I have seen and experience the true hardships of children, women, and families and carry that in my heart. I can show that I am not using the charity aspect as a marketing campaign “portions of proceeds go to developing countries” versus the truth “We are in business because more sales can potentially help us save more lives”. Our core value is not in swimwear but in the Kindness Movement we intend to bring forth with our brand.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I wouldn’t categorize any good or bad luck with the outcome of my business. I feel that I have been more of the consistencies, work ethic, and passion thats kept me going and aligning me in the right direction.

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Image Credit:

Victoria Mathew

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