By Lisa Wise
Selling swimwear in Canada was, at first glance, a bad business idea. Swimco’s closure was not because it was a bad idea. In fact, Swimco was an international leader within its sector. Swimco’s early passing is another sad reality of COVID-19 and the current economic challenges.
What the news story doesn’t tell is how Swimco was a champion for women in business. Started by a mother and entreprenuer, Corinne Forseth, and passed over to another mother – her daughter and business leader, Lori Bacon – the Swimco story started and ended with females at the helm. Additionally, over 90% of their workforce was female which meant women were leading the way in all company roles. Swimco created the right culture of professional dedication to the business that also supported women being promoted within the company. Additionally, the contractors and others that Swimco worked with were almost all female. It was a success story that supported women in our city and throughout Western Canada.
As well, the Swimco culture was based on family values that included working hard, being your best and respecting others. The owners, Lori and her brother Steve and her husband Dave, provided role-model business practices and did so by respecting each other without falter. The company received awards for this hard work including the Calgary Award for Commerce and The Alberta Business Family Institute Signature Family. Lori was also recognized for the Enterprising Women of the Year award. Swimco had sizable economic benefits especially within Calgary, Vancouver, and the greater community of Western Canada with recent expansion into Ontario.
Despite the headwinds being too strong, the Swimco success story is well respected in the Canadian retail industry. In fact, the president of a major surfwear brand once noted that he just had to understand it for himself, how a store located in a land of snow, could out-sell retailers located along the California coast. Known in the industry to outsell nearly all other swimwear stores in North America, Swimco had a reputation for being professional and positive. Recognized as a leader by significant swimwear brands, Swimco’s reputation was far bigger than its bricks and mortar stores. Swimwear manufacturers throughout the world, including Australia and America, held Lori Bacon and the Swimco team in high regard. They represented Calgary and Canada well for many decades.
Many customers came to know and trust the Swimco brand that was established for over 45 years as the one to support every type of body. Proponents of having a positive self-image, no matter your body shape or size, the fabric of the Swimco culture was built upon acceptance and positive self-image. Beyond selling bikinis, Swimco’s foundation was to empower people who worked for the company, who in turn empowered tens of thousands of customers to be their best.
Supporting aquatic athletes was an integral part of Swimco’s impact for many years. It was the beginning of Swimco’s history and in fact for many years, Swimco provided swimwear to hundreds of competitive and recreational swimmers including young children, lifeguards, swim teams, Olympic and Special Olympic athletes.
It’s important to pause and give thanks to Swimco’s CEO Lori Bacon and her family for providing the leadership and bravery that entrepreneurs take on. Thanks to their leadership, Swimco provided an excellent place of employment for thousands of young women over the past 45 years. For many of them, it was their first job and gave them a positive start.
Swimco, and all the people associated with it, will be missed. My name is Lisa Wise and I am honoured to say I was part of the Swimco team for years.