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Joey Wright Photo

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Meet the Hasidic Jews Behind This Cute Bikini Brand

Beach Gal’s founders have an unorthodox background

Barry Glick is not your average bikini designer.

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For starters, he has zero experience designing swimwear — or designing any wear for that matter. He’s not particularly involved in fashion either. Oh, he also is a Hasidic Jew living in Brooklyn.

None of this seemed to deter the 30-year-old father of five from starting a bikini company, Beach Gal, a year and a half ago.

"It isn’t a culture shock to me, I see it solely as a business opportunity and as a way to express my creativity," Glick says one recent summer afternoon. We’re sitting in his office in the Hasidic neighborhood of Boro Park. The newly renovated space is inside an inconspicuous concrete building, and is situated across the street from a funeral home wailing eulogies over an outdoor loudspeaker in Yiddish, and down the block from a plethora of kosher grocery stores and bakeries. It also doubles as home to the medical supply business of Saul Samet, Glick’s partner and investor, who is sitting with us as well.

Photo: Joey Wright Photo

"I’ve always been interested in building things from the ground up," Samet, a 34-year-old father of three who also lives in Boro Park, adds. "I’m constantly itching to start new projects and I believed in Beach Gal the second he first told me about it."

Glick is tall and thin, and sports all the accoutrements of being Hasidic, with a big black yarmulke, long, curly sidelocks, and a bushy beard. Samet’s look is less obvious; he’s shorter, built, and has a clean, short beard and trimmed sidelocks. The duo hardly seems fit to be in the swimsuit market. But the story of how Glick and Samet are successfully building a swimsuit company from scratch — battling through all the complications of creating a business, only to be hit with more obstacles on the product end, like dealing with fabrics, sourcing, branding, and distributing — is as much about the power of the internet as it is about two Jewish guys from Brooklyn who believe so much in an idea that they’re willing to tiptoe around some of the rules that define their strict, religious lifestyle in order to pursue it.

That idea is a bikini, with a whimsical fringe that snaps on and off. Each Beach Gal bikini comes with an accessory, including bands of seashells, beads, sequins, and ruffles that attach to the top and bottom. The suits come in five colors and sell for $150 on the site (but are half off on Amazon right now, just FYI). They look like the sort of thing that would be trendy in places with a strong beach culture, like in Miami, or pretty much anywhere in the Caribbean.

Photo: Joey Wright Photo

The idea for this bikini prototype — a "swap and swim" concept, as Samet refers to it — came to Glick about four years ago, back when he was running a store that sold custom bekishes — the long, black, silk coat typically worn by Hasidic men on Shabbat and Jewish holidays — out in Lakewood, New Jersey, where Glick is originally from. Glick had a long commute to and from Brooklyn, and every day on the highway he drove past a giant billboard for Pandora Jewelry, which made him ponder the bounds of customization. Glick says he’s always been ambitious, and watching ABC’s Shark Tank on Hulu inspired him to conjure up potential business ideas.

"I thought about how Pandora is such a great concept, because the customer feels engaged by choosing, and I tried to think where else I could apply that concept," Glick says. "I don’t know how in the world I came to it but one day I thought, ‘maybe there could be a bikini that would work with such a concept.’"

While there isn’t much opportunity in for Glick to experiment with fashion — Hasidic men, Glick and Samet included, traditionally wear a uniform of a white shirt and black pants — Glick has had somewhat of an exposure to fashion; his grandmother has owned a local fabric store for some 30 years, his mother works as a sales associate at a shop that sells modest clothing, and he has three sisters (two of whom, he says, are quite fashionable). And so when his job at the bekishe store fell through in the summer of 2012, he took a new job running the business of a local plumber and decided to pursue his swimwear idea as well. He perused Manhattan’s Garment District with his mother, in pursuit of high-quality swim material, and spent some time working on samples. He then attempted to shop around for investors — at synagogue, of all places.

"The Hasidic community is very tight-knit, and there’s a lot of business that gets done at synagogue because you meet each other three times a day," Glick explains.

Of course, the business proposals never went over too well: "It was pretty hard in the beginning. I would shop the idea around and say, ‘I wanted to speak to you about a business idea,’ and everyone would say, ‘Okay, what is it?’ and I would say ‘Bikinis!’ and they would go, ‘Huh?!’"

Glick and Samet lived on the same block in Boro Park for a few years but officially met upstate at a bungalow colony in the summer of 2014. They were chatting poolside when Glick told him about his swimwear idea. Samet, who enjoys all things active, from boxing to running, was just getting started in creating a women’s activewear label of his own. They agreed to team up, Glick working for Samet’s medical supply company, and Samet, in return, investing in Beach Gal.

As with so many situations in life, sometimes it’s not just about what you know as it is about who you know. In a sheer spout of luck, Samet’s brother had a connection to Cyn & Luca, a swimwear brand found in stores like Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s. They were introduced to Cynthia Riccardi, the brand’s designer who’d worked for companies like Adrienne Vittadini and Liz Claiborne. She helped Glick perfect his swimsuit silhouette and interchangeable accessories. After her company was bought out last year, she agreed to share her sources for high quality production in South America.

From there, Beach Gal was officially born. A first batch of merchandise was created, Glick and Samet built a website, and photographers and models were hired out in Miami for a look book. Product was also listed on Amazon and Zulily at a discounted price (roughly 50 percent off). So far, the feedback has been positive, and Beach Gal has sold nearly all of the 2,500 pieces from its first collection.

Of course, being Hasidic and in the swimwear business is difficult. Last year, when the duo attended Miami Swim Week with the Cyn & Luca team, Glick — with his beard and sidelocks — was quite the spectacle. During a photoshoot a few months ago, a makeup artist working with the Beach Gal team took a photo of Glick helping a model with a swimsuit and leaked it to Instagram without fully explaining the scenario, leaving her followers to assume the scenario was scandalous. Overall, Glick and Samet are apprehensive people will get the wrong idea about them — the reason they requested Racked not take any photos of them.

On the other hand, though, why not? From Christian retailers to clothing boasting sadness to questionable tea products, internet shopping is peak eccentric. Today, truly anything is possible when it comes to people starting e-commerce businesses, and so trendy bikinis designed by people who put their fear in a power higher than Anna Wintour can certainly fit right in.

Glick and Samet maintain there is technically nothing wrong with what they are doing. While Hasidic lifestyle ascribes to that of seclusion and modesty — and not working with, or around, scantily clad women — the guys say they treat their jobs with respect, and are careful to not cross any boundaries or break any rules, like touching other women, for example. Is it uncharacteristic of Hasidic men to be designing bikinis and working in swimwear? Sure. Can they carry on with their business without violating Jewish laws? Certainly.

"I don’t look at it as a bad thing. It’s a piece of clothing and just because no one in our community [wears] it doesn’t mean we can’t bring something fun and funky to it," Glick says.

Photo: Joey Wright Photo

Navigating a community that’s notorious for excommunicating those who don’t conform to norms has certainly been tricky, though. Glick and Samet maintain they are honest to those around them about what they are up to, but aren’t necessarily shouting it in the halls.

"My in-laws don’t know," Samet admits, laughing, before quickly adding that his wife is "fully supportive" of the business. "At first, she saw a picture of the models and was like, ‘What the heck are you doing?’ and I said, ‘If you want me out, all you have to say is say.’ But she knows me and she knows I’m not doing this for the wrong reasons."

If all goes well, Glick and Samet aim to land distribution deals. Their product is up on their site, but the end-game is to sell to swim boutiques in places like Miami and California. Like all new business owners, they hope for Beach Gal to expand into a brand, complete with more categories like totes and cover-ups. They are currently working on a line of sunglasses, and have already rolled out a collection of fragrances, which have become popular sellers on Amazon.

The swimwear market in the US is highly lucrative; according to the NPD Group, women spend $8 billion annually on two-piece suits. It’s also extremely competitive; Victoria’s Secret may no longer be in the space but big players like American Apparel, Speedo, and La Perla still dominate the space, according to a report by Global Industry Analysts, and smaller players like Mara Hoffman and Seafolly are cult-favorites that offer plenty for shoppers. Still, Glick and Samet believe in Beach Gal. For one thing, Samet points out, name brands don’t matter much for swimwear, and so shoppers looking for a fun, new addition to the bikini will need to look no further.

Photo: Joey Wright Photo

"When you wear a bikini, there’s no logo. People don’t care about the brand," he declares. "One of our models told us she shops at Target for swimsuits because they have a nice collection. So yes, there are people selling swimsuits for several hundred dollars, but if you can develop a product that will make customers [want it] without thinking twice, that’s the vantage point. It if looks cool, it looks cool."

"And there’s nothing else like this on the market," Glick says, picking up a few strings of Beach Gal’s bead and seashell accessories.

With the rise of direct-to-consumer businesses pretty much taking over the web, there’s really no better time for Beach Gal to march forward than now. Along the way, the two Hasidic men will be sure to encounter a few bumps. But Samet confidently states that when anything like that happens, they’ll just "think outside of the box." That, they already know how to do.

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