July 29, 2022

Twenty Something / Christina Capecchi

Feminine and modest: designing a better swimsuit

Christina CapecchiFor years, Catherine Huss’ twin passions were evident: faith and fashion.

The 30-year-old Catholic never felt that her faith was at odds with her penchant for apparel. But the career path she projected for herself did appear lonely. She wasn’t aware of any other Catholic fashion designers.

“I didn’t see anyone doing it,” said Catherine, who grew up in Coon Rapids, Minn., and attended Epiphany, a vibrant suburban parish. “That became a big source of motivation: ‘Alright, I guess I have to.’ ”

Catherine shuttled between two campuses in St. Paul, Minn., studying Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas and apparel design at St. Catherine University.

The acclaimed Catholic Studies program steeped her in the Church’s rich tradition of faith and reason. Meanwhile, her sense of social justice was sparked by lively classroom discussions about ethical clothing production and the dignity of the human person.

Studying in Rome for a semester through the Catholic Studies program confirmed her desire to blaze a new trail.

“I had this interesting takeaway about how in Rome there’s a church or two on every block and then there will be a fashion house right next to the church. They’re sharing a wall! So I had this phrase: chiesa to Marchesa. Church to Marchesa, a famous fashion designer. It was a funny juxtaposition—but also a God wink or an affirmation, God saying, ‘Catherine, I see you and I hear the desires of your heart, and I’m with you in it.’ ”

After college, Catherine relocated to California to work in the fashion industry. The free time provided while quarantining during COVID-19 inspired her to finally make her dreams a reality and launch a swimsuit line. She named it Siena and Co. Swimwear.

“This has been a desire I’ve had since I was young, and what it really took was me taking that first step—pursuing it,” Catherine said. “You can’t move a parked car. God is everything and does everything, but he also needs our cooperation.”

For her first collection, The Classics Collection, she strove for simple elegance, designing black swimsuits that neither revealed too much or too little, honoring the female figure in a demure, stately way. A high-waisted swim skirt. A wrap top with a skirt. A classic swim dress. They’re all made with sustainable materials, sewn by workers paid a fair wage.

Last fall, she launched a Kickstarter campaign that functioned as pre-orders for her debut collection. Her goal for the 30-day campaign was $30,000.

“God is going to keep the doors open or he’s going to close them,” she thought. “It was very affirming to reach the goal. ‘Yes, people want this!’ ”

It would take time for those pre-orders to be processed, delayed by supply issues, but the swimsuits—about 200 orders—were shipped in May.

Catherine’s day job, working on a contract basis for an apparel company, recently ended, and now she’s determining whether she can turn Siena and Co. into a full-time job—her dream. She’s eager to design new collections, introducing color and designing cover-ups.

A driving force is her desire to uphold the dignity of each person. “If you’re comfortable in what you’re wearing, you’re less worried about what you’re wearing and therefore can be more present to others around you.”

As a single Catholic, Catherine knows what it’s like to feel uncomfortable in a swimsuit. There were social gatherings she skipped for that reason. “Before I made my swimsuits, I would be self-conscious: ‘There are going to be men in this hot tub and you’re very close together.’ ”

She hopes her swimsuits can empower other women this summer.

“Zoom out and remember where your identity lies,” she said. “How we look in a swimsuit doesn’t matter to the people who love us. They just want to be with you.”

(Christina Capecchi is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights, Minn.)

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