I’ve walked past Zoe Bikini on 18th Street more than a dozen times and wondered to myself, bikinis in San Francisco? Finally, last week I went in. The approximately 500 square foot space is not just another bikini shop, it’s also a work space for bikini designer and owner Zoe Magee.
And her bikinis are not just bulk swimsuits that you can buy just anywhere—they’re custom made—or they were. Magee’s phasing out that part of the business. No more custom made suits (it can take from 6-8 hours to make just one custom suit). But she will continue to make original designs in just a handful of colors—mix and match tailor made, she called it. It’s like bathing suits boutique style.
The 38-year-old Santa Barbara native has been making bikinis for 19 years. She got her start sewing bikinis for herself simply because she “wanted a bikini that fit.” In Southern California that’s a must. Soon after, many of her friends began asking her to make them bikinis and soon she went from studying dental hygiene to taking a few sketching and pattern making classes.
Mostly, however, she says she’s learned by trial and error and it’s worked because her bikinis are beautiful. The colors and patterns are fun and bright without being too ostentatious. I was immediately excited when I spotted a few retro-style bikinis (the high waisted bottoms that almost look like skirts)—most priced around $70. I asked about whether or that style would suit my petite shape, thinking that those old styles usually look best on more voluptuous women. Magee cocked her head to the side and gave me a once over, thinking. Aside from being the suit maker she also plays the role of stylist—saying that she likes to be a part of the trying on process, offering expert advice on how a suit should fit in order to flatter.
Aside from bikinis customers can also purchase accessories including earrings and cover-ups, as well as a delectable scented Vanilla, Mango Pear lip balm for $8. Almost all of the accessories cost less than $50, she said, because after you’ve dropped a good chunk of change on a bikini you don’t want to spend a whole lot to accessorize it. Good point. While the average price of a bikini is $140 with complimentary alterations, there are two medium sized baskets with suits on sale for $20-$25.
But a bikini shop on 18th Street? Seems odd that a Santa Barbara native would come to San Francisco to sell bikinis. But Magee said it just kind of happened. She said making a name for herself would have been tougher in the South, where bikini shops are everywhere. She never even intended to open a store, but when she got sick of wholesale she began shopping around for a space. Two and a half years later she has a following—it’s certainly a destination store. Even with the nearby drug activity and sketchiness of the blocks between 16th and 18th Streets on Mission, she said there isn’t anywhere she’d rather be.
“ I want to keep it local. I want to keep it special,” said Magee.
My editor was wondering, who pays $140 for a bikini. But honestly, if it’s a great bikini that fits perfectly, it’ll be the only one you need—it’s okay to drop a little extra cash on it. And for my big-busted ladies out there who have a hard time finding tops that fit, Zoe Bikini specializes in large tops. Magee said she has made up to a G-cup in the past.
I only purchased a pair of cute red earrings ($16) this time around, no bikini (no beach/pool vacation in sight). But now I know the next time I’m on a search for the perfect bikini that will fit like a dream, I’m heading to see my girl Zoe first.