By Kenny Bissett
Ali Conway, also known as Ali Strange, has handcrafted swimsuits since she was a freshman at the University of Nevada, Reno in 2005. After roughly eight years of designing and hand-making bikinis from home, Conway started a Kickstarter fundraising campaign called “Lookin’ Fly & Getting By” in hopes of raising $5,000. Conway aims to fund a permanent production house in Reno for her small business, Ali Strange Bikinis.
In the early years, Conway successfully sold her tailored bikinis to friends and the scantily clad women of the Wild Orchid. After her initial success, Conway transferred from UNR to the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles in 2007 to pursue a career in fashion design.
“I left because I was making so much money making swimsuits that I thought I should go learn the true way to make them,” Conway said.
Conway moved back to Reno after working in the “ruthless” environment of LA and started up her brand, Ali Strange Bikinis. While competing in the 2012 “RAW: natural born artists” contest in Reno, Conway networked with her future assistant, Emily Leggett, and her go-to photographer, Matthew McIver. Conway won the award for year’s best fashion designer, and McIver won the title of year’s best photographer.
“We have been working ever since then, and we’ve both progressed kind of hand-in-hand,” McIver said. “We’ve built a great relationship through that.”
Conway wants to found a “production house” locally to produce her swimsuits in larger quantities to meet the increased demand she has encountered within the last several years. According to Conway, she gets anywhere from 10 to 40 orders a week in the busiest summer months.
Leggett, who someday wants to own her own business, has helped Conway manage her paperwork and orders for the last year as an intern in return for sewing lessons and an inside look of apparel design and production.
“I’ve learned mostly that if I want to start my own business, and do what she’s done so far, it requires a lot of hard work and dedication,” Leggett said. “She had four jobs up until just a few weeks ago. She’s one of the hardest working people that I’ve ever met and I think what she’s trying to do is a really cool thing.”
Currently, prices for a hand-made, tailored Ali Strange Bikinis swimsuit range from $75 to $125.
“I can change the fit for every body type,” Conway said. “If you’re a size zero, and you like a style, I can make it for you. If you’re a size 12, and you like a style, I can make it for you.”
Citing the popularity of Lake Tahoe and surrounding lakes, McIver said, “We definitely have a need for bikinis, and there’s lots of good-looking ladies around here to fulfill them.”
Despite being roughly $2,000 short, with only nine days left to raise funds, Conway is optimistic that she will reach her goal.
“When it comes to the lastweek, to the last day, people will start to donate,” Conway said. “I think I’ll definitely get there, but I need help from the community. Pretty much everything I’ve done so far is from personal contacts, people that I actually do know.”
Conway and her team believe that Reno has a unique art scene that has the potential to grow into a hub for art and fashion.
“Reno is a great place for starving artists to thrive,” McIver said. “With events like Artown and Burning Man in our backyard, there’s no better place to be.”
Kenny Bissett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org