Jamie Barker & Megan Balch
Founders of Flagpole NYC
Skimpy bikinis may rule the beach—for now—but a new wave of sporty, activewear-inspired swimwear is challenging the status quo. Flagpole, a New York-based label, is leading the way with statement-makers designed for hanging ten or working on your tan. Think: clean silhouettes, bold colorblocking, and ingenious detailing (like cut-outs that reveal unexpected flashes of skin).
The brains behind the brand, co-founders Megan Balch and Jaime Barker, have been friends since high school. “Growing up near the beach, in West Palm Beach, Florida, we practically lived in a bathing suit,” says Jaime. After college—Jamie at the Savannah College of Art and Design, Megan at NYU—they re-connected in NYC, and came up with “a fun little idea” to start a swimsuit company, calling it Flagpole, after the beach they used to hang out at back in Florida.
“We thought about the kind of suit we would love to wear, and realized it didn’t exist,” says Jaime. “When we were at the beach, we weren’t laying out, we were moving—running, playing volleyball, surfing. And when we weren’t in bathing suits, we were in leotards, because we took dance classes.” Their mission: design suits that allowed for that same freedom of movement. The brand’s high-waisted bottoms and sleek one-pieces are a breath of fresh air in this era of “show ‘em what you’ve got” selfies, though, admits Megan, “It might feel funny for some women to think about wearing a high-waisted suit. But we say: ‘Why not try something new? There’s a good chance you’ve never worn anything like our suits.’”
She’s got that right. What started as a “fun little idea” has blossomed into a label with a devoted following. Flagpole swimwear is carried at a Who’s Who of high-end stores and websites (Barney’s, Saks, Pret-a-Porter, and Moda Operandi, among them), and has covered the curves of Jessica Alba and Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Karlie Kloss. The company has even collaborated with Oscar de la Renta to launch a six-piece limited edition collection for spring.
Ironically, this kind of success doesn’t leave the two much time for their favorite summer activity: hanging out surfside. But during rare moments of downtime, they’ll slip away to a nearby body of water (Montauk, Long Island, is favorite destination). “Anytime we can have coffee on the beach, or close enough to even see the beach,” says Megan, “it’s is a good day.”
WHAT INSPIRES US
Brooklyn Bridge: “We have always been inspired by strong lines and sharp angles. There’s something distinctly New York in our aesthetic that has always been inspired by the strength in the architecture that surrounds us.”
Vintage Swim: “There’s something about classic American glamour that we have always gravitated toward. Our customer is sophisticated and stylish, and we don’t want to take her away from that, just because she’s in a swimsuit.”
Frank Stella Art: “Shape and color are the language of our brand, and it’s clear that Frank Stella speaks it fluently. We are always inspired by his unexpected mix of colors and hues.”
Our favorite summer…
“We have a tradition every year of buying Hawaiian shirts,” says Megan. “We call them our ‘summer shirts,’ and we have a pretty significant collection. We’ll wear them with high-waisted or ripped-up jeans and flats.”
“You’ll also find me in one of our one-pieces and a pair of jeans,” says Jaime.
“I’m all about the shades,” says Megan. “Illesteva has upped my sunglass game. People are, like, “You look cool” and I feel cool.
“Melissa sandals are my saving grace,” says Jaime. “They’re like your everyday sandals, but if you have a meeting—running around the Garment District is the story of our lives—slip them on, and you’re dressed appropriately.”
Beauty essential: “We’re all about the SPF, because we’re two pale girls who grew up in Florida, who have probably already done more damage to our skin than anybody needs to,” says Jaime. “To counteract that, we use Zinka colored skin block. It’s got that ‘lifeguard from the 70s’ look, and comes in fun shades like bright pink and green.”
Drink: “Montauk Brewing Company has an amazing watermelon-flavored beer,” says Megan. “We’re also boardline-obsessed with LaCroix sparkling water in flavors like Coconut and Lime.”
Song: “Party in the U.S.A. by Miley Cyrus,” says Megan.
“I Love It by Icona Pop,” says Jaime.
Fragrance: “Coqui Coqui Coconut,” says Megan. “The scent reminds me of the sunscreen I wore growing up.”
“I carry around lavender essential oil,” says Jaime. “It’s calming, and easy to dab on after a beach day.”
Destination: “Yucatan is a very chill place,” says Megan, “and has the best fish tacos.”