KCAD Alum, Co-Creator Making Waves with Launch of Androgynous Swimwear Brand

Posted December 8, 2023 in Alumni, Studio Arts

Leigh Ann Cobb and Hannah Yesmunt will be the first to tell you they know nothing about the swimwear industry.  

That makes their mission to disrupt it all the more fascinating.   

Cobb and Yesmunt are the co-creators of Saint Andro, a Grand Rapids-based fashion startup pushing the boundaries of what swimwear can look and feel like, and who it’s for. For the past year-and-a-half, the pair have been exploring, researching, prototyping—and as of this month, launching—a collection of androgynous swimwear that emphasizes practicality over chic, ethics over profit, and personalization over fast fashion trends.  

Person standing in a room filled with dress forms wearing a black compression top and grey compression shortsSaint Andro co-founder and KCAD alum Leigh Ann Cobb fit testing prototypes in the studio of LA-based patternmaker Shilo Byrd (image courtesy of Saint Andro)

Both are coming to the industry as outsiders. Yesmunt holds a degree in French language from Grand Valley State University and works as a logistics specialist for Wolverine Worldwide. Cobb is a commercial photographer who graduated from KCAD with a BFA in Drawing with a Printmaking emphasis.  

What’s more, they’re launching a fashion line from the heart of so-called “flyover” country.  

“Swimwear brands are usually costal or tropical; you don’t see a lot of visuals that are Michigan,” said Cobb. “We are leaning fully into the practicality and functionality of our Midwest roots to make suits that do so much more for the wearer then help them look good at a resort.”  

Like the brand itself, Saint Andro’s origin story reflects a shifting world. Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, a restless Yesmunt decided to do something about her lingering dissatisfaction with contemporary swimwear. She taught herself to sew and set about creating the swimsuit she wanted to see: one that was comfortable, functional, durable, and most important—tailored to both her body and her queer identity.   

When Yesmunt shared the results on Tik-Tok, she found she was far from alone. The video drew thousands of likes and comments from people all over the world who shared her frustration and applauded her vision.  

A person in a black baseball cap inspects prototype garments situated on a dress formSaint Andro co-founder Hannah Yesmunt inspecting prototypes in the studio of LA-based patternmaker Shilo Byrd (image courtesy of Saint Andro)

One of those people was Los Angeles-based pattern maker Shilo Byrd, who expressed interest in turning the one-off design into a producible garment. Byrd and Yesmunt began working on a prototype, and Yesmunt soon realized that she wasn’t only making a swimsuit anymore—she was building a brand.  

Enter Cobb, who specializes in helping companies develop a visual language around their brand. When Yesmunt contacted her about shooting some promotional photography, Cobb says she felt immediately drawn to the project.  

“I grew up on a lake, and every swimsuit I’ve ever had has been flimsy, cheap, and uncomfortable. When I saw what Hannah designed had so much more practicality and attention to quality in it, I immediately wanted to purchase it,” she recalled.  

More than just the product, it was the larger mission behind it that sparked Cobb’s interest. Using the creative problem-solving and critical thinking skills she cultivated at KCAD, she’d already started a successful freelance business and learned firsthand what it takes to sustain it. With Saint Andro, she saw an even deeper opportunity to translate her creativity into entrepreneurship.  

“My KCAD professors were great at showing me what’s possible when you develop the skills and perspective to not just create, but to create in a way that connects meaningfully to the world around you,” Cobb said. “When Hannah and I first talked, I was at a point in my career where I was looking to be a part of building something bigger than my own brand, something that had a positive impact and would feel good at the end of every day.”  

What started as an initial discussion quickly blossomed into a fully-fledged business partnership, with Yesmunt leading design and production and Cobb as creative director. The idea of who Saint Andro could serve also started expanding. 

A series of distorted portraits of people wearing compression swimwearSaint Andro promo poster (image courtesy of Saint Andro)

“Beyond addressing the lack of swimwear options in the queer community, we started thinking about older women who might feel very seen and comfortable in what we were making. We thought about the compressive nature of swimwear and how that could also benefit neurodivergent individuals with sensory issues,” said Cobb. “There were so many ways we could celebrate humanness with Saint Andro that we just weren’t seeing from other brands out there.”  

Saint Andro’s recently released first collection is a mix-and-match lineup including a sleeveless two-way compression top, a zipped cropped top, a lined ripstop short, a reversible biker short, and separate sleeves that can be worn with both tops. All the pieces are made of double-knit fabric that stretches easily, resists wear and tear, blocks UV rays, and insulates. They’re designed to conform comfortably and provide support to the wearer’s body, last a long time, and be functional in both warm and cold seasons for activities like hiking, biking, and running in addition to swimming.   

Photo of a person swimming in a pool underwaterWet-testing an early Saint Andro prototype (image courtesy of Saint Andro)

When it comes to fit, the garments are offered in a size range of XS to 5X. Not only is that level of inclusivity rare in the world of swimwear, Yesmunt and Cobb also worked with Byrd to bring a heightened intentionality to the process of making a production pattern for each size.   

“We learned that garment prototypes are usually created in a size small. Once the small pattern is finalized, the pattern maker simply scales it up into the other sizes and calls it good,” Cobb explained. “We knew that we needed to do better.”  

Prototyping garments, especially using these kinds of specialized fabrics, isn’t cheap though. To minimize costs and material use, Saint Andro employed an innovative digital modeling software called CLO, which allowed them to create virtual patterns and test them on virtual bodies with unlimited control over all parameters.  

“We were able to do extensive testing and learning before we even touched a scrap of physical material,” said Cobb. “It saved us so much time, energy, and resources, but more than that it helped us ensure that we had created the most inclusive designs possible before moving forward.”   

Once they had initial physical prototypes of each size, Yesmunt and Cobb travelled to LA, where they held multiple rounds of test fit sessions on real people, making observations and soliciting feedback to refine the designs further. What they learned helped inform the final patterns for the diverse size range in their first collection, as well as the extensive fit guide available on their online store.  

A digital model of a person wearing compression swimwearDigital modeling of Saint Andro prototype garments using CLO 3D fashion design software (image courtesy of Saint Andro)

“We want people who buy our swimwear to put it on and have this immediate sense of ‘wow, I feel good in this,’” said Cobb. “They shouldn’t have to think about returning it even for a second.”  

Sustainability and ethical production are also at the core of Saint Andro. Each garment in the first collection is made from a blend of recycled polyester and spandex, and Yesmunt and Cobb have goals to explore the use of biodegradable materials and a customer take-back program down the road to further reduce the brand’s environmental impact.  

Everything is manufactured in LA at a women-owned production facility emphasizing ethical wages and construction methods that minimize material waste, with material scraps from tops and bottoms used to create the add-on sleeves.   

“We’re learning what the industry standard is for sustainable and ethical practice in fashion and looking for opportunities to go further,” said Cobb. “We’re always going to be learning and growing along the way, and that goes for every facet of Saint Andro.”  

“Authenticity” has long been a branding buzzword. But much of what makes Saint Andro’s claim to it ring truer than most comes from the transparent way they’ve evolved their ideas. Yesmunt and Cobb have publicly documented nearly every stage of their journey, from posting customer research and prototype experiments to social media to being open and honest about the challenges of entrepreneurship.  

People setting upa photoshootCobb (left) and Yesmunt (right) conducting a photo shoot for Saint Andro's debut collection inside the KCAD FlexGallery (image courtesy of Saint Andro)

They’ve even collaborated with KCAD Exhibitions Director Michele Bosak to create a fluid exhibition/incubation space inside the college’s FlexGallery, where they’ve been hosting community events and displaying thumbnail sketches, draft mission statements, garments prototypes, process notes, and branding development work for all to see.   

In many ways, the exhibition is as much about the changing landscape of creative entrepreneurship as it is about Saint Andro’s evolution. Yesmunt and Cobb are taking full advantage of an age in which the internet and social media have made it possible for anyone to actualize an idea outside of traditional, often exclusive channels.  

“You can follow your interest to incredible places and grow your network in ways that didn’t exist not that long ago, and you have more power than ever before to create what you want to see in the world,” said Cobb. “We want to show that it’s really possible.”  

 The Saint Andro exhibition is on view now through December 15 in the KCAD Flex Gallery (17 Pearl St. NW). See open hours at kcad.edu/hours.   

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