The mum-to-be, who is expecting her first child this month with husband Angus, 29, even has ASOS knocking at her door desperate to stock her unique designs.
Speaking exclusively to Fabulous Digital for our Bossing It series about ordinary women who have launched incredible businesses, Davina shares her inspiring journey…
“OLIVIA Buckland is wearing one your bikinis!” my sister yelled down the phone.
It was such an exciting moment – I’d been contacted by Tina Stinnes before she entered the Love Island villa, and now Olivia was a fan of my swimwear too.
I couldn’t believe that the designs I’d dreamt up in my pokey caravan and brought to life with a £640 tax rebate had made their way into celebrities’ wardrobes.
Ten years previously I was studying biology at Plymouth University and working part-time in a surf shop when the first seed of my business idea was planted – but it wasn’t until five years later that I finally took the plunge.
During the winter customers were always asking us for bikinis, but it’s so hard to find one in England in the colder months.
After graduating I became a surf instructor and met my now-husband Angus in 2009 while surfing in France.
Two years later we moved into our first home together – a tiny caravan we paid £400 for. It was a great life; we stayed on the campsite near the beach in Polzeath during the surfing season, paying £700 for the whole summer, and then travel abroad in winter.
But every year it was a struggle to find bikinis for our trips, and I kept thinking about that gap in the market.
In 2014, when I was 25, I had a tax-rebate of £640 and £1,000 savings.
With Angus’s encouragement, I bought a sketch-book, put my swimwear designs down on paper, ordered some lycra and dug out my £100 singer sewing machine.
I managed to make a (pretty terrible) pair of bikini bottoms. It was a bit of a disaster, and when I put them on but they weren’t anything like what I’d envisioned. But I didn’t let that put me off.
Browsing LinkedIn I found a swimwear designer from Cambridge who’d worked with big brands like Topshop.
I called her up, explained what I wanted and emailed her my sketches.
She then came up with some proper designs and emailed them back to me. And they were brilliant.
I hadn’t realised how technical the process was, but she made my pencil designs come alive, so I invested my money working with her. I had my job as a surf instructor to keep me going, and there wasn’t going to be a huge debt if it didn’t work, so I had nothing to lose.
We sent the preliminary designs to a Plymouth manufacturer, and when the first samples arrived it was hilarious trying to pack them all into my tiny wardrobe in the caravan, which was cramped at best.
I tested all the designs to make sure they stayed on while surfing or kite-surfing – which was one of things I’d been looking for in a bikini.
Luckily I avoided any embarrassing moments as they all passed the test with flying colours. They even got the seal of approval from top surfer Tassy Swallow who also tried them out.
With limited funds for models, me and my friends modelled the swimwear for the first couple of shoots. Luckily I have friends who are photographers, graphic designers and web-designers, who all very kindly helped me out.
Zennor Bikini officially launched on July 12, 2014. I’d used Facebook and Instagram to build up interest in the brand, using hashtags like swimwear, bikinis, surfing and local hashtags, and got my 300 followers to like and share.
That day I took eight orders. I remember thinking: “Oh my God, this is mad!”
In the months that followed you couldn’t move in the caravan without bumping into cardboard boxes, and that September we quit surf school and sold our tiny home.
That winter we stayed in the UK while I concentrated on building up the business. I stayed with my friends and my parents, moving stock from pillar to post, while Angus stayed with his mum and dad.
From year one to two, sales increased by more than 220 per cent, which was incredible.
Angus and I married in 2016. We’d talked about a big wedding but ended up sort of eloping with only six guests – our parents and closest friends. We had a registry office ceremony before heading to Ayrmer Cove beach in Ringmore, Devon, for a blessing on the sand.
A couple of weeks later we left for eight months to travel around New Zealand. I grew my social media following and took orders while a friend back in the UK packed and posted them.
Before long they caught the eye of celebrities – Made in Chelsea’s Tiffany Watson, Rosie Fortescue and Emily Blackwell all became fans, as well as Lottie Moss, which is really cool.
The most exciting thing was when Asos, who I buy clothes from all the time, posted a message on my Instagram in 2016.
I thought, “Wow, this is actually really amazing!” I was in California when I read the message from ASOS’s head buyer telling me they wanted to stock Zennor, and I ran around the room in excitement.
I’ve been for a few meetings with them in London, which has been a great experience, but as our manufacturer in Wales is closing we’re currently moving production to Bali, where a friend is checking everything is ethical.
Why I support #BOSSINGIT
Sun on Sunday columnist Karren Brady says:
"I am a passionate supporter of encouraging women to learn new skills to help give them the confidence to reach out and achieve their ambitions.
"This brand new series will help share different stories which I hope will act as inspiration and show just what can be achieved with grit and determination."
I’d rather not have the business than sell from sweatshops.
We’ve also changed our packaging from plastic bags to recyclable cardboard, tissue paper and biodegradable bags, so it’s all environmentally friendly.
On top of everything, Angus and I are expecting our first baby in February, so I’m waiting until things calm down before committing to any deal with Asos.
Thinking of starting a business?
DAVINA says: "If you recognise a gap in the market, don’t wait around! Act on it fast before someone else does, and keep your ideas to yourself – only tell people you really trust!
"Start small but START! Even if everything is not entirely perfect with your business plan, take action! Don't waste time over the little things – you can perfect these as your business grows and develops.
"Earn as you grow to avoid stress and financial uncertainty. It's worth keeping on your day job initially, as this way you can launch your business and assess its success without the worry of paying your rent on time! Yes you will be working all hours of the day, but it will soon be worth it.
"There is no such thing as failure! Even if your first business idea crashes and burns, this is not a failure! Make a note of all the things you have learned, what worked, what didn’t, and apply this to your next business concept.
"Maintain relationships. Explain to your plans friends and family in advance and make it clear your business will be taking up a lot of your spare time. They will understand. But always make time for them, even if it's booking in a date night or a phone call, stick to it. Remember, this is your support network and it's a two-way street!"
Almost half our sales are in America, mainly to California, Las Vegas and a big college in Arizona. I think they love the story of the Mermaid of Zennor, a Cornish folklore featuring a mysterious mermaid who visits the village church. They like that it’s all made in England.
We have a very small team of three staff, plus a big group of freelancers who’ve helped the business grow by 15 to 20 per cent year on year. Our turnover is now around £150,000.
I’m really excited about becoming a mum, and since starting Zennor I’ve always hoped I could work from home and run a business around my children.
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Angus works for his family business Pennywell Farm, which breeds miniature pigs, and we’ve been staying with his parents, but we’re about to move into our own house – our first proper place together since the caravan.
I’m not entirely sure how I’ll juggle everything, but I’m feeling very blessed.
My family, husband and baby are the most amazing things in my life, but I’m so proud of Zennor and what we’ve achieved since it all began on a campsite in Cornwall.
Follow @zennorbikini on Instagram or visit their website to view the full collection.
We previously told how a single mum living in a council flat after piling on seven stone now makes £650k a year after launching a diet plan.
And a woman who left school with just one GCSE now owns a £5 MILLION false lash brand loved by celebs.
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