Skip to content

Thrivers: Meet the woman single handedly innovating the swimwear industry

Hannah Attalah, just turned 30, is one of the most inspirational people you could meet. She has built a global swimwear brand, booming in Europe, the Middle East, the US, spends her time between the UK and Bali, was featured in Forbes 30 under 30...and she's only just getting started. Thrive sat down with Hannah as part of our Thrivers series, interviewing people under 30 that are killing it to share the story of their success. Here's what she had to say...

Oceanus Founder - Hannah Attalah

Interviewer: Oceanus is a brand redefining swimwear, empowering women and evoking glamour and confidence. Lets start where you began. What inspired you to start Oceanus?

Hannah: So my mother’s very—she’s always had a very entrepreneurial spirit. Both of my parents have had businesses and I guess it was kind of just ingrained in me that I always just—I always knew that I wanted a business. Growing up in London, and obviously London being the forefront of innovation and creativity, I just always felt the buzz and inspiration. And especially being a teenager in London, I loved following the start of trends, I got really into thrift shopping, styling, and textiles, and I just wanted to learn more about that. And so I kind of decided around the age of 16, I knew I wanted to have a fashion brand, and then it was everything I did at that point onwards was kind of centered around getting experience for me to have my brand. So, really—it was a very young age that I decided what my game plan was and I just remained very very consistent with it.

I also am Lebanese, half Lebanese half Irish. So, I think with the Lebanese side, I was always really into maximalist statement pieces. And my mum and my grandmother were very glamorous, so I was kind of referencing a lot of the 80s & 70s in what I would wear, and it just expanded from there really. I kind of knew what I liked. I think you’ve got to know your taste levels and you’ve got to have an eye for something you like. So, then you can become very decisive because as a designer, you’re looking through so much and you really have to have strong taste levels. Otherwise your collections don’t look consistent basically.

Interviewer: What led you to the moment of clarity where you knew this was the path you wanted to pursue?

Hannah: I I was in the industry for a few years, and I actually had an embroidery business where I would sell my hand embroidery designs. So I had an advantage in that I was already in touch with and working with a lot of factories in India, and also traveling to Asia regularly. So some of those relationships that I had already built, they were the starting factories that helped me start, get a foothold, get moving with it.

Then onwards from that, it was just really about building an amazing team. I think one of the most difficult things for me was just getting the right team around me and all at the same time. So we’ve had lots of times in the business where we’ve had so much interest and a lot of shops wanting to buy from us. But it hasn’t been a smooth ride all the time because I haven’t had the right team around me. But now I think I’ve got to the point where we’ve got a really strong team.

Interviewer: Was there a defining moment when you thought, "Yes, this is it," I am going to start Oceanus?

Hannah: Yeah. So, I had decided to do a business and originally it was going to be ready-to-wear. But then someone I was traveling with in Asia, just turned 23, and she was talking about how she had done a ready-to-wear brand but it wasn’t really taking off. And then she was like, “Actually, I want to do swimwear; it’s easier.” And then it suddenly occurred to me that I could have a huge point of difference in swimwear because of my background in textiles. Basically, there hadn’t really been that many interesting textiles done on swimwear before. I mean, yes, they had had beading but it’s very basic and mainstream; it wasn’t innovative like couture style beading with the glamour and style that we create at Oceanus.

Interviewer: Can you explain a little bit on how you managed to scale with the business and maybe some of the ups and downs that were part of that?

Hannah: So, I guess one of the major things is funding and I very much started off with a partner. She was a friend of mine, but she decided a few months in that business and this kind of level of stress in business wasn’t really for her. So that kind of took me by surprise because I essentially had to buy her out like maybe three, maybe six months into the business. So I really was thrown in at the deep end because I was like, “Oh my gosh, I’m doing this whole business by myself.” And then onwards from that I did get a small investment but I ended up paying them back out about a year and a half later. So for us we focused on bootstrapping because I had got to a point in the business where we had consistent revenue coming in through our DTC, through our website. We were working with advertising agencies and we were able to get short-term business loans when needed. So I bootstrapped all the way up. Then I started to get interest from investors on a bigger level and negotiated for about a year or a year and a half until we got the deal that we wanted and that worked for Oceanus.

Interviewer: That must have been difficult turning down offers?

Hannah: Yeah, it was actually quite difficult because, at the beginning, I was thinking, “Is this the right thing to do? Is it the wrong thing to do?” But then I realized that I had just held out for so long bootstrapping, and it would have been such a big regret to have taken a deal that I didn’t feel happy with. So we took our time and made it work.

Interviewer: At this point you are 25, how did you feel being an entrepreneur at this age?

Hannah: I mean, listen, it’s a lonely journey. The first few years as you’re getting into it probably feel the most lonely because you’re in the hardest part. And this is why I always say to everyone, if you found a really cool brand in their early years, support them—post about them, buy everything. Because those first three or four years are the most important years of the business, you know? So, I noticed that a lot of influencers only support brands when everyone’s talking about them, everyone’s wearing them. But I really try to influence people to adopt emerging brands early on because it’s almost like they’re the underdog, so be part of their journey.

Interviewer: Can you elaborate more on your team dynamics, especially since you mentioned that it is female-led?

Hannah: Recently, we brought on board some exceptional senior staff members. One of them, with 12 years of experience as a buyer, has been instrumental in shaping our brand positioning. Her background includes working with prestigious names like Farfetch and leading the team at Flannels, which has been a significant milestone for us. While having a strong senior-level team is crucial, we also recognize the importance of operational staff to keep things running smoothly. I believe in keeping my team lean and efficient, focusing on essential operational tasks that often require more attention than anticipated.

Interviewer: Has balancing the operational aspects ever posed challenges to your creative process?

Hannah: Absolutely, it has been a challenge. Only recently have I been able to allocate more time to nurture my creativity. Previously, I would estimate that about 20% of my time was dedicated to creative pursuits, with the rest focused on business management and day-to-day operations. With a solid team in place, I am now striving to embrace the role of a creative director.

Our team embodies a culture of mutual respect and collaboration. It's an environment where everyone's contributions are valued, and we thrive on bouncing ideas off each other. I must admit, building the right team has been a journey filled with trials and errors. It's taken time, but we are finally finding our groove. Currently, our London team consists of eight members, with additional team members in Indonesia and New York.

Interviewer: Sustainability seems to run through the business ethos and all your products, what are Oceanus doing here?

Hannah: Firstly where possible the swim fabrics are always the recycled fishing net lycra, which we’ve been using since we launched the brand which is far more sustainable than most in the swimwear industry.

At Oceanus we have a zero waste policy. I absolutely hate waste! So what I do—the model that we took on was to try to make a lot of our garments made to order, which means that our customers have to wait two weeks. But what it does mean is that we can offer size extra small to extra extra large, and in 150 different styles each season. So for us, we were able to offer the customer more options, more colors, more sizes without having to stock up on everything. So I generally run a bit of a test in the first two months of launching a new collection in which I see what’s most popular, and then once I know what’s popular, stock up on just those styles and then we’ll keep the rest of it made to order.

Interviewer: That must be great for customers too for the uniqueness of each piece?

Hannah: Yeah, I think people haven’t been able to do this so much in the past because they weren’t able to find factories that would do the made to order. So it has been really, really helpful that we managed to figure this out because we’ve been able to grow in ways that others wouldn’t be able to. And I do think it’s about experimentation, it’s about testing, it’s about not being worried to test because sometimes it’s very expensive. Some young designers would feel like, “Oh, the sampling fee, you know, it’s going to rack up.” But if you build a really strong relationship with a smaller factory and try and grow with them, that’s what I would recommend.


Interviewer: Reflecting on your journey what are some of the proudest moments you have had?

Hannah: To be honest, it’s been such a strange experience for me because now when we go to places such as different countries and some people know the brand, and it’s confusing for me because before we opened the Bali store we didn’t really have a shop. So it was very much an online business. So for me I thought, my friends know it, and friends of friends. But it’s been a strange experience because you don’t really understand the scale of what you’re doing when it’s an online business and when you live and breathe it, it’s hard to see it from an external person’s point of view.

So that’s been interesting for sure. But now since we opened the Bali shop, I found it interesting because a lot of people from Dubai were coming in saying, “Oh, I’ve seen it in Bloomingdale’s Dubai. I love the brand.”

It’s just cool because, you know, the world is big but it’s also small, if that makes sense.

Interviewer: Has there been anything that’s really surprised you or anything that you’ve learned about running a business that you hadn’t expected?

Hannah: Well, it’s definitely not the glamorous thing that other people think it is. I think people underestimate how hard the work is and they assume that you can just hire staff to do this or that, but it just doesn’t work like that. And especially at the beginning, I think the sacrifices that you really have to do when you’re a startup, and you don’t have a lot of capital, those lessons that you learn are invaluable.

I would say that you have to stay very resilient, I remember having moments where I was just freaking out about a lot of this stuff because as a young business owner you just don’t want to do anything wrong. So, to any young entrepreneur I would recommend to seek out a mentor who is five years ahead of them so that you can rely on them and they can help you through the difficulties.

At the start being an entrepreneur can be a lonely place. Now I don’t feel like that at all. But you have to be in for the ride.

Interviewer: Whats next for Oceanus?

Hannah: So, we’re all about doing more creative collabs with celebrities and interesting people that we want to work with. So, I’m going to be doing a lot more co-designing and collaborative work, and I think we’ll probably do more retail pop-ups so our customers can actually shop us in person, not just online and not just with our wholesale partners.

Recently we opened our Bali shop, so we’re getting more customers shopping there. We might do a pop-up in Ibiza. So we have some great plans that we are working on. America is also a big part of our business too. So it’d be great to do some pop-ups there.

Interviewer: Final question, what advice would you give to the Thrive community, people under 30 that are trying to thrive?

Hannah: I would say that if there is something you want to do, such as start a business, go for it, it just gives you so much freedom to travel, to meet interesting new people all over the world, to open businesses in different countries, live in different countries, and work wherever. I think it gives you true freedom, and even if you become a parent as well, I recently became a mother and you really have to be flexible in those times. So if needed I can bring my daughter to work or go in a little bit later, work late and things like that. It gives you the opportunity to not have to ask anyone for approval and you can work around your own schedule, which is actually vital. I think its so important to focus on living a life that is on your terms.

*Thrive users can get 10% off at Oceanus by using the Thrive app