Not your mother’s bikini

A tiny sign points up the stairs at Kalaheo’s Rainbow Plaza, leading the way to Kauai Bikini, a tiny shop with tiny racks holding the tiniest little bits of fabric.

It is a place where polka-dots meets vivid sheers, Brazilian cuts compete with micro minis and soft, fuzzy patches of color adorn the dressing room walls.

“If you can’t have fun with a bikini store, what can you have fun with?” said Jay Costa, one-half of the husband-and-wife team that owns the shop and designs the bikinis on display.

But fuzzy dressing room walls do not necessarily make for a good bikini shop. That designation comes from the smaller details.

Like customer response forms outside of the dressing room.

“We really feed off our customers to find what they want,” said Sarah Costa, co-owner. “We take all of this input, and we learn from it.”

The Costas design the suits, choose the fabrics, work together to photograph the models and then put everything together on the company’s Web site. The only aspect they don’t handle — production — occurs in Columbia, they said.

The recently opened shop houses their first tactile sales floor, where customers can pinch and pull fabric, try on a variety of styles and talk directly to the designers about what does and doesn’t work.

The Costas got into the business late, leaving behind careers in finance and teaching to move to Kaua‘i. They had no background in design, but said they found a void in the bikini market.

“I was just so disappointed with the selection,” Sarah Costa said. “Everything is the same. And it’s so expensive.”

The source of the void became apparent as the business moved forward, she said.

“The designing of the bikini is a painful and long process,” she said. “That’s probably why nobody else does it.”

The micro mini, which features two tiny triangles of fabric on top and a string-back, or thong, bottom, has been popular in the Australian market, Jay Costa said — and it’s the hottest seller on the company’s Web site.

It does earn some giggles in the store, where he said customers focus on the Brazilian.

“It’s all in good fun,” he said. “Even if they could never do it, it makes them laugh.”

The shop also offers bright terry-cloth shorts and halter tops.

“The shorts are comfortable,” said Kalaheo-resident Misty Nuivo, who visited the store on Friday. She bought three pair and two suits — not an uncommon volume for a purchase, the Costas said.

They have plans to develop a plus-size bikini. The business will grow, they said: “We want to have a chain of stores. This is our first little dip in the water.”

• Charlotte Woolard, business writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 251) or cwoolard@kauaipubco.com.

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