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Joan Smalls says her mom's frustration with her double Ds inspired the model to create inclusive swimwear

Joan Smalls visits the Build interview series on June 12, 2018, in New York City. (Photo: Build Series)

Joan Smalls has broken boundaries and continues to do so — all before the age of 30. She was the first Latina woman to be the face of Estée Lauder, she’s danced in videos alongside Beyoncé, and she has risen to fame as one of the world’s most sought-after supermodels. Now the 29-year-old is on a mission to pursue new life-changing endeavors, starting with her unique new swimwear line.

In collaboration with the woman-owned company Ariela & Associates, Smalls made her debut as a designer for the brand’s latest swimwear line, called Smart & Sexy, and is excited to help expand the brand.

“As a model, we’re always behind the scenes and firsthand when designs come out, so we have that one-on-one touch before everybody,” Smalls explains to Yahoo Lifestyle during a conversation in the Build Series. “We know how things are supposed to fit because you’re in the room where the conversations and creations are happening. So it just came really natural, and I always knew I wanted to design.”


With her stellar portfolio and résumé, Smalls had the opportunity to partner with tons of brands. However, she admired the idea of collaborating with women who understood other women’s needs. She also felt strongly about keeping the line inclusive and diverse enough to fit different body types because she remembered the struggle her own mother had finding swimwear.

“My mom is 5-foot-2 and has huge boobs,” Smalls says. “She’s like a double D, and I would always remember her being so frustrated because she couldn’t find shirts or swimwear that she liked. She would say, ‘Oh, I just want to take them off,’ and I would tell her, ‘Women pay for those.’” Always having her mother’s experiences in mind, she wanted to make sure designs that looked good on her slender frame also looked just as good on other body types.

The cup sizes currently available go up to triple D, and Smalls hopes to expand beyond that. “If we can do it, yeah, of course,” she says. “I just feel like every woman wants to feel beautiful.”

In addition to the wide range of sizes, the affordability of the new swimwear and (soon to come) lingerie pieces also has many people excited. While the prices aren’t sky-high, Smalls wanted to make sure the quality wasn’t compromised. “You have to go through a lot of swatches,” Smalls says. “I would go in and say, ‘Yeah, that’s not it. That’s not it. How about if we cut this out?’ I was really, really involved in looking at the images, going in to try on things myself, and had other women get fitted as well.”


At this point, Smalls is an unstoppable career woman. She’s accomplished a great deal and doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon. When asked, “What’s next?” the Puerto Rican beauty talks about making her next mark in film. It looks like Smalls is well on her way into the acting world with her breakout role in the Netflix film Set It Up.

“I feel like I’m such a creative person, and that’s what I love about fashion as well,” she says. “I am able to become a different character and be expressive. I just want to take it to another level and portray characters that need a voice or a light to make them feel realistic.”

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