If you’ve stepped on stage to compete in a local Bikini or Fitness line-up, then you’ve been bedazzled by the amazing custom-made bikinis worn by most of the athletes on stage.
The creative genius behind the wildly successful Magic Bikinis brand is Kathrine Fleur Gantvoort. She studied Fashion Design and Technology at Natal Techikon, and when she felt stifled by the corporate world, she decided to start her own design business. That’s when an institution in the local competitive fitness was born.
Discovering her design niche
“With a passion for fine couture, I began custom manufacturing wedding gowns and Matric dance dresses. I loved achieving the precision required by the fine detailing in the lace, tulle, silk, satin and, more than anything, the fine beading and embellishing.”
Kathrine also began making fun and funky hens party costumes, and supplied numerous wedding shops around South Africa.
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“It was through this line of adult fancy dress costumes that a young and promising Bikini competitor got my details. She inquired about a little outfit that she needed for a fitness routine. I made her a racy little Formula 1 number for the show and she was thrilled with the outcome! She then asked if I made bikinis. I gulped! I had never made a bikini before, let alone one designed to tastefully expose as much flesh as possible.”
Kathrine said she would give it her best shot and after much blood, sweat and tears, she eventually got it right. Tammy Jackson (now Dreyer) won just about every competition that she entered after that. “I’d like to believe that our bikinis played some part in her victories and rise to Pro status in the fitness industry, but the collaboration ignited a home-grown brand that has gone from strength to strength.”
To find out more about her journey and rise to prominence in the local fitness industry, we caught up with Kathrine for an exclusive Q&A sesh… this is her story.
In her words…
How long have you been designing bikinis? 10 years
Tell us something about how your started your business? I always wanted to be my own boss and when all the pieces fell into place, I was able to resign from my 9-5 job and go it alone. I was blessed to have parents who believed in my passion, and who gave me a spare room in their house to work from. It wasn’t long before I was able to pay them rent!
How many bikinis do you make in a month? About 20, among other fun things, during the November to March period. In January we get quite a few bigger ticket orders from clients in America who are preparing for their shows in April. They take a lot more time than suits for most other federations. Peak season is April to October, when we produce about 50 per month.
How can someone order a bikini? Simply fill in the online order form on our website,
What’s the average cost of a bikini? Anything from R1,000 to R14,000.
How many bikinis do athletes require for a competition? That depends on the athlete and the federation within which they compete. Some federations only require one bikini, but some athletes will have two options – one for prejudging and another for the main show. Some federations also require that athletes have two different looks, which could be two different bikinis, or a bikini and a themed outfit. Some athletes will buy a new bikini for every show they enter, while others will wear the same bikini for the whole season.
Do you cater to different styles? Yes, we cater for all tastes, preferences and most budgets within the stage bikini spectrum. We offer about six different cup styles and about 15 different pants styles and bottom cuts. We also make a wide range of men’s stage wear, including Speedo-style posing trunks, briefs and hot pants in various styles.
What’s the most outrageous bikini you’ve ever made? I’d have trouble labelling any of them outrageous, so can I say, sensational? Every now and then clients ask us to create a themed bikini and costume for their show. We made a yellow New York taxi-themed outfit for Mrs New York when she competed in the Mrs America Pageant. We also created a golden Chinese dragon outfit for Mrs Hong Kong when she competed in the Mrs World Pageant (and won!). We also created a cupcake-themed bikini and tutu for a Vegas show. The most heavily blinged bikini we’ve made weighed about 1.5kg and was encrusted with a blend of Guipure lace, glass rhinestones and Swarovski crystals. I guess that was pretty outrageous!
Do you ship bikinis outside of South Africa? Definitely! We’ve sent bikinis to gorgeous clients in Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Mauritius, America, Canada, England, France, Australia, New Zealand and Sweden.
Where do you get your inspiration from? Absolutely everywhere! Nature, unicorn dreams, fairy meditations, and Pinterest, of course! Our clients usually have pretty specific ideas about what they want for their bikini, while others don’t have a clue. These are the fun jobs because that’s when we let out creative juices run riot!
Where do you get all of the fabrics and elements to make the bikinis? We have a few fantastic local suppliers who import great fabrics from abroad. All of our other elements – the cup, connectors, crystals – I import directly from international suppliers. I source fabrics from England, America and Spain. We have over 20 different diamanté connectors, 80 different crystal colours and shapes, and over 500 fabrics for clients to choose from!
How big is your team? I have six staff as a norm and seven when we’re busy. Robs is the admin guru and SM hottie! Stevie is our chief sparkle fairy and blinganator. Nicole is sparkle and bling assistant. Aunty Jo and Khukhu are on production. Sindi is our packaging and dispatch captain.
Do you accept trade-ins? Unfortunately not. However, we have an agreement with our sponsored athletes that their suits are designed and created for them to their spec for their show, but the bikini belongs to Magic Bikinis. These are returned to us after their show and we share that love with a rental service to the rest of South Africa.
Do you provide other styling services? Absolutely. We offer stage jewellery and a clear stage shoe ordering service so that athletes can complete their overall look for show day with the perfect jewels and heels to go with their bikini. We also offer Magic Glamour packages for show days. These are area specific, but you can have your make-up, hair and spray tan all done in one place and arrive at the show ready to strut on stage!
How do the styles differ across federations? That seems to change on a regular basis. Generally, most federations will have a specific style that athletes must adhere to. Some federations are all about the physique and require fairly plain bikini styles. Others are all about femininity, sexiness and fashion and, therefore, tend to host the more extravagant shows. There are also certain regulations that stipulate how much of the athlete’s glutes are allowed to show, and some have no rules at all and allow G-strings. Of course, all federations specify that tops have to cover all the necessary bits in a tasteful manner! Thankfully, all the federations we service allow lots of sparkles as the girls love that!
Do customers ask for additions to previous garments? Yes. Some federations have a themed round as part of their judging process. Sometimes we’re asked to create a skirt or a cloak, or wings to go with a bikini that we or another company made. Some athletes will order a fairly plain bikini for their first show of the season, and then send it back to us for additional crystals for their subsequent shows. Some athletes do this multiple times over the season, and each time they have a fresh new look with the same bikini.
What do you love about the industry? We’ve learned to make something amazing out of anything! But apart from all the sparkles and creativity that a fashion-related industry offers, I’d have to say that we love the variety of characters that the business brings us in contact with. We love to see athletes blossom with confidence when they reach their fitness goals and are finally able to step on stage wearing a Magic Bikini. We soulfully go on each of their journeys with them, and we are so grateful to join them on that ride! Sometimes it’s a gentle meander through a blissful field of daisies, and sometimes it’s a whiplashing rollercoaster but, heck, it’s always interesting!
Do you have any advice to other entrepreneurs? Running your own business is hard work – don’t let anyone fool you! You learn everything through trial and error – what I like to call trial and lesson! There are life lessons that you will learn through running your own business that no one could ever teach you at business school. It sure ain’t for the faint-hearted! Looking back, I never in a million years would’ve believed that bikinis would become my full-time career and passion! I don’t feel as though I’ve worked a single day since I started Magic Bikinis. I absolutely love my job! Just stick to what you are good at and become a master!
Author: Pedro van Gaalen
When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.