It all started in New Jersey, 2010, with a devastating layoff, that became the greatest blessing in disguise. The school my husband taught at for 12 years was closing, and with mounting bills and the expensive Jersey living, it was a sign to follow his parents who retired in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. With -$800 in our bank account, it was a risk we had to take. Soon, I found a job at a major hotel in the area, and my husband became a rural carrier for the Gatlinburg post office. Things were stable, and looking up, but we were not content. We always wanted 2 things: to start a family, and to start a food business together; and Gatlinburg seemed the perfect place to do both. It was nearly impossible to afford either, but soon, life took over.
In 2012, I gave birth to our beautiful daughter, Aaliyah, and she gave new meaning to our lives. I chose to be a stay-at-home mom, but having worked for so many years, it was a lot harder than most people think. To make things worse, my hormones were not right, and I suffered from PPD (Post Partum Depression). I didn't notice it at first, but then, I started hating myself. I loved my daughter so much, and gave everything to her, and neglected myself. I hated what I had become...something was still missing. Then, life took over. My doctor advised me to find something I loved to do; a hobby, a job, something. Growing up in the Islands I always loved the water. Since, we had a community pool in the neighborhood I decided to take my daughter there, and enjoy the water once again, but I was a mom now. My insecurities over my body were tough enough, and now I can't find the perfect swimwear! So, I decided to fight. I wasn't going to just live with my insecure self, while my daughter suffered by not being able to enjoy the summer. On the suggestion of my mom, I chose to make my own...and so began Koala-T Swimwear. My first high waist, mommy and me, bikini was for me and my daughter. It did exactly what I wanted it to do; It covered what I wanted covered, but looked stylish and fashionable at the same time. It was beautiful, and I wasn't the only one who thought so. After the complements began pouring in, so did the requests for their own. With a small loan from family, I began designing and sewing the first Koala-T Swimwear.
Soon, I started a website, began marketing, and the orders came. I had found that purpose I had lost, and my PPD found it's way to be lost. I was free, and things were just getting started. 3 years as a small time designer online was great, but quite a battle, as being unable to TM my designs while overseas manufacturers and other shops copied my designs, and under cut my price. It was hard, but it drove me to always be designing, and stay one step ahead. Me and my husband had put off our desire to start our food business, but last year we made a decision to move forward once again, and we found the perfect spot...or so we thought.
The perfect spot in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, our new hometown, was perfect, but for a café, it was not. A minor let down, but then...lightbulb! Koala-T Swimwear was a perfect fit for the location, and was just waiting to make it's debut. So we decided to bring my designs to Gatlinburg, and finally, our dream of starting a storefront in coming true. We worked hard at making the store perfect, ready for it's late November opening, and then...life took over. On November 28th, 2016, wildfires ravaged our town...the city of Gatlinburg would never be the same. It was heartbreaking, as the town we've come to love, the people we've come to know, even the clubhouse where Koala-T Swimwear got started, was being lost. Thankfully, my family was safe, even though being trapped by fires in the very same clubhouse, and that was all that mattered. As the smoke and ash settled, neighbors were lost, just over 50 homes were left of the 750 in our neighborhood, and we were in the dark concerning our home and the storefront we were days from opening. But as my husband always said, "Let your faith be bigger than your fear." After several anxious days stretch to a week, we found that our home and our store were spared. Fires burned to our very doorstep, but thankfully, we were spared. Why, I don't know, but I am thankful. It took some time, but the businesses started up once again, life began to return to our city, and we pushed to have Koala-T Fashion be a part of that return. While living in a small condo, awaiting the repairs to our home, we pushed, and on December 21st, 2016, Koala-T Fashion began. Things are not the same as they were; business is much slower than it used to be, but we're strong here. Gatlinburg is strong. We will bounce back, and Koala-T Fashion will be a part of it.