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Cristy Rice Designs Swimwear for the Gypsy in All of Us

Images Via Raquel Zaldivar
Images Via Raquel Zaldivar

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We all watched season one of Real Housewives (you know, back when Adriana and Lea were tight and Marisol was actually on the show), so you know who Cristy Rice is. She was the spunky little Cuban American who was always down for a good time. Camera crews followed her around from shitshow to shitshow, but what they didn't show you was that while she was running her children's boutique, Bri Bri, she was also putting together the initial threads of her swimwear brand, Cuban Rice.

Already on its second collection, Cuban Rice boasts color and energy in every bikini, each which is hand stitched and beaded in Colombia. She designs them herself and is so involved that she's taken apart entire sets just to change the threading. You can order the bikinis online or, if you go on the reg, you can buy them in South America or in the Caribbean, but Rice is currently working on carrying them in more stores throughout the U.S. Before this fun swimwear brand blows up and you have to score an invite to check it out during Swim Week, we sat down with the designer to talk Cuban Rice, Housewives and what's next for this blossoming new swim line.

Tell me a little bit about Cuban Rice and why you decided to start a swimwear line.
I grew up in Miami and I've been here my whole life with the exception of maybe the ten years when I was traveling around in my ex husband's NBA days. What I missed the most out of those days living out of Miami was the weather here, how much we take it for granted. So when I came back my store was about children. That was my life at the time, but as they got older and I was going to be permanently in Miami again I decided I needed to do something that was really about me and I am always at the beach, with my children. That's really where I spend all my free time. So then I decided to design something that I could wear that I actually live in, that I actually love and that's where bathing suits came into play.

So Cuban Rice- what's the story behind the name?
I already had the name Cuban Rice. It was just like random. One day I went to go get a new computer and they said you need a new email address and so I was like, 'Ok well I'm Cuban American, and my last name is Rice, so... Cuban Rice!' Every time I gave my email address out everybody always was like 'Oh my God, I love that name!' so I always said the day that I do something, that will be the name.

How does this collection, the Gypsy Collection differ from your first Cubanita collection? Where did you get the inspiration for this one?
I've always envisioned myself in another life as a gypsy. Always, always, always. Like since I was a little girl... My grandparents are from Spain so that was probably next in line.

I'm all about the coins. Gypsy collection is more about the purples and the reds and a little bit deeper than the first collection which was more fluorescent. However I don't leave the fluorescent. I always leave the accents in to keep a continuity. I had a lot more fun creating the gypsy collection.

How does the whole design process work for you?
Every collection is kind of like, 'What am I feeling at that moment?' So like I told you, the first one I knew. That was an easy one. The second one was a feeling of 'well I want this to be something that has to do with me.' The third one, which is what I'm working on right now, I'm still in between two things and I'm not 100% which way I'm going to go. I don't design everything here in Miami. I do a lot of it in Colombia. So, it all depends when I see fabrics, which way I'm feeling, which colors I'm gonna choose and from there I go improvising. Nothing is really planned in my life. Nothing.

What's that like, working in Colombia?
What I have in Colombia is the best group of people that can take my ideas and put them into effect because I pretty much don't have anyone else designing with me right now. I design everything myself. I'm talking like, to the last little thread. You see this bathing suit? I'll see that the elastic is hot pink and this trim is gold, and I have literally taken a whole bathing suit apart just because I don't like the gold trim anymore. I want to see it in turquoise. Like, the tiniest little things. But my team over there, starting with the ladies who sew, is amazing. Their culture is very colorful. They're so good with their hands. Anything that I think, 'ok this might be crazy, but, do you think that you could make this just...' and then I give them whatever scenario, they'll come up with it. It's so much fun.

So is everything handmade?
Everything is handmade, which is probably one of the unique things about my line. Most bathing suit lines you'll see are made in China and everything is a little bit of a mass production. Every little piece, every little thing they do by hand. And I take glory and pride in every piece. I go there, interact, and watch them. You know, I'm very hands on.

Right now there are only bikinis. Do you ever plan on expanding to include more one-pieces or coverups?
My line began with two-piece bikinis, cover ups, jewelry and bags. If I don't I think I'm going to have a lot of people killing me! I started with bikinis because that's what I wear and, again, this is new for me. Everything is about trial and error so I've learned a lot from my first collection, then my second one and so on... but this [third] collection I plan to bring in at least two or three one-pieces, maybe a monokini and a full-piece? Not sure, but there will definitely be one full-piece. And then I'll see how it goes.

Can you give us a hint as to what you might be thinking?
I would love to but since I'm in between two things right now, I can't.

Ok so one word to describe each.
Ok, the one I really think I'm going with? Racy.

And the other one?
Complete opposite. Pastels, diamonds.

So one's like, Marilyn Monroe, the other one's like...
Rihanna.

And that's what's going through my head right now. I'm Gemini so this is very typical of me because I'm two places at one time, or like I'm thinking one thing and then all of a sudden I'll get there and I change my mind. And I have no problem with it. It doesn't take me out of my element; I'm fine and I'm good with changing.

If you could describe the kind of woman who wears your pieces, how would you describe her?
It's not about a body type. It's about a woman that feels confident. It's a confident woman who loves herself. I have had people surprise me... I have a bikini called Sexy and it's very small in the back and this woman, she had a very big butt. Like, huge. And, you know I'll never tell a customer no, but I'll try to steer her in the right direction. This time she wanted the one I had on, and so I sold it to her and she totally proved me wrong. She bought the bathing suit. She had it on the next day. I took tons of pictures of her. After that lesson I would never say that there is a body type. Anything goes, you just really have to try things on. You have to be confident. You can't come in and say 'Oh, they're all tiny. Nothing works,' and I've had that happen a lot. But that's not true. I have 28 different styles, big backs, small backs, seamless, with seams.

Where can you find the pieces now?
Right now we have them at a store called Metta Loving Kindness on the beach. We have been in several boutiques around Miami as "trunk shows" including an upcoming one at ALEREN in the Gables on February 28th and March 1st. Most of our sales are online and apart from that I have them in a few boutiques in the islands like St. Martin, St. Barts, Aruba, and Colombia for now. In the states, most of my sales now are online at shopcubanrice.com.

From the trade shows you've gone to, what's the feedback like about your collection?
We've had really good feedback and fortunately I have my past life open many doors for me- my TV experience as a cast member of RHOM, my life and relationships made while traveling all over the globe and during the NBA days. I made a lot of connections so I have been very fortunate to have something to help me out, to fall back on. So it's almost like a huge plus on the publicity side. I've been in business for a year and a half and I've done so much more than most people do in their first five years... I saw that Gabrielle Union was wearing one of my limited edition Art Basel collection bathing suits when she went with her man and the other Heat players on vacation recently, so I've had a lot of blessings in that sense. The challenge for me now is to get into big stores and to all the boutiques that I want to be in.

Has it been a big challenge trying to get into them?
Well, that's pretty much the hardest part.

Why?
Because the economy sucks. That's it. People are really cutting down so if they're used to this line and they've already had it, you know people are scared of change.

And what about the whole housewives experience? How many doors did that open up for you? Would you have started this brand had you not been on the show?
When I was on the show I was already designing and that's probably the reason why I never continued with the show. They never showed my business. The reason why you do a reality show, at least for me, my reason, is because it's going to expose you to the entire nation and your products will be exposed. And they did the complete opposite.

I know you moved everything from Bri Bri here, but do you see a future for the boutique?
A store front? I'm not really sure about that right now. I'm enjoying not having a retail space. I'm enjoying working out of home. I have to travel a lot for the designing part of it so I do hope that one day there will be franchise stores of Cuban Rice, the brand. As far as the boutique goes I'm not sure my daughter will want to continue with it. It's all up in the air right now. After all, it's named after her. I do envision Cuban Rice stores, but I don't want to be the owner of them. I just want to design.

[Update: This interview has been edited for clarification purposes.]
· Cuban Rice [Official Site]