The Story of Inventory

The Story of Inventory

When I started Truli Wetsuits I didn't have a plan about how it was going to go. I focused on creating a wetsuit that I really wanted and if it went okay, I would figure things out from there.  I never sought out to be a size-inclusive company and didn't think about a target market beyond someone who looked like me, a straight-sized woman, because that's all I knew.  Things certainly evolved as I began to witness the huge gap in the plus-size market. Over the years in business, I was always caught between trying to sell wetsuits to make ends meet, while also trying to figure out product development. Those beginning years 100% of inventory was financed by my own savings, not the revenue from the business.  And although the revenue increased eventually, it was never enough to keep up with the minimum order requirements from the manufacturer. 

Was the large inventory minimum order quantities the cause of Truli Wetsuits' downfall?  Maybe, maybe not. 

In business, I think there's always a way to adapt and proceed and I could've kept going, but burnout got the best of me.  I want to share the story of inventory at Truli Wetsuits to shine some light on how it went down in hopes others can learn from my experience. 

Prototype Development

In 2013 I started making sketches of a wetsuit that I would love to wear.  I googled, "how to make a wetsuit", contacted neoprene companies, and put up postings on craigslist requesting help with a pattern. I had taken some time off from working on a scuba liveaboard in The Bahamas after my mom passed away.  After a bit of roaming, I followed a guy I liked out to the west coast and settled on Vancouver Island working at a marina.  After so many starts and stops, I finally found a professional wetsuit designer to make the patterns along with a Canadian manufacturer to make a prototype.  With a dream wetsuit on the way, I got a job back on a boat in 2014 in Turks & Caicos so I could work and test it out. Sadly, the prototype was really poor quality - I was devastated!  The designer told me that the pattern was good, but I should use a different manufacturer - one that had more capacity for quality.  He recommended a manufacturer in Asia.  They had large minimum order quantities, but the quality and attention to detail was amazing.  I had another prototype made, tested and evaluated and decided to purchase inventory from them. In total, I made 4 inventory orders from the same manufacturer over 5 years.

Prototype of Truli Wetsuits

2013.  I met a lady on craigslist who helped make some initial prototypes out of spandex.  We laughed at the 90s biker short vibe.  But this really helped me eliminate some ideas by the time I found the professional designer.

Truli Prototype number 1


2014.  This is the first prototype.  You can see the zipper and edges are not like they are today.  Also it was flatlock stitched so the threading was chaffed all over.  The actual version uses blindstitching.

Inventory Order 1

The Original

The Truli-Mi was my very first inventory order I made in fall 2015, arriving in January 2016.  Since I would launch the business with just one style, I chose to add some variety by ordering the same wetsuit in 3 different colour combos. I had to order a minimum of 200 wetsuits per colour combo, so I purchased 600 wetsuits and divided that among the 5 sizes in the pattern that the designer provided me: xs 45, s 120, m 300 (my size, which I thought would be my target market), l 90, xl 45.  I didn't give the sizing a second thought, relying on the expertise of the designer and manufacturer.

In an ideal world, if I could've ordered 50 wetsuits to test the market with, that would've been perfect.  It took 3 months to manufacture and 1 month to transit from Asia to Vancouver and then over land to Ontario, Canada.  At the time, I was still living and working in Turks & Caicos Islands.  I had focused so much on the development of this first style that I hadn't put any thought into selling it.  So during those months of production, I worked on setting up the e-commerce website with Shopify and taking promotion photos of my friends in the prototypes.  When the wetsuits arrived in Toronto, I flew home and organized them at my parents' house and returned to Turks & Caicos to run the business online from there.  My family and friends shipped the handful of sales that I made at the start.  Despite not having enough sales to order more inventory, I felt the pressure to introduce more styles to keep the momentum going.  The initial feedback came that the largest size was not big enough, some ladies wanted a longer leg, I had a few returns because they didn't work for long torso bodies (I didn't even know long torso was a thing) and still there was more call for bright colours and pink, which surprised me as pink is such a controversial colour in women's sports gear.

First photo shoot in 2015

2015.  Bianca and Taylor were models for my first photo shoot with Genesis.

Inventory Order 2

New style with bright colours and getting in touch with customers

The Truli-Capri and Truli-Mi in pashy passion pink was my second inventory order that arrived in April 2017.  Since the original designer that I had hired was no longer available, the manufacturer helped me adapt the original Truli-Mi design, created a pattern for the Truli-Capri and we added one more size - xxl.  I recall wanting a few more sizes, but the manufacturer told me that was the biggest size in the patterns and that would suffice.  I said okay.  The minimum order quantities were still 200 per style; so I purchased 400 wetsuits divided by 6 sizes. The quantities were a bit more equal across the sizes than the first order, but I still had no concept that size xxl (essentially a size US14/16) would be popular sizes.  xs 60, s 80, m 86, l 80, xl 60, xxl 40.

These wetsuits got a lot of attention for being different and I was able to arrange some pre-arrival sales - it was very exciting!  I had moved all of the inventory into a professional fulfillment service to manage storage and shipping.  Despite having purchased 1000 wetsuits in 6 sizes since I launched, I had barely sold enough to cover my own cost of living, let alone fulfillment, marketing and continue with product development. During this time my work permit for my full-time job in Turks & Caicos was not renewed by the government.  I suddenly had to leave and come back to Canada.  I stayed with family and friends for a little while and decided to try selling Trulis at various waterfront festivals in Ontario.  I wanted to sell the wetsuits online, but the sales were so slow and I really needed the money.  So with a few basic supplies and family helping, I signed up for a bunch of festivals.  It ended up being a very eye-opening experience for me (finally).  Observing how people looked at the sizes, noting they were too small for them, and then kept walking past.  All I kept thinking was, why don't I have more sizes available for these customers who want to buy from me?  

Scuba Diver Life ad of Cesca in the Truli-Capri

2017.  Cesca was in the photo shoot that was in Scuba Diver Life ad announcing Truli-Capri


Dad and Mia at the Port Credit Boat Show

2017.  My dad and I at the Port Credit Boat Show in Toronto

Inventory Order 3

So much product development - 21 Sizes including plus and long torso

The Truli-Ful the Beautiful and Truli-Hapi styles were my third inventory order in December 2018 that arrived in May 2019.  For this next order, I knew with the last of my personal savings that I could only introduce 2 new styles and that they absolutely had to be offered in all the sizes.  The development process took an entire year as there were many challenges working with the manufacturer to not only extend my current sizing, but also figure out how to manage a front-zipper with long-sleeves (my idea for the Truli Ribbon worked!) and coming up with the new size names.  I booked myself for every major trade show and brought along prototypes and measuring tape.  I measured people, I sent out surveys - the community were directly involved in the design process!  One of the key things I found was that of my current sizing system, one person could actually wear 3 different sizes because the grading was very small between each size.  Going up a bunch of sizes offered extra room for curves while not being too loose anywhere else.  I spoke with the manufacturer to see if we could extend the current sizing all the way up to a US size 24.  I can't remember why I chose size 24 - probably because my limited knowledge of plus sizes understood that was the biggest size and those were the people responding to surveys (FYI - There are a lot more sizes beyond 24 that need to be included!).  But the manufacturer argued for a more traditional system that separated standard and plus sizes.  I didn't want that.  Now that my eyes were open to the exclusion of plus size bodies, I was really focused on how I could make business decisions that were inclusive.  Steps towards that would mean that all body shapes could shop together.  In the end the manufacturer distinguished between standard and plus size wetsuits on the backend and charged an increased cost for plus sizes. They told me that they need more sheets of neoprene to make the larger wetsuits so the higher price covers that cost.  I had to order a minimum of 200 wetsuits per design across 21 sizes for a total of 500 wetsuits.  I was really hesitant to get more than the minimum with the long torso and plus sizes because I just didn't know if these new cuts would work for people.  New styles, new zipper, new sizes - there were so many risks!  I just got the minimum 10 wetsuits per size for the plus size and long torso wetsuits and 20 of each of the mid-size range.  With so many sizes now, I very quickly got to the 200 minimum order quantity with just a couple wetsuits per size.  

Hannah and Mia discussing sizing

2018.  Travel & Adventure blogger, Hannah Logan, met with me at the Women's Show in Ottawa, Ontario to try prototypes, provide measurements and feedback.


Heather and Bree at the Toronto beaches

2018.  Getting some photos for the website in the samples at the Toronto beaches with Heather and Bree

Truli-Hapi product shot

2019.  I hired models for the official product shots to reflect a diversity in bodies, ethnicities, and ages. It was tough because I only had a couple sample wetsuits so the people had to match the sizes.  

New Sales Model

Designated Fitting Site, Pop-ups and then COVID

By the time the wetsuits arrived in May 2019, I had already sold several via pre-order, which was really encouraging!  As well, I had settled down in Tobermory, Ontario and collaborated with the local dive shop to set-up and trial the first Designated Fitting Site there.  Since 2015, I had bought 1500 Truli Wetsuits and sold only about 200.  Now that I had 4 styles and sizes to hopefully meet everyone's needs, I needed to figure out how to really sell them.  I couldn't imagine this being done completely online and how could a retailer keep inventory for 21 sizes?  I thought about a Designated Fitting Site concept for Truli Wetsuits.  This would be a place where women could go into an already established shop, try Trulis on with a trained employee and if they found one they liked, the shop would order from me and get a commission.  After a successful summer implementing the idea in Tobermory, I made a formal announcement in the fall to invite other shops around Canada and the USA to get involved. There had been some interest, but also hesitation. Shops did not want to purchase an entire set of Trulis just for fitting at their shops. I figured I would focus on selling wetsuits at pop-up events in 2020 and keep relationship building. I had just started attending shows in the US in early 2020 when COVID shut things down. I cancelled all of it and came back to Tobermory thinking no one would need a wetsuit anymore.  No travel, no fun, no luxury spending.  I got a job at the local grocery store so I could make sure I had some income.  There was a lull for about a month, but then wetsuit orders started rolling in online.  People were at home and wanting to go swimming in their local pond or lake and needed a wetsuit.  Or they were contemplating life and deciding they wanted to try surfing or scuba diving for the first time, so they were just going for it.  It was during this time that I started to refine online fittings, shipping, exchanges, and returns.  I recorded measurements that women told me over email and kept a database on the fit. As well, I started sending 2 wetsuits to customers to try on at home via a new fulfillment centre.  There was no foolproof method for determining a perfect fit except to try and compare the sizes.  I created a return policy and had assistance from a fellow entrepreneur in the US who could accept returns and do shipping at their warehouse as returns to Canada were costly with duties tacked on.


Sarah trying a Truli at a Designated Fitting Site before purchasing.

2020.  Sarah came into the Designated Fitting Site to try her Truli before purchasing.

Inventory Order 4


Now that I finally had the sizes and women around the world were discovering Truli online, my revenue doubled. The new plus sizes quickly sold out in 2020.  But I was in a bind!  I finally had the customers, but now I was out of stock of the plus sizes and couldn't afford to buy more inventory with remaining stock to meet the demand. After a lot of research, I discovered crowdfunding and threw together a campaign in fall 2020 where people could pre-order their wetsuits.  That would give me the funds to get the order going.  It was a very positive experience where I got 100 pre-orders worth 25,000USD in 30 days.  Although I didn't generate enough money to make a full top-up of all styles in all sizes (plus two new plus sizes), I was able to get half an order in.

IFundWomen campaign

2020.  I used the IFundWomen crowdfunding platform

For my last inventory order in fall 2020, I ordered 340 more Truli-Ful the Beautiful and Truli-Capri wetsuits (240 in plus sizes and 100 in standard sizing - no long torsos).  The manufacturer set higher minimum order quantities that were applied to the same style, but for standard and for plus size.  It was really challenging figuring out how to match the inventory order with what was pre-ordered by customers in the campaign.  They arrived in September 2021, 9 months later.  With all of the COVID delays in production and shipping, I began pre-selling the stock while I waited.  2021 was the most successful year for sales, but it was evident that despite organic growth, the sales were not enough to further design development and order more inventory.  I began researching how to scale the business, prepare for an investor and developing plans for ways to be less dependent on the manufacturer for design and development. But by that point, I personally hit a wall.  It's like, even though I wanted to keep going, I just couldn't and started to look at ways to cut back.  In 2022 I cancelled outsourcing fulfillment and set-up The Fitting Room in Tobermory in my building.  It was cheaper to store my inventory on-site and do all the shipping myself through arrange in-person fittings for locals.  But this was one more huge task to undertake.  The opportunities for expansion were there, but it became too much to be wearing all the hats in the business - I reached burnout. 

The Fitting Room by Truli Wetsuits

2022.  The Fitting Room by Truli Wetsuits in Tobermory


What if...

  • I could've just ordered what I needed?  Through organic growth and learning, I would've generated an appropriate amount of revenue to cover the costs of inventory and other.  My small business couldn't keep up with the demands of mass production quantities.
  • I had been a better salesperson?  I think about this a lot too.  Although I am good at selling Trulis, I am not a go-getter with sales.  I had a lot of personal challenges in the sales section where I couldn't push myself hard enough.  In 2021 when revenue was up, I was able to hire amazing Truli Sizing Specialist to respond to sizing requests, but the generating of new customers was never focused on.  I just couldn't do it and sales reflected that.
  • I had prepared a complete business plan that had assessed the need for size-inclusivity from the beginning?  And/or that included a sales and marketing plan and budget?  If I actually worked out a budget from the beginning?  I remember trying, but was quite lost.
  • I didn't have to work a full-time job at the same time as trying to run the business during those beginning years?

I have such a clearer view of what could've made things better, but also recognize I 100% did the best I could with what I had!  Do you see a future for Truli?  Is it worth carrying the business forward or starting from scratch?  What do you think?  I hope this story of inventory for Truli Wetsuits was enlightening.

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