“It’s important to love the skin you’re in,” swimsuit designer Altrichia Cook (center) tells Yahoo Parenting. “But realistically, no woman wants to share her stretch marks or C-section scars.” (Photo: Cendino Teme’ Photography).
Altrichia Cook calls the stretch marks from her pregnancy with son Anthony, 9, “abdominal imperfections.” But the scars have changed her life in a pretty perfect way: They inspired the 28-year-old to create a swimsuit line of high-waist silhouettes for mothers, called Allusions by A.Lekay. And in less than two years, her designs have become so popular that they’ve graced the runways of New York and Miami fashion weeks, and became Nicki Minaj’s go-to for the July cover of Cosmopolitan.
“I was just looking for a high-waist suit for a vacation with friends to Puerto Rico,” Cook tells Yahoo Parenting. “I couldn’t find one, so I took matters into my own hands and designed one.”
The former single teen mom — who had Anthony at 18, and has since reunited with his father, after whom the boy is named — wanted a bathing suit that would cover up the stretch marks on her abdomen. She’d been so self-conscious about them that she’d refused to wear two-piece suits throughout college. So with a design in mind, she had her local tailor whip up a bikini bottom to match a top that she owned, then jetted off on vacation in March, 2013.
Cook and her Anthonys, last year (Photo: Courtesy of Altrichia Cook).
“In that suit I felt very sexy, because I hadn’t worn a two-piece in a very long time,” recalls the fashion-loving mother, from Lakeland, Florida. “It was empowering.” As soon as she posted photos from her trip on Facebook, women responded. “I saw in the comments that a lot of women were like, ‘Where did you get that suit?’” she says. “The remarks were so positive that I realized, ‘Hey, this could be a business.’”
(Photo: Frankie Benjamin Photography).
Cook decided to seize the day and, while also working as a probation officer, which she still does, the mom launched her company — two weeks post-trip. “I didn’t have a formal business plan so I relied on social media to market my products,” she says. “Still, the first year I shipped suits to Abu Dhabi, Spain, and the U.K. The response I got inspired and empowered me even more.”
Cook presenting her fashions at an AARP convention recently. (Photo: Frankie Benjamin Photography).
It’s much like the feeling she aims to give the women who wear her suits. “It’s important to love the skin you’re in, but realistically, no woman wants to share her stretch marks or C-section scars,” says Cook. “They want to be sexy without revealing those imperfections.”
Through her work, the entrepreneur is giving her son inspiration, too. “He sees his mom working and gets so excited,” she says. “He thinks I’m a celebrity.” But the message she wants him to take away from her company’s growth isn’t about fame, fortune, or a fit-looking physique. “I tell him all the time about never giving up,” reveals Cook. “Although the statistics counted me out at an early age, I decided that success was my only option. I remind him that it doesn’t matter what comes at you in life. There are infinite possibilities for people who are determined.”
It’s a fitting thought for Cook. The designer says her ultimate goal in designing the line — available now in kid sizes, too, for mommy-and-me sets — is for mothers to be empowered to live fearlessly. Just like she does.