Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Harmony Murphy: Meets Swim Club CEOJamie Gill – creating culture, community and allyship

Harmony Murphy is Retail Head, Advertising UKI at Google and NDA’s monthly columnist.

One popular tradition around many communities in Dublin (and the UK) is sea swimming, in-fact cold water swimming globally is on the rise with hundreds of millions taking to the water for its benefits. I wanted to find out more, deep diving into a particular business in Dublin taking this therapeutic / beneficial embracing of natures cold water by storm!  

Therefore in December ahead of many Dubliners traditional Christmas Day sea swim, I caught up with CEO of Swim Club Ireland – Jamie Gill, Jamie is  an entrepreneur based in Dublin who co-founded Swim Club, a business with his brother Dan in 2021.

Jamie’s strengths in leadership and innovation  have enabled him to run a successful business, consult others running theirs and bring strong allyship to women across Dublin just a few elements of note. Gill’s Swim Club doesn’t just provide a community for those looking to reap the benefits of sea swimming – it’s easy and affordable for everyone to keep warm before and after their swims whilst driving an inclusive body positive feeling. As avid swimmers who regularly braved the cold Dublin water, Jamie noticed a gap in the market that many struggled to find affordable swimming robes that kept them cozy before and after their swims.

With sailing, surfing, and swimming deeply ingrained in their lives, venturing into the sswimming apparel game felt like a great place to start for the Gill brothers. Jamie’s brother, a marine engineer with an operational mindset, and Jamie, a strategist at Google, brought together their diverse skills to form an ideal partnership. Dan assumed the COO role, while Jamie took on the CEO responsibilities.

The brothers’ commitment to innovation and customer satisfaction has propelled them to the forefront of the Irish sea swimming industry. Today, they stand as a company that empowers swimmers across Ireland and the UK to embrace their passion for the water with style and confidence and drive community and body positivity for their customers whilst championing local female influencers across Ireland. Taking away superficial but bringing real, grit and genuinity in all they do. 

I wanted to find out more from Jamie on his entrepreneurial mindset, brave leadership and using local female brand ambassadors as a way of allyship, inspirations and empowerment for the community that is being received so well – reflected in his company’s growth figures. 

Jamie Gill did you have a business before this or was this your first venture?

This was our first venture and to be honest I never thought of myself as having my own business before this which is strange to think about. I always thought of myself as being slightly risk-averse when it comes to investments so using our own money as capital to start this business was a step into the unknown yet extremely exciting for us. 

It wasn’t one big grand plan that we had drawn up for years, this company originated from my parents office during Covid from two brothers with a passion for sea-swimming and was based on three core pillars:

  • Creating a good quality product
  • Make it affordable and accessible
  • Creating a community

With it being our first business, we found ourselves in a constant state of unknown which can be a scary place to be. How do we set up a website? How do we design a product? How do we transport goods halfway across the world? How do we create sustainable packaging?  

We now understand that this phase is always where growth happens and we apply this to all aspects of life – especially within a fitness and work perspective – If we’re not uncomfortable, we’re not growing.

Swimclub has been an absolute rollercoaster ride of unfathomable highs and crazy low’s but I could have never have imagined the amount we have learnt along the way. It has also been an incredibly rewarding journey navigating this experience with my brother and  it certainly helps our ability to make quick decisions and not hold back our thoughts.

Jamie you have built a very successful business, how did you come up with the concept and what was building a business from scratch like?

The lightbulb moment sounds extremely cliche but it was the start of our story. We were swimming all year round and on one cold and rainy afternoon, we knew we needed something to keep us warm after our swim. After some research, we really felt there was a lack of good quality and affordable swimming robe’s to keep us Snug anytime we were going out for a swim.

A quote that has always stuck with me “ The smallest of implementations is always worth more then the greatest of intentions”

So later that month, we took the first step and ordered multiple samples and simply played the waiting game for months until they arrived at our front door. Out of nearly fifty samples, one was the right one. Iteration after iteration, each task led to the next and we kept on putting one front in front of the other. Importing goods and materials, setting up a website, running photoshoots, building supply–chain logistics, building a recognisable brand on social media, organising packaging, and building a community were all tasks with steep learning curves but luckily we were able to work through them together.

And so..we made our first order of just 400 units (which seemed monumental at the time) and we counted down the days until they arrived. .We initially thought we might sell the 400 units within 6 months which would have been a success but we were not expecting what happened next..We soon found out that we were not the only one’s with the sea swimming bug, and as covid began to take over, sea-swimming became a ritual that many people across Ireland began to practice and rely on for a much needed break from the madness of Covid.. 

We launched at 12pm on a Friday and by 2pm we were fully sold out. It took us 1hr and 54 minutes to sell all 400 units. We couldn’t believe it. Our phones were hot with the amount of shopify notifications coming in. By 6pm on our launch day, we had 6000 visitors to our website  and all of our products sold – a resounding success

This led us to our first major problem – Our product was going to be on the Late Late show that night. Through a connection, we were able to get Swimclub on the most watched Irish Chat show on a Friday night. The only problem – we had no stock after selling out in a matter of hours. From 6000 visitors on our website for the day, we suddenly had 47,000 people on our website looking to buy a Swimclub Snug. 

We felt we had gold running through our hands but couldn’t catch it. Our buzz from selling out quickly turned to stress as people were frustrated they couldn’t get the product. Like they say, things can change in a second. 

We managed to capture thousands of customer emails that evening via a ‘notify me when we get more Swimclub Snugs’ on our website and were then able to circle back to these customers once we had stock. His led us to our next sell out months later – selling hundreds and hundreds of units generating €40,000 of sales in a 10 minute period.

We have made countless mistakes since we started but we have learnt quickly when that happens. The saying “fail fast and learn quick” couldn’t have been more relevant in our journey. 

This was just the beginning and we have grown exponentially since, as we have just shipped out our 10,000th order.

I read a great book on Entrepreneurship recently that said  “starting and running a business is like driving a racing car, if the wheels aren’t about to come off, you’re not going fast enough”  My mind always comes back to this whenever I feel things have gotten too much and it brings me back to earth.

What does Swim club mean to you and how is it leading / helping many people across Ireland when it comes to well-being and mental health?

Starting to swim in the cold Irish Sea was not enjoyable but after trying for the first few times, I started to become slightly addicted to it. The nerves before you get in, the rush of adrenaline when you jump and the endorphins streaming through your system when you get out is a magical mixture of feelings that one encounters during a sea swim. This is what I was becoming addicted to….

Going for a swim became a place to relax and leave the days worries behind me. The Irish sea can be so cold that it requires all of your focus when swimming in it. The focus to get in the water, the focus to move around, and the focus breathe allow you to detach completely from anything that might have been occupying your mind. 

And Physically, I never felt better. Submersion in cold water releases a protein in our body that aids our immune system so it was no surprise that I was never really sick during periods where I was consistently swimming. Building up the courage to go for a Swim on a dark, cold Winters evening is not easy, but it’s worth it.

The same can be said for so many people across Ireland. Sea-swimming has become an extraordinary release from the daily pressures that life brings. It’s crazy to think that a swim in the sea can change someone’s mood entirely and oftentimes, can change their life. I haven’t met one person who’s felt worse after a Swim than before which leads me to believe that Sea-Swimming is the most natural mood-lifter in the world. When we went deep into research prior to starting the company we found the below benefits of Cold water therapy

  • Reduced muscle soreness and inflammation
  • Improved circulation
  • Boosted immune system
  • Improved mood
  • Reduced stress levels
  • Improved sleep

We also learnt that the swimming community is more welcoming than you could ever imagine. It’s a community like no other. While my brother and I were going for our daily Swims, we began to meet the same people of all ages every week who we slowly became friends with. We couldn’t comprehend the amount of older people who were swimming in the cold on a daily basis. Not only was this beneficial to their physical/mental health, it was a new community that they were a part of and it was brilliant to see this flourishing regardless of the time of year.

You have many local female brand ambassadors, how are you empowering and creating a safe space for females interested in outdoor activities across the country? 

When looking at brand ambassadors, we wanted to make sure that we aligned with people who shared our love for the water. In a lot of cases, we collaborated with women who didn’t even have a big social media following but were passionate about Swimming and the community. Swimclub slowly became a brand that people connected with and bonded over.

We’ve heard many countless stories of strangers wearing Swimclub gear and then becoming friends who’d meet up for Swims. There is a group of older women down in Dollymount who call themselves the Dollymount Dames who are all Swimclub Customers but more importantly a strong group of friends who Swim with each other all throughout the year.

One of Swimclub’s core values is making it easy and accessible for everyone to go Swimming. We get so much satisfaction from female’s telling us that they had never considered Swimming as they weren’t comfortable in a Swimsuit but have since used our products to get them started and now they love it.

What we have learned from Swimming over the years is that Everyone is welcome in the water – big, small, old and young.Our products are created for all women to be comfortable in and we hope that by showing all types of body sizes across our platforms, it will encourage more women to try it for the first time.

Jamie what are some of the challenges you have faced as an entrepreneur in this space and how have you used to leadership abilities to overcome these challenges?

As an entrepreneur, time is something that you always wish you had more of. You are constantly pulled in different directions and all of them seem to be a high priority. Customer Service, Warehouse management, managing cash flow, procurement, business development, content creation, marketing, accounting and product development are some of areas that always require attention. Trying to balance this, requires ruthless prioritisation and and skillful delegation.

For us, we realised we were spending too much time on admin tasks and things that could essentially be outsourced. Working a full time job in Google and managing Swimclub meant we needed a system where a lot of these aspects could be automated and we put a lot of time and effort into making this happen – Dan and I have a great team around us who manage different aspects of the business and report back into us.

I had a coffee with the Co-Founder of a successful Irish clothing brand and he gave some brilliant advice in terms of time management – He said that as a co-founder 90% of your time should be spent in revenue generating activities i.e if you are spending a lot time in tasks that aren’t adding to your bottom line, scrap it.This advice has allowed us to automate a lot of our business meaning the time we spend working on Swimclub is more valuable than ever.

What is next in store for you, what is the evolution of Swim Club for 2024?

We ran our first pop-up shop on Grafton Street last Christmas which went extremely well so naturally we would love to get a permanent retail location. We are always on the lookout for prime locations across Dublin so I’d say watch this space as we move in 2024…

We also get a lot of requests for wholesaling which we are yet to activate around but it’s an avenue we want to explore if we find the right partner. Both Dan and I would be extremely particular about companies who are looking to stock the brand and whether or not they are a right fit for us. As of now, we are yet to come across the right one.

The other consideration here is on our profit margin with wholesaling. We created Swimclub to make Swimming products more affordable for the general public which means our margins are already tight enough – With some of the businesses we chatted to so far, the price wasn’t working out for us so we’ve decided against it but would not rule it out for the future.

Lastly, growing globally is a vision that we have stuck in our head.  We’ve done a bit of research and looked at America and Australia where surfing and swimming communities thrive. We feel Swimclub could grow extremely quick over both of these countries. This comes with enormous considerations: i.e having a warehouse that stores our product in both Australia and USA to avoid customs/delays and make it a seamless customer experience. Our current delivery time is between 24-48 hours which is incredible and it’s a major USP for us.

One customer told us she had ordered from 12 brands on Black Friday including Swimclub and we were the first product to show up on Monday morning. This is the type of service we would want if we went global