Throwback Thursday: Camas designer inspired by yesteryear’s fashions

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Heather Stepanik shows two of the swimsuit styles sold by her Camas-based company, Red Dolly Swimwear, in front of the Camas Municipal Pool in Crown Park. Stepanik's company also sells retro-inspired dresses.

A local fashion designer is making an international splash with her vintage-inspired swimsuits and dresses.

Heather Stepanik, owner of the Camas-based Red Dolly Swimwear, made her first swimsuit — a retro, red and white polka dot one-piece — in 2008. Back them, Stepanik says, there weren’t many options for people who wanted to buy retro-inspired swimsuits.

Then, Stepanik learned about Etsy, an online marketplace of handmade items.

“I loved how the suit came out, so I opened an Etsy shop and listed the suit as made-to-order,” she says. “I immediately was receiving lots of orders, so I started adding new colors, prints and styles.”

Red Dolly Swimwear continued to grow, expanding from Stepanik’s home into a commercial space. The Camas designer went from cutting and sewing everything herself, to receiving help from family members and eventually hiring help.

Now, the swimwear and dresses are manufactured in a factory in Asia — and the company has sales throughout the United States, Europe, Australia, Asia and South America.

As her customer base has grown, so has Stepanik’s inventory.

“I have expanded the line from just women’s sizes to girls, and now babies as well,” she explains.

Family inspired Stepanik’s creativity

After graduating from the Los Angeles-based Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in 2004, Stepanik — a mother of one son at the time — decided she did not want to spend an hour in traffic to commute to work in L.A.

While working as a seamstress at a bridal boutique in Riverside, California, she started her first business — buying and selling vintage clothing on eBay. Stepanik also designed bags, purses and custom bridal gowns on the side for independent clients.

She credits her great-grandmother’s cake-decorating talents and grandmother’s sewing skills for inspiring her love of creating and designing things.

Stepanik says she has always loved the vintage styles of dresses and swimwear from the 1940s through the 1960s.

“I think the shapes and styles from that era are the most flattering,” she says. “I love the details and quality of the clothing from back then.”

Stepanik was inspired to add baby swimsuits to her clothing line after giving birth to a daughter three years ago. Today, some of Stepanik’s swimsuits are available in matching styles for women, girls and babies.

Red Dolly Swimwear suits and dresses are sold online at and on Etsy at Locals also can find Red Dolly Swimwear designs at Antiqued & Co., in the Vancouver Mall, 8700 N.E. Vancouver Mall Drive, Ste. 249, Vancouver.

Camas-Washougal residents interested in talking to the designer in-person about her suits and dresses, can find Stepanik at this year’s Tiki Kon — a weekend celebration of tropical destinations, Tiki bars, and tropical-inspired art, fashion and music — in Portland. Stepanik will be a vendor at Tiki Kon from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday July 1. The event will be located in the Red Lion Hotel on the River, Jantzen Beach, 909 N. Hayden Island Drive, Portland.