The barely there Brazilian bikini once might have scared away South Floridians. Not anymore.
Local Brazilian bikini seamstress Eliane Benatti Rochebois is proof of that.
From her home studio in North Miami Beach, packed with sewing thread and lycra of all colors, Rochebois produces the trendy swimwear for about 20 stores and vendors in South Florida.
She has two seamstresses who help her out from their own studios, but Rochebois, 50, said she does most of the production herself. And she wants to keep it that way. No massive factory. Maybe a store one day.
"Because then it would lose its charm," she said. "I tell people, 'I'm not a printer, I am a seamstress. I manufacture bikinis. I don't print.' "
The Brazilian bikini's popularity makes it a big part of Miami Swim Week, the high-fashion event currently in town to unveil the big trends for summer 2015. A traditional Brazilian bikini bottom is about half the size of bottoms typically made in the United States.
"It's the style. It boosts the body ... It's more sensual, and that attracts people," said Rochebois, who also makes a model known as the hang-glider, because of its shape, and the even-smaller thong. "Brazil showed itself to the world, and people began to wear Brazil. The world found out that Brazilian fashion is cool."
Tamarac resident Debora Perreras, who has lived in Florida since 1996, always bought her swimsuits during family visits to Brazil. That is, until Rochebois began manufacturing them in 2009, and Perreras began buying her bikinis.
"Her bikini is good because it doesn't make indents on the body," Perreras said.
Rochebois' bikinis are available at Sol De Mar, 215 Seventh St. in Miami Beach, and online at TiffsBoutique.net. Andrea Rivas, of Fort Lauderdale, sells the bikinis for $35-$65 through her distribution business, Blue Ocean Seven, taking requests by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rochebois said it took about two years for her to really get into the market. Her goal was to win clients over with the quality of her products, which also include one-piece suits and men's speedos. She brings accessories such as rings and beads from Brazil but gets the lycra from Italy and Spain because their material is better able to withstand multiple washes, she said.
And all her swimsuits have a small Brazilian flag tag. "If it doesn't have a flag, they complain," she said. "They demand it."
Rochebois learned how to sew as a teenager. She grew up in Visconde do Rio Branco, a small city in the southeast of Brazil, where her mother had a clothing factory. Rochebois eventually joined her mother's business and, at age 16, started to run her own clothing factory.
She moved to Florida in 1997 to work for a computer company, which closed just five days after she arrived, she said. But Rochebois decided to stay.
"I was like, 'Well, you're already here. God brought you here for some reason,'" she said.
She jumped from job to job, working as a waitress, then at another computer company, a cellphone company, and in real estate until the U.S. economic crisis started hurting her sales around 2008, she said.
The idea to make bikinis came from her daughter, she said, and Rochebois jumped on it.
"I'm not afraid of anything in life," she said. "So I think this helps me move forward. Because fear holds you back, right?"
Her secret? Doing it with love, she said. Rochebois enjoys touching the fabric, sitting at the sewing machine and transforming a square into a bikini.
"I really enjoy making bikinis," Rochebois said. "And I am positive 24 hours a day. Nothing is ever bad for me."