Catching Up With…Carl Cunow and Nathan Romano, Onia

by Elise Diamantini
Nathan Romano and Carl Cunow
Nathan Romano and Carl Cunow

High school friends Carl Cunow and Nathan Romano founded Onia, the high-end men’s swimwear brand, in 2009. Onia has since grown to include ready-to-wear, which is now 40 percent of their business. “It’s about getting the right product in the right stores and now about 90 percent of our retail partners carry both swim and RTW,” explains Cunow. Those retailers include names such as Saks, Lane Crawford and Barneys. Onia swim retails from $130 to $225, T-shirts for $65 and ready-to-wear ranges from $65 to $195.

Now, Onia is only one brand under the company’s (beach) umbrella which also includes Trunks, an opening price collection and private label. “Trunks allows us to open up our distribution without saturating the brand,” explains Cunow. “For example, the Ritz buys Onia for the top five doors, but will buy Trunks for the other 25 doors. Our volume in Trunks is about 20 percent more than Onia. Men’s swim retails for $50 and we sell to stores like Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom, Lord & Taylor, Dillard’s and Urban Outfitters. The third part of our business is private label which is a significant portion. Retailers trust us to deliver the trends. We work ahead of the market and since we have a relationship with them, they’re more inclined to let us develop their brands. We do EDI in house which is huge for retail.”

“But Swim is not a seasonal business,” stresses Cunow. “We’re shipping every month but it’s to different areas. And travel is such an important part of the luxury market. Resort and Pre-spring is a big chunk of our business. The swim market doesn’t follow the traditional retail model; everything should be full-price until Labor Day because it’s going to sell all season.” Adds Romano, “Buyers and DMMs know how important swimwear is now. It used to be an add-on but now they need more SKUs. Retailers used to buy swim within collections but now it’s within classification.”


Cunow and Romano also note how they’re working with retailers on creating shop-in-shops. Cunow elaborates, “Retailers are asking for more space and items and it’s living year-round. We’re doing a pop-up shop in select Theory locations and Steven Alan in the Hamptons. It’s a full lifestyle shop (150 to 200 sq. ft.) selling limited distribution product (product exclusive to those areas).” And training seminars are an important part of the business, too. They believe that sales staff needs to know the product to sell it, so they work with key partners on educating sales associates on the brand’s fit, trim, length, fabrics, etc. “And we’ll incentivize sales staff. We’ll give them a little quiz after the seminar and based on the responses we’ll give them gear. We see better results if the sales associates know the product. Product knowledge is a very important element to the brand. The fabric description like where it comes from, how quick it dries, etc.”


When asked what’s next, they’re excited about the brand’s newly relaunched website, which will include a mobile shopping experience and editorial content. “Shoppers are on phones and tablets and we need the mobile response. We’re also creating content that ties back to the product on the site. We’ll have a shoppable look book, video, etc.,” says Romano. “And we just launched a women’s collection, selling to Intermix and Theory. It’s fun, but we’re finding that women’s is a whole different experience than men’s!”