She’s blonde, lives on the Gold Coast, has hundreds of thousands of followers and her Instagram is almost entirely made up of bikini shots flaunching her Kardashian-esque physique - she has even got the pint sized dog to top it all off. To a pessimistic eye, Karina Irby appears to be the stereotypical insta-chick; but there has never been a greater example for the old adage, “Never judge a book by its cover”.
The truth is, 27-year-old Karina Irby is a social media cynic’s worst nightmare. Karina rode the social media wave as well as anyone, and by doing so she built one of the largest bikini businesses in Australia, Moana Bikini.
Karina explains that her decision to start Moana bikini was motivated by the fact she could never find any bikinis that fit her. Growing up around the beach in small town Port Macquarie, Karina says she spent more time in the water than she did on land. In living this sort of lifestyle Karina naturally developed a keen interest in bikinis. Unfortunately, there just weren’t many brands in Australia producing the cheekier-cut swimwear with bold unique designs that she or her friends were into.
A holiday to Hawaii exposed Karina to a few brands heading in the direction she was interested in. When she was fired from her retail job at a surf shop following a rumour, this was the final motivation Karina needed to get into the business herself. Karina borrowed $800 from her father and began wholesaling for a Hawaiian company that produced the cheekier cut, eye-catching swimwear she desired.
Karina explains that her early work for this Hawaiian company was a success, however a passion for design meant that she wasn’t quite satisfied.
“The company I was wholesaling for actually wanted me to become their exclusive Australian distributor, but I felt, more and more, that I wanted total control of the design, marketing and sales process.”
Karina had an opportunity then and there to take a fairly safe and lucrative deal. She had borrowed $800 dollars and turned it into a successful business. Karina chose not to do this; instead she separated herself from the wholesaling relationship and began producing her own cuts, designs and prints under the Moana bikini label.
Seven years later, Moana is now worth millions.
To fully explain just how Moana came to be successful, it's important to understand that the launch of Moana coincided with the growth and adoption of Instagram. The rise of social media was like wildfire and its adoption amongst teenagers, more specifically teenage girls – Moana’s target demographic – was exponential.
“My timing couldn’t have been more perfect,” Karina says.
With no money to pay for marketing at the time, Karina grabbed the free online marketing channels available to her with both hands. Using social media, Karina promoted her brand night and day via competitions, likes and sharing.
While this sort of marketing strategy was perhaps nothing too revolutionary, Karina’s ability to go against the common negative ideology surrounding social media, and to realise the positive role it could play, especially its ability to create online, micro –communities was certainly ahead of her time.
“Social Media creates virtual communities with people from all around the world who share the same interests, passions and dreams…which to me is really cool,” Karina explains.
“Moana and Bikini Body Burn have created global communities of like-minded women who support, motivate and love one another. It helps to make people feel like they’re not alone in their daily struggle, or just in life itself, which could never be a bad thing.”
Karina reveals that this marketing strategy has been so successful that the business is now in the position where their consumer-generated marketing almost matches their own internal activities.
“We have a huge, active and really supportive following that push and market the Moana brand for us. It’s really quite amazing.”
When you look at how successful Karina has been in creating and building this virtual community, you realise the bikini mogul is more a marketing genius than anything else: Whilst most were posting selfies in search of gratification, Karina was building an empire.
An incredibly savvy business woman, Karina showed more of her entrepreneurially flare by starting up Bikini Body Burn. Karina explains that BBB was a natural progression for herself and Moana.
“As Moana Bikini grew, customers became curious about how to get the bikini body they were after; they wanted to be the best version of themselves they could be, so they came to me for advice.”
When girls started coming to Karina for guidance, she went to her trainer and owner of Starke fitness on the Gold Coast for advice. In early 2015, Simon and Karina - who has actually completed a Bachelor of Sports Management and Exercise Science at Southern Cross University herself – co-founded Bikini Body Burn.
12 Week Guide is the first product released under Bikini Body Burn and includes nutritional guidance and workouts for girls trying to achieve the perfect bikini body whilst still remaining fit and healthy.
Whilst Karina highlights the positive roles social media can play, in creating supportive online communities and providing people with informed health guidance through things such as BBB, she reveals that her experiences have not all been positive.
As owner of Moana, Karina’s own social profile has grown immensely and she's amassed the sort of following usually reserved for famous musicians or models – not owners of a clothing label. With over 461K followers, she has more than 20k more followers than the Moana label itself. Of course, due to such a vast following and the exposure this brings, combined with the fact Karina possesses certain characteristics highlighted at the beginning of this article, some have been quick to make assumptions.
“Moana, Bikini Body Burn and my personal profile, because they’re female fitness and lifestyle focused, often publish images of beautiful girls working out, or wearing bikinis and so on. Some people on Social Media use this as a reason or an excuse to say very negative or derogatory comments about our models or customers, which is just a horrible thing for a person to do.”
Although Karina appears agitated when speaking about her models who have come under fire from trolls, when she refers to her own negative experience with such things she seems less concerned.
“No matter who you are, what you do, what industry you’re in, or what level of success you’re experiencing… there are always going to be haters and doubters. That’s just life… it might seem worse in 2017, but that’s just because the doubters and the haters have multiple, instant platforms to let you know their opinions.”
Karina’s philosophical response to this negativity is quite revealing in who she is as a person - in fact, speaking to her about her private life it appears the trolls couldn’t be more wrong in tagging her as a socialite: For starters, she doesn’t drink, instead preferring to spend her time away from Moana and Bikini Body Burn relaxing with her partner Ryan and aforementioned pint-sized pooch Billie.
“In all honesty, I’ve never been a hugely social person. I’m an only child and I’ve always been very comfortable in my own company and in entertaining myself. I have a small circle of close friends on the Gold Coast, but we don’t live in each other’s pockets as we’re all very busy.”
“In my private life, I’ve definitely come to the point where I only surround myself with those people that add value and joy to my life. I definitely feel that, as you grow older, you realise which relationships are valuable and which ones are a drain, or are too one-sided, and I’ve definitely removed those relationships from my life in the past few years.”
Karina’s staunch optimism and her unapologetic, zero tolerance for negativity are traits most likely garnered through spending time with her father. In 2013, Karina’s father was involved in an accident at the beach which tragically left him with very little movement below the neck. Karina says her dad has been a major motivator in both her business and personal life.
“The way that he has tackled his predicament, both mentally and physically, has been such a motivation for me to grab life with both hands and make the most of every opportunity that is presented to me.”
“A lot of people might disappear inside themselves after an accident of his magnitude, or use the situation to take a negative or pessimistic take on life, but Dad has an eternally positive outlook on his situation that is so inspiring.”
“I’m definitely not saying that every stage of his new life in his wheelchair has been easy, far from it, but the way in which he has tackled these tough times and situations, I think, is very heroic. I am so proud of him and constantly look up to him and he motivates me in every stage of my business and personal life.”
Karina says that the success of Moana has assisted in providing care for her dad and also helped in seeing him join her on the Gold Coast - where she says he will have access to greater rehab opportunities.
Listening to Karina’s story, it becomes more and more evident that she is somebody who's doing it for the right reasons; and perhaps this is why she has been so successful. This sentiment is reflected upon asking Karina if she had some advice for any budding entrepreneurs.
“Do it for yourself. Don’t do it for profits. Don’t do it for the image. Don’t do it because someone told you to. Don’t do it just because you don’t like working for someone else.
“There are going to be incredibly long hours, soul-destroying hurdles and long periods of time before, or during which, you might not turn a profit. If you aren’t personally and internally motivated, then you won’t make it through these struggles.
“Find a problem that you personally want to solve, or a gap in the market that you have experienced… and go and solve it, for you!”
Whilst Karina does say ‘do it for yourself’, the words do not ring selfishly in any way. Her actions demonstrate that when she says this she is speaking more about personal fulfilment, rather than personal gain.
Seven years since being fired from her job, Karina's only real issue now is keeping up with customer demands. She reveals her goal now is just to build a positive and enjoyable life.
"I just want to live a healthy, happy and fulfilling life and experience as many places and cultures that I can."
In regards to her business life, Karina says she will be making sure nothing stands in the way of her Dad’s rehabilitation goals.