Beacon Spotlight: Adriana Soto ‘12 Dives into Swimwear Design
Adriana Soto '12, who graduated from UMass Boston with her bachelor's in psychology, launched Aragma Swim in November 2018.
Image by: Manuel Rivera
There’s no reason why you should have to choose between doing two things you love.
Adriana Soto ’12 is currently completing a full-year internship at the Ryan White Immunology Clinic in Puerto Rico. In her role as a clinical health psychologist, she works with patients in treating all psychological or emotional aspects that could possibly interfere with HIV treatment. She’s also finishing her doctor of psychology program and is due to graduate this year.
This might seem like a pretty standard academic path for someone who ultimately wants to work in health psychology, but Soto’s path has taken a few unexpected — and exciting — detours. In between graduating from UMass Boston with her degree in psychology and moving home to Puerto Rico to further her education, Soto enrolled at Parsons School of Design in New York City to study fashion.
Oh, and she also launched an entire swimwear line, Aragma Swim, in 2018.
In between balancing her studies and work, Soto made time to speak with her alma mater about how a psychology student can juggle two completely different interests and what she plans to do next.
You earned your bachelor’s in psychology from UMass Boston, and then you did a 180° and moved to New York to study fashion design at Parsons School of Design. What made you decide to pursue fashion?
I was always interested in it, but I guess I never saw it as a possibility of a career because it’s not a traditional profession. I finished at UMass and was not expecting to graduate when I did. I studied for the LSATs, and I took the test and did really well, and I was thinking, Well, law makes sense because I have a bachelor’s in psychology. But because I had this creative side my entire life and took a lot of courses in fashion, design, and sewing, my dad was like, “Why don’t you try it out?” It was kind of a 180°, but it was also always there in my life.
So fashion was more of a hobby of yours up until you enrolled at Parsons?
Right. I would sketch and make everyone’s Halloween costumes. I would have drawings and collections, and it was for myself. If I had 20 or 30 minutes per day, I would sit down and draw. It was something I did to take my mind off of things. A year before I went to UMass Boston, I went to a summer program at Parsons, and that’s when I created my official fashion portfolio. I applied for the fast track, which was like the most horrible idea ever! We were taking nine classes per semester, and that was about 36 hours [per week]. The workload was crazy. Unlike psychology, it’s more physical work. So, you’re sewing and spending the entire day making patterns, and it was too much. It was crazy and ridiculous.
That’s crazy! But it sounds like you got some great experiences out of Parsons. For example, you got to study in Italy.
Yes! That was amazing. It was a month-long summer program that I was selected for. We’d travel to factories where they made Louis Vuitton silk products or Valentino. The exposure was amazing. It was more management than high-volume production and all of the processing and supply chain. It was helpful because I don’t have that background. Being able to see the more business aspect of the fashion world was very interesting. It was like watching a documentary.
Sounds like it! And then you were invited to present your first collection in Puerto Rico. How did that opportunity come about?
Puerto Rico is a very small island. It’s hard not to know anyone. When you study at Parsons — especially because a lot of people who work in fashion in Puerto Rico don’t have legit study of fashion — word spreads quickly. Offers started coming in, and once I actually moved back to Puerto Rico, I was asked to be a part of this runway show. It was another crazy idea that I accepted without knowing what I was getting into.
You originally designed a lot of evening couture and bridal gowns. Why did you decide to ultimately transition to designing swimwear?
For custom work, you have to make a pattern. It’s a long process because you have to fit the person and create the pattern, fit again, and modify it. It’s very individualized. It takes a lot of time, and time was something I didn’t have. I graduated from Parsons in January 2014 and started in my doctoral program that August. That’s where I started exploring swimwear. Swimwear is small, medium, or large. You can still make an accessible luxury product without it being custom. That was when the idea started in my mind. So two years in, I stopped doing gowns and just brainstormed what I could be doing next: swimwear. You know, we live on an island. It’s summer all year long. They sell the entire year. It’s a great market.
You started your swimwear line, Aragma Swim, in November 2018. Where does the name Aragma come from?
It’s a Greek slang word that means “chilling” and that kind of vibe. It’s more like a verb. It’s like the action of being with friends and taking time to relax. In Greece, they use this word as a relaxing vibe at the beach. It’s hard to come up with a name for a product, because everything exists! There was a lot of research involved. Aragma Swim was catchy, and it actually has my initials, so it stuck.
I saw that Aragma Swim has a sustainable practice policy. Why is this mission so important to you and your swimwear line?
I’m very conscious about the climate change, especially with what’s happening right now. If I wanted to be part of this materialistic industry, I wanted to do something different. Since I began the process, I identified suppliers that would have a green vision and would offer products or materials that were made from recycled products or post-consumer waste, and I was able to find a lot of them. It’s actually more expensive, but for me, it’s important to offer a product that’s a little bit more ethical than other options that are available. We’ve made it our mission to reduce our waste entirely. We try to reuse everything we have. We try to not buy materials – even thread. We’re consciously making every decision based on trying to reduce and reuse, and we recycle most of what we can. In about a year and a half, we’ve produced only eight gallons of waste. We operate in a facility that uses water from the rain and solar energy. I wouldn’t say we’re completely sustainable, but we’re doing our best.
Since launching your line in November 2018, what’s the response been like?
I haven’t invested a lot in marketing, so products have moved because of its quality, I would say. Because the product is very high quality, and for a luxury product, you wouldn’t expect that price point, a lot of people have been very impressed with the quality with the construction and softness of the fabric. It moves very well. The feedback that I’ve gotten is that it’s very comfortable — it doesn’t feel too small or tight.
Have you found that your background in psychology has helped you with your swimwear line? Has it led you to analyze the way that people think when they’re buying your product?
Completely! It has made me so aware of people’s feedback that I’m able to rapidly change anything if I understand that it’s not working. I’m more sensitive to what people are saying. One of my first problems was with sizing. Standard sizes are very American, and the bodies of Latin girls are completely different. Basing my initial sizes on American sizes was my first problem. Hearing people saying “This is a little tighter or a little bigger than I would like” was something that I took into account. This was something I was able to modify a month after I launched. When I speak to other designers, they wait until their second collection to change anything, and I’ve been changing month by month. It’s been less than a year, and we’re already doing many things completely differently than how we started.
And you’re doing all of this while pursuing your doctorate in psychology?
I’m finishing, actually! This is my last year.
Congratulations! So what’s next for you?
My expertise is more in health psychology, so I think my next step after graduation is getting licensed. And then after that, I’ve been offered the opportunity to work in an OB-GYN office. It’s more of a wellness center for pregnant women — maternity and post-partum — so that might be the next step. I plan to continue working in health psychology, because I love it, or at a private practice. And I will definitely continue my swimwear line because I love it. I’ll be dividing my time between those two.
Do you have any advice that you’d like to pass along to our readers?
This is something a lot of people ask me: Some people feel like they have to choose between two passions, and if I’m being honest, there’s no reason why you should have to choose between doing two things you love. It takes a lot of work, but if it’s your passion, it’s your passion, and you should never choose one thing over the other. I’ve been successful in doing this, and it can be done.