One Hot Business

When you grow up in a house that serves as the model for the red cottage in the Little Red Riding Hood Golden Book, it seems a reasonable expectation that you’re destined for a happy ending. But, of course, as with most fairy tales, fate will surely throw in a few twists and turns.

There are plenty of stories about successful businesswomen, but few are as full of impulse, emotional turmoil and love as the story of swimwear moguls Michele Ross and her sister, Lisa Cabrinha, who started a small company called Letarte Swimwear (their maiden name). This year, instead of producing a couple of hundred suits to sell out of a little store on the beach in Maui, Letarte Swimwear will manufacture more than 40,000 articles of beachwear — from bikinis to miniskirts — and hits on its website, Letarteswimwear.com, have quadrupled every year since its inception in 2000.

But the proof that Letarte has truly arrived is one look at this year’s Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. That snappy little red bikini on the cover (did you notice the suit, guys?) is a Letarte. The sisters are no strangers to great publicity. Their lines have been featured in virtually every woman’s shopping magazine around — Lucky, Elle, Vogue and Glamour, to name just a few. “But being on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue,” says Michele, “is like winning an Oscar.”

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