Francesca Aiello of Frankie's Bikinis is quickly climbing the fashion ranks, and has Instagram to thank for it all

By Brittany Talarico
July 20, 2015 01:15 PM

Most 17-year-olds spend their time partying and dreaming about college rather than designing swimsuits for supermodels and celebrities, but that wasn’t the case for Francesca Aiello.

Dylan Rives/Getty Images for W South Beach

Three years ago, when Aiello was a junior in high school, she became frustrated when she was unable to find the right bikini for her surfer lifestyle.

“Having a suit that you can surf in that’s also sexy and detailed and unique is really important and I felt like that was missing in the market,”she told PEOPLE last week while gearing up for her Miami Swim Week fashion show.

Aiello decided to go on Etsy and begged artists to create specific designs for her. But, when her friends kept stealing those creations, “my mom told me, ‘You just need to make your own,'” she explains during her casting call at the trendy W South Beach, where she’ll be showing at SWIMMIAMI.

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Thus, Frankie’s Bikinis was born, and her timing couldn’t have been better. “We are lucky because we started right when Instagram was building,” the now 20-year-old explains of her line’s beginnings.

After posting pictures of herself in her own designs on Instagram, her fan-club of friends would leave positive comments, then their friends would leave comments, and so on and so on. Her Instagram account quickly grew to the almost 500,000 followers she has today. “Every girl loves a bikini and guys love girls in bikinis,” Aiello explains of her social media evolution.

Then came the call that changed everything, a request from Victoria’s Secret supermodel Candice Swanepoel for a Frankie’s Bikini. “My mom asked me, ‘do you know who this girl is?’, and I was like ‘yes of course’ — I was freaking out,” Aiello says.

From there, it was Kylie Jenner (Aiello and Kylie have many friends in common), who posted her own Instagram pictures while wearing a Frankie’s Bikini at Coachella. Although Jenner didn’t mention the brand, her 30-million followers quickly made the connection. “We got so many orders on that suit; and it wasn’t the same style top and bottom so we knew it was from Kylie’s picture, Aiello says, concluding, “The power of social media is so wild.”

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Next up for the swimsuit prodigy is clothing — including cover-ups, dresses and rompers. And the celebrity endorsements keep rolling in. Rihanna is the latest to request a “Frankie.” The superstar reportedly loves the line.

As to whom Aiello would personally love to see in her designs? “I love Vanessa Hudgens’s style, she is super beachy and always has that hippie look,” she says. Chalk up another win for beachy hippies.

What do you think of Aiello’s story? Do you have the urge to go bikini shopping? Sound off below.

–Becky Randel