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Overdraft: What Happened When KaiKini’s Debt Quadrupled

Illustration of Taryn Rodighiero
In this series, I speak with people who know what desperate feels like. While now blooming into success, these founders share with me their deeply personal financial struggles and lessons learned on their way back to black.

Taryn Rodighiero was serving in a restaurant when she decided she needed a change. She spent all of her savings on industrial sewing machines and taught herself to make swimsuits—something she’d never done before. For a year, Taryn continued serving while building her brand, KaiKini, slowly on the side. Then she quit her job.

Taryn and her husband lived off his income, and it was a tough time, she says. “We just scraped by.” But soon, KaiKini took off, and Taryn grew the company rapidly, hiring six employees and shipping her Hawaii-made swimwear worldwide. Then, Taryn had her first child. The stress of balancing home and work life prompted her to bring on a partner—a mistake that plunged the company into unimaginable debt. During the darkest days of the business, she says, she almost quit.

In Taryn’s words:

About four years into KaiKini, I had my first baby. I had postpartum depression, and it was hard during that time. I had to rely on my employees a lot more. They did so good, but then at the same time, we started to plateau. I was overwhelmed by learning how to be a new parent. I was at a low point—I was even thinking about giving up the business.

I found a business partner who had corporate experience, but then nothing in the grassroots, started-in-the-extra-bedroom kind of thing. I think I was just so ready to be like, “Here, you do it,” that I didn’t provide the amount of training that I probably should have.

My debt quadrupled. When I found out, my stomach dropped.

We ended up running the business into more debt in that one year she was with me than I had accumulated in the five years I had been in business. My debt quadrupled. When I found out, my stomach dropped. It really hit me what kind of trouble we were in. I was like, “Are we gonna have to leverage my house?” And, when we tried to get a second mortgage to remodel the kitchen, we were denied because of KaiKini.

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I think my biggest mistake was not paying attention to my financials whatsoever. I take a lot of responsibility for what happened. For a while, I would have liked to put all the blame on her, but really, it was both of us. It was me not paying attention, mostly. I totally put blinders on and handed all that over to her. With whatever mental state I was in and the postpartum, I definitely didn’t want to deal with any of it.

We’re chipping away at the debt—I have over a third of it paid off already.

We had to make some major downsizing decisions. My business partner and I decided to part ways, then I went from about seven employees to me and two others. Between the three of us, we’ve kept it going for the last few years. We’re chipping away at the debt—I have over a third of it paid off already. It does weigh on me, for sure. It’s my burden. It’s like my penance.

Through this, I learned a lot. I realized that I did want to fight for the business. I wasn’t going to give up. In the end, it made me a better business person. Now I’m obsessed with my finances, and I will never ignore them ever again. Apparently I need to learn things the really, really hard way.

Today, KaiKini is back on track with a leaner team, a focus on what they do best—made-to-order swimwear—and Taryn confidently managing her roles as both a mom and a boss.

Have a story about financial struggle you want to share ? Tell us more.

Illustration by Germán González