By Briana Palma
A year ago, the second-season cheerleader, who designs custom bikinis, set the goal of getting five of her swimsuits in the calendar. Thanks, though, to hard work, determination and even a little intuition, she exceeded her own expectations, with 14 of her suits making the cut for 2015.
“It feels like a dream,” she says. “I’ve been a New England Patriots Cheerleader fan since I was a little girl. I would go to the games and be mesmerized by the cheerleaders. Now I open up the calendar and see my bikinis in there, and it’s even better with my friends wearing them.”
Leigha Marie started designing swimwear in 2010, making custom suits for women in fitness competitions. As the business took off, friends started asking for handmade bikinis to wear to the beach and soon after, Leigha Marie’s brand Tush Bikinis was born.
So last year, when the cheerleaders got together to select their swimwear for the calendar shoot, she brought some of her designs along. In the end, three were chosen. But when it came to the 2015 edition, Leigha Marie left nothing up to chance. She started researching ideas and sketching designs a year before the photo shoot, and continually checked in with her fellow cheerleaders for feedback.
“It’s fun, because when I make something they’re so supportive,” she explains. “They’re like my sisters –they’re so proud of me.”
In her 27 “sisters,” Leigha Marie found inspiration for some of the swimsuits that appear in the new calendar. For example, when she decided to make a pink bikini, she immediately thought of Karen.
“I knew it was going to be Karen’s suit,” she says. “She’s a rookie, so I really didn’t even know her then, but I’ll just have a vision and think it’ll be perfect for someone.”
She adds, laughing, “I can tell what color would look good on you just by talking to you.”
Not only has Leigha Marie’s role as a cheerleader provided a platform for her designs, but it also led her to pursue her dream of being a designer full time.
When the squad traveled to China last year, they participated in an event with female cancer survivors who encouraged them to spend every day doing what they love. That message stayed with Leigha Marie long after the trip ended.
“I literally got home from China and quit my job [working in retail],” she recalls. “I didn’t know what I was going to do or how I was going to pay my bills, but I just needed to do it.”
These days, she continues to build Tush Bikinis, with her designs showing up in many new places, ranging from the Celtics Dancers Swimsuit Calendar to fitness competitions around the world. She’s even busy working on special Halloween costumes for some of the cheerleaders, so be sure to keep one eye on the sidelines when the Patriots play the Bears on October 26.
See a gallery of Leigha Marie’s work here.