For some, the word ‘rashie’ might conjure memories of having skintight fluorescent Lycra forcibly tugged down over your head by protective parents. (For those not acquainted with the Aussie colloquialism for a rash vest, thoughts might turn to something even more uncomfortable – and itchy.) Whatever your associations with the stretchy ol’ rash vest are, ‘stylish’ is unlikely to be among them.
“The lack of attractive sun-safe [swimwear] options was absolutely my motivation for creating SunSoaked,” says Kate Davis Steer, the Brisbanite whose UPF 50+ Italian Lycra designs have attracted many a first-time rashie wearer. “My aim is to make sun protection so much more appealing and accessible.” It’s a vital mission, Kate says, as Aussies and New Zealanders suffer the highest rate of melanoma in the world, and other dangerous skin cancers are also common.
“I have a lot of customers who have or have had skin cancer,” she says. “Their courage and determination in the face of such an insidious disease is quite awe- inspiring… For these women, covering up isn’t a choice, it is a necessity, so to have something they can cover up in and feel attractive and feminine at the same time is a big deal.”
The SunSoaked journey started with a foiled shopping trip, when then-personal stylist Kate, wanting to set a good example for her teen daughter, went searching for a stylish swimwear solution and found none. “I put together a mini collection of three rashies to gauge market interest. The response was overwhelmingly positive and the brand has grown from there,” says Kate.
While promoting her goods on a tight budget was tricky (hello, pop-up stores), manufacturing still poses an ongoing challenge, “and is something you have to constantly manage and keep on top of to maintain delivery dates and ensure quality,” which is where Kate’s hands-on perfectionism comes into play.Having aligned the brand with the Melanoma Institute Australia, Kate is fiercely campaigning for the cause. “I love that through SunSoaked I can be part of the push toward raising awareness and the shift away from sun protection being seen as unfashionable and ‘daggy’,” she beams.
“One of the recent pieces of feedback that really touched me was hearing from a lady who was about to go in for another round of surgery to replace steel rods in her back. She wrote saying the scar would leave runs down the entire length of her back and she thought our ‘Janie’ one-piece would be the perfect swimsuit to cover it up and protect herself in.”
In advising budding start-ups on the swimwear scene, Kate says, “You need to have a strong sense of who you are and who your customer is… Getting a new brand off the ground is not for the faint hearted! It certainly has not been an easy road but definitely a fulfilling one. Courage, belief, persistence, drive, and a ‘never give up’ attitude are the key ingredients. And passion – be passionate about what you do.” She certainly has us covered.