Last Saturday I caught up with Elsie Pinniger, creator of neon wetsuits. You might recall, though it seems like a distant dream now, that last weekend was actually sunny. So when I chatted to Elsie she had been chilling out on the beach and was even brave enough to take a quick dip in the sea without a wetty… but that could well have been the Prosecco. Or cocktails. Or both. My kinda girl. So after yabbering away for half an hour we got down to business and I got the down-low on neon…
Let’s start from the beginning. When did neon wetsuits start?
It was about 2007 that I first started making wetsuits. I wanted something in particular for myself; I just wanted a long arm black hot-pant suit and you couldn’t find them anywhere. So I designed one and Paul, who taught me how to make wetsuits, made it. And then I made a couple others and people kept saying ‘Oh that’s nice..’ but it was nothing for a long time, I made a few and my friends had them and it definitely wasn’t a business it was just a bit of fun.
Then I had a bit of a rough patch, just relationship-wise.. It’s mad how things like that affect you so much: I was just in a really bad relationship, and I just didn’t do anything with the suits for ages. It’s mad when you look back and think, I’m quite a strong person, emotionally strong, and I thought I could cope with his dramas. So for a couple years it is quite stagnant, I’d do a little bit here and there but not much. When I out of that relationship last Summer and I felt really free. I started making what I wanted again. So I made the swimsuit myself and it just went ballistic after I put a picture up on Facebook!
So the website is the next step and it launches this Monday [launched Monday 6th May] How is it going?
It’s exciting but scary. I keep thinking what if no-one orders anything?! Ha!
I’ve tried to make it just easy. Easy for me and easy for the customer. At the end of the day, although it is something that I love doing, it has to work as a business otherwise there’s no point in doing it.
I think you are going to have a pretty busy Summer…
It’d be great to have a busy summer. I’d like to employ someone so I am hoping the orders come in so I can justify employing someone. That’s my aim this Summer; to get someone on payroll.
Because you do it all by hand don’t you?
Yeah, yeah. It’s getting a bit hard doing everything, especially if I start getting busy with it. I don’t want to work 6 days a week, every hour I can, that’s not why I do this. There’s an acceptance if you’re busy you must be doing really well, but I don’t like to be really busy all the time, I want the time to do the things I want to do; see my friends and just hang out. It’s not all about work. To be too busy to see your friends isn’t the balance.
I am keen as mustard to get someone on board. I can get by on next to nothing but there is a gap for making a working business, and it’s a cool job. Rather than our usual seasonal work in Cornwall: I mean I still waitress, I’ll be stoked when I can give that up.
I always find myself going for straight black in wetties because all I can ever find in garish pink and blue in mainstream wetsuits: Your colour palette is real funky, how do you choose it?
It’s funny because when I started neon it was a completely black range and I loved it. I loved that sleek black. With no pick bits of blue bits under the arms and I love that still. The nice thing about the suits on the website is you can make all the panels black and it looks really classic, and some people just want that. But the colour palette is just me going ‘Ooh, I like that colour’. There isn’t a massive choice of colour with the neoprene, but they are always trying to do different tones, but it is hard to choose because you have to but 10 rolls of it at a time. It did take me a while to choose the colours.
How have you set out the website to integrate the personal touch and choice of colour?
The designs are all the same and you can change all the colours, you can customise all your colours. So it’s really fun to use, you can change the colours on all the panels until you find the combination that you like. And their all made to order. It was the best way I could think of doing it. So you don’t give entire freedom, but you give the customer a lot of freedom.
Sometimes too much freedom doesn’t work. Sometimes it doesn’t work because you have to keep your standard. You could still make it pretty bad if you tried. But they [the colours] all pretty much compliment each other.
The first time I ever saw one of your suits was about 3 years ago, modelled by Rob Royal and Friend O’ Mine. I know Rob believes in a mixture of function and art in his surfboards, do you think your suits have a similar ideal?
The function of them I have made as simple as I can, because I don’t believe in all the hype around.. key pockets and stuff like that.. it’s just a another zip. So I’ve tried to limit fastening, all the swimsuits and guys short johns are fasten free, entry through the top. All that side of it is real simple. And with design I use my panels. I love neoprene and the way that it works, it goes together so smoothly, it’s a really nice material to work with. You get a really flawless finish because it glues flush. The art form is just the colour and the shape, it’s just what I’ve always done. With the girls stuff I’ve tried to do things that are really flattering, like the high-waist. I did it because I want it!
The swimsuits, if you are somewhere hot, they’re good at keeping you all in. Stops getting bruises on your hip bone from longboards. I didn’t get out of mine in Aus[tralia]. You feel protected but you get your legs out so a good tan too, they’re so comfortable. Perfect in that climate. And they’re flattering too, I was stoked with them. Every surf out there someone asked me about them.
That’s really cool.
Yeah it’s wicked. I’ve always tried to keep true to my design and style. I’ve always just done what I’ve done and stuck with bright colours and simple shapes..
So how was Noosa.. Not jealous, not jealous at all.
It was great. They are falling over themselves for it in Aus. They love it. So I’ve got a couple shops over there interested in selling my suits. What I have done is made a separate set of designs only for sale in shops, which gives the shops and my online customers that feeling of exclusivity. The climate is perfect for it over there. We’ll see how it goes, I’m not pushing that side. Online is amazing but it is good to put out bulk orders too.
It’s all picking up speed pretty quickly!
Yeah! Now I feel like I am totally ready for it. I’ve learnt a lot and grown a lot. I think it’s important to take it as it comes and keep it fun. If it works, brilliant. If it doesn’t… I don’t worry about that. I’d rather try and have a great time learning loads of stuff. I didn’t realise before how much you learn doing things you have never even thought of doing before and how much freedom that gives you. Now I think, Wow, I have learnt so much. Just like doing all my accounts myself. It’s good. I’m a limited company, its a whole new ballgame. I never went to uni so this is my really long degree course!
Well it’s proving to be pretty successful
I hope so..
We’ll see.. We’ll see. I’m like nervous about it. It’s a bit stressful… What am I saying? I’ve been outside enjoying the sunshine all day and drinking proseco!
Elsie’s website www.neonwetsuits.com is up and running.. I’m already saving my pennies!