How to: start a surf business, with Elsie Pinniger of Neon wetsuits

Surfer Elsie Pinniger runs neon wetsuits from a little workshop in Newquay, designing and creating beautiful, seriously covetable bespoke neoprene suits in a rainbow of colours. She tells me about her love of the beach, seeing her wetsuits in Vogue and the joy of getting to surf daily in the name of work.

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How did you first go about setting up Neon wetsuits?
It was about ten years ago. I was a keen surfer and I couldn’t find the kind of wetsuits I wanted an anywhere, so I decided to design my own. I had my designs made by an awesome local guy called Paul at Bodyline wetsuits, then bullied him into teaching me how to do it myself! He taught me what I needed to know and I started to get lots of interest in the suits I was wearing, so I made a few for friends. In the last year I’ve been working on neon full-time, making bespoke suits in bright colours – each one is made to order. I’ve been so very lucky with customers loving my products, so it’s all happened very organically.

What’s the neon ethos?
It’s all about keeping it simple. I feel that all good design is about a simple but functional product that ideally holds a great line for the eye. In a garment it’s important to make the wearer feel confident. I test my suits myself, as I surf every day, so I’ll often always wear a new product to try it out.

How did it feel when magazines like Vogue started featuring your creations?
Amazing! I can’t tell you how overwhelmed the press response has been to neon, last year was awesome and the stuff in the pipeline at the moment is even bigger. Press interest has been a huge part of the brand growing in strength. I work hard at sharing the neon word, to get my suits in the public eye.

How does your love of surf and the sea inspire your work?
My time in the water gives me the chance to reflect on things, to stop and remember how lucky I am just to be there in the sea. Often when I’m in the water I’ll have great ideas about work as I can let go of stress a bit.

What’s your daily routine like in your workshop?
It can be a bit unorganised! I always have a to do list. I’ll often walk the long way round along the beach to work and check the surf on the way. I make coffee and look over what I’ve got do – it could be working on bespoke suits, dealing with accounts or sorting other admin. I try to organise things as much as I can, but I end up fighting fire a bit with deadlines. I like getting out when I get a free moment and going out for a surf.

What advice would you give to surf girls with a business idea keen to follow in your footsteps?
It’s always always better to try than not to. It’s okay to be scared. I was – I used to worry that no-one would like my creations, but I started up anyway and neon took off. Take things slowly, work hard and always go with your gut feeling.

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