She makes her wetsuits in Cornwall from a studio overlooking the sea and can surf whenever she wants. Ratchet up your life envy a good few notches for the awesome Elsie Pinniger of Neon Wetsuits
I’ve always had a strong character. I’m the youngest of four and kind of got on with things myself.
I was into art from quite a young age and used to draw when I was young. As I got older it just became a more practical creativeness. Just making things look the way I wanted them, or having an idea of something I wanted and getting my mum to make it for me.
I first went out on a surfboard when I was about 13 at Westward Ho with my sister. It was big and howling onshore, I definitely remember not wanting to go in. I really took to surfing when I was travelling in Australia when I was 17, this is when I really fell in love with the sport. When I returned to the UK after travelling I moved to Cornwall and after being a lifeguard started teaching surfing.
I don’t remember thinking much other than dealing with the board in the wind was really hard! I’d been swimming most days pretty much since I could remember so being in the water has always felt totally normal. I just remember how annoying and knackering the wind was!
Now the sea is where I go to rebalance. It makes me feel clean, calm and grateful.
I was frustrated that I couldn’t find the sort of wetsuit I wanted. Something which was both functional and performance-based but also looked good and had some style to it – surf wear which was actually made with women in mind. I had a strong idea of what I wanted so got that made and it was great. I used to get so many comments on that suit just because it was a bit different. Back then men were designing all wetsuits I think, now women are giving women what they want. One of my first wetsuits was a women’s style with three-quarter leg and this was something no one else had done at that point, so it was noticed as was different. I really had a great reaction from fellow female surfers. I then began to experiment with colour and pattern which was also something not usually seen in a sea of black wetsuits, so it is the uniqueness and the style that people are drawn to with my suits.
I worked with Paul at Bodyline Wetsuits and Repairs in Newquay for quite a while before I made my own. There I learned all aspects of making and repairing. Being good at gluing and blindstitching all do take quite a lot of time. Paul’s been making wetsuits for so many years and is pretty set in his ways. I’d be like, “Why don’t you do it like that?” He’d go mad, some things worked some didn’t….it’s all about trying.
Creating a finished product from scratch is really nice. I like the way you get really good at something but over a really long time. I like the way things become second nature, and the way you develop little techniques without even realising.
The hardest thing about running your own business is taking criticism. I’ve often wondered if i’m too sensitive to put something out there. Apart from that it is just a lot of work. It’s ace and I love it but sometimes I wish I had a clone.
Thanks to the amazing Patagonia, we hope a future without neoprene wont be too far away. They are amazing and have been working on a better choice for the last four years. They have developed a material called Yulex, it is a plant-based bio-rubber and they hope it will be in production by late 2013. It’s an amazing achievement and I hope it will be readily available soon. The way materials are developing at such a rapid rate and with companies like Patagonia that actually care and want to make a difference I’m sure the future will be much greener.
What do I love most about Cornwall? There’s not too much not to love. The winters can sometimes be a little long but apart from that it feels like it’s really holding strong at the moment. It’s obviously a really beautiful part of the country and I love the jaggedy coastline, the way the two coasts are so close and the surf world down here is small and friendly. There’s a lot more to Cornwall but you have to go and find it.
Would I say my wetsuits are better than those made by big brands? I wouldn’t say they are better. It’s all about choice I guess. I’ve always felt really strongly about making my product here in Cornwall and because we do that we are able to offer the customisation that other brands can’t. Neon’s not about volume and mass marketing, we are just doing the stuff we like and hope it can be a great little company.
Here’s some blurb about Neon Wetsuits and an example of quite how rad they look, you can also visit neonwetsuits.com
About Neon Wetsuits: With a studio overlooking the sea in Newquay, Cornwall on the south west coast of England, Neon Wetsuits has been created by surfer Elsie Pinniger to be both high-performance and stylish. Following her frustration in finding a suit she wanted, Elsie decided to make her own and trained with the UK’s leading wetsuit maker to learn the craft.
Over the past few years Elsie has been making bespoke suits for fellow surfers, with the brand growing organically within the surf scene, via good word of mouth. Due to the growing demand for her stylish suits, and becoming well known for her signature use of colour and cut, Elsie is now launching a full collection of wetsuit swimsuits and separates, with an online store where colours are fully customisable. The range consists of high-waisted surf bikini pants and tops, sleeve-less and long-sleeve wetsuit swimsuits for women and long-john suits and vests for men.
Originally designed with surfers in mind, the functionality and performance side of the designs are crucial, with all the suits are made from neoprene. The suits are made so they don’t come off, or reveal the body when surfing and the neoprene protects against bruising hips and ribs on your board. The suits are great for swimmers too as the neoprene will keep the body warmer and the fabric and clever use of cut and colour are highly flattering for many body shapes.
And here’s a little video Elsie made in her studio for a Working Artisans’ Club story with Huck magazine: