How wild swimming inspired this innovative new apparel business

·4-min read
Photo credit: Chris McAndrew Photography Ltd
Photo credit: Chris McAndrew Photography Ltd

“It all started with a message on Instagram,” says Millie Dornan of Wylding Wear, the outdoor-clothing brand she co-founded with her friend Daniela Bohling. “Someone invited me to join a group who were going cold-water swimming, and I asked Daniela if she wanted to come with me. We went along, met a lovely group of people, and within seconds we were peeling off our clothes and jumping into the Thames! It was so invigorating, and we both felt really empowered by doing something outside our comfort zone.” That was in September 2019, and soon the pair were swimming every week – but one element of the experience still frustrated them. “We were aware of just how difficult it is to get dressed after a swim – you’re freezing, you can’t do up your buttons, you’re trying to pull a pair of leggings over your wet skin – so we started thinking about what would be the perfect item of clothing that you could put on with the least faff and get maximum warmth.”

As a musician, composer and former actress, Dornan (who is married to the actor Jamie Dornan) brought creativity and a superb eye for colour to the project, while Bohling’s background in product development provided the design expertise and technical know-how required to launch their signature ‘Wylding suit’ – a lightweight, microfleece-lined boilersuit in a fast-wicking fabric that is designed to be worn over swimwear or underwear. “We tried to design something that wasn’t simply functional and that could be worn beyond just the riverside or lakeside,” says Bohling. “We created a flattering silhouette and a relaxed fit to empower women of any body shape.”

They also did a lot of stress-testing to ensure the design was resilient enough to be worn for active pursuits, as well as being thermal and waterproof. “What’s been really nice has been seeing how the product has turned out to fit different purposes for different people,” adds Dornan. “Lots of customers now buy the suit for festivals or camping, I’ve seen it used for horse-riding, and even by artists in freezing-cold studios.”

Although the duo are soon to launch a new colourway and a second hero product – a hood that can be worn either with or without the suit – they are conscious of wanting to grow at the right speed. “The pace we’re currently going at is manageable in terms of our supply chain and the size of our team,” says Bohling, who now works full-time on the business.

Here, they share three pieces of advice for anyone starting a new business:

1/ Be prepared to start small

“We counted every penny and monitored every margin to get this business off the ground, and we’ve decided to reinvest all our profits into growing it, rather than turning to outside investment. We want to stay self-funded for as long as possible, and only make products in line with the market need.”

2/ Don’t relinquish ownership too early

“When we first went to the factories with our idea, they laughed at us and said, “Not a chance” – we really had to work hard to get them to take an order. There was a moment where we considered pitching out the concept to see if anyone might be interested based on one sample, so that we could meet the minimum orders the factories needed from us, but then we decided we’d just try harder at our end. Having that courage has helped us keep complete control and make the decisions we wanted. I think if you force yourself into a position where you have to dilute your vision early, the product might not end up being what you really wanted.”

3/ Two heads are better than one

“We’re lucky that the two of us are friends and that we have a very similar idea of what this project is all about – especially in terms of the bigger picture, and the ethos we wanted to build. It means there are always two of us sharing the load – so if one is having a wobble, or a moment of indecision, the other can step in.”

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