In honor of Earth Day, TheWMarketplace is featuring Bridget Thorpe and her carbon neutral brand, SOL VAE. Bridget has created a hybrid sports bra that is as comfortable and functional on land as it is in water. SOL VAE’s bras sport materials used from fishing nets and discarded materials that are certified as free of harmful chemicals, they are manufactured in Maryland, and the company invests in third-party carbon offset projects. While it wasn’t easy to establish this process, Bridget was well set up to do so after having supported large companies with their sustainability initiatives for many years.
Today Bridget chats with TheWMarketplace about her AHA moment, what it took to reinvent the sports bra and get it to market and why supporting women entrepreneurs is so important.
How long have you been in business and has your business changed since you started it?
I started SOL VAE in 2016. At the time, it was called Kahili Activewear and named after the street I grew-up on in Kauai. For years, it was a side hustle while I was supporting large companies with their sustainability initiatives and marketing. But in 2021, my husband and I had an opportunity to move back to Kauai. We agreed this was my time to see if I could make it work as a full-time gig. We budgeted 12-18 months for me to go after it. I've dug deep, overhauled the product and repositioned the website completely. There is fine-tuning to go, but it is a huge relief to finally be out in the world.
Can you identify a AHA moment that has been pivotal to your success?
Yes – It was discovering I was making a hybrid bra product. In the early, early days, two things kept happening: 1) People were wearing my sports bras in the water; and 2) manufacturers kept commenting that the fabric was so slippery. It finally hit me when I saw men’s hybrid shorts that could be worn to work, to a restaurant or for swimming that I wasn't making a sports bra. I was making a hybrid bra. Looking back, it was painfully obvious what I was doing. I think that's the thing about creativity, though. Many deeply creative ideas come really naturally to people. Almost too naturally, to the point where they don't fully appreciate their thought is novel. This was the biggest AHA moment I've had to date. And like many other AHA moments in life, it came to me in the shower.
What is something you know now that you wish you knew when you started your business? What’s been a challenge?
I'll flip this question a bit—I'm glad I didn't know that it would take longer than I thought, or I likely wouldn't have started! The truth is it has taken six years to bring SOL VAE to life in a way that feels good. It was a side hustle for about five years while I worked in Fortune 500 sustainability advisory. Had I known it would take factory tours across four states, copious prototype iterations and some hard-earned savings, I likely wouldn't have moved forward or had the bravery to answer this question in my heart.
Tactically, getting a product to market was tough. Bringing together a sustainable supply chain, finding a trusted USA manufacturer that could deliver quality and sorting through the whirlwind of ideas in my head into clear messaging took time. It is still taking time. So with that, there is also an emotional element. You put everything you have into it. Sometimes it works, sometimes you need to pivot. You get better at picking yourself back up. And it pushes you to dig deep.
Why did you decide to join TheWMarketplace?
Because it was designed to support women entrepreneurs, and women entrepreneurs approach business differently.
I truly believe there is a shift happening in our economy and marketplace. We see through celebrity endorsements; we don't want to be bothered by ads and empty messaging falls flat. People want to support real people. They want to build relationships. I think this relational approach is instinctual for many women. I was so excited to find TheWMarketplace, as it was designed to support and amplify this approach.
Do you have any advice for other women who are getting started in business?
The fear of failure is a scary thing. But it shifts when you come to appreciate that the opposite of failure is not success. It is purpose and the pursuit of a worthy cause. At the end of the day, you're going to face wins and losses, which is inevitable in the life of an entrepreneur. But if you're doing so in pursuit of something you believe in, either a win or a loss is an acceptable outcome. You are going to learn something, you are going to grow, and most importantly, you are going to answer the questions within your heart.
You can always change your plan. So you may as well take a chance on yourself, take measured/strategic risks, surround yourself with a support team, and go out in the world and raise some hell.
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Launched in 2020, TheWMarketplace is a nationwide e-commerce marketplace for women-owned businesses to sell their products and professional and personal services. Offering favorable terms to its sellers, it also is a supportive community of women entrepreneurs that have access to learning opportunities through the trademarked HER-Commerce™ programs. With over 500 women-owned businesses selling 4000+ products and services ranging from home goods to coaching, in over 35 states, TheWMarketplace empowers shoppers with a new way to find the communities they want to support, including Black-woman owned, Latina-owned, AAPI-owned, Veteran woman-owned, and more. The Her Story Q&A is one benefit TheWMarketplace provides to sellers.