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Instagramification for young designer

How did 25-year-old designer and online retail entrepreneur, Ashleigh Nicholls, sign up the boys from Bondi Rescue as brand ambassadors for her nascent swimwear company?


Founder of surf brand Ink in Water, Nicholls decided to reach out to Bondi Rescue lifeguard Dean ‘Deano’ Gladstone on Instagram, urging him to check out her brand new wetsuits shortly after the first batch arrived from the manufacturer.

“He did and he absolutely loved it,” Nicholls said. “He was keen to come on board – he was one of my first ambassadors.”

Once Deano started hitting Bondi Beach all ‘Inked up’ in his bright new wetsuit, it wasn’t long before the rest of the Bondi Rescue crew got in on the act.

Nicholls has always loved Bondi Rescue and believes Deano and his co-stars encapsulate the “be bold, get inked” motto her business lives by.

“They are really great for Ink, especially Deano,” she said. “It’s all about having fun in the sun, being sun safe and standing out from the crowd.”

For Nicholls, the partnership represents a small amount of effort for a big reward. Deano is currently holidaying in Bali his family – “they’re all Inked up”, according to Nicholls – and posting plenty of photos to his 19,000 Instagram followers, 21,000 Twitter followers and nearly 5000 Facebook followers.

Facebook and Instagram have been a huge part of building the Ink In Water brand, Nicholls said.

“Instagram is all about capturing a little moment, and that fits in perfectly with Ink in Water. With its colours and its prints, you want to capture a moment.”

Lifesavers aren’t the only ones endorsing the colourful designs. Former Miss Australia and TV presenter, Caroline Pemberton, approached Nicholls after hearing about the brand through word of mouth. Pemberton is currently developing her own television series and brand called ‘Miss Adventure’.

“Inked is all about combining fitness and fashion and Miss Adventure is all about fitness and being active for women and expressing yourself,” Nicholls said. “[Pemberton] was the perfect fit, so she came and said she wanted to come on board. She has been really, really amazing.”

ink in water

Seal appeal
Nicholls studied fashion design at Ultimo Tafe and grew up by the sea at Sydney’s Coogee Beach. Her designs use bright bold, colours and patterns. Inspired by young Australian fashion designers Josh Goot, Dion Lee and Romance was Born, Nicholls saw a gap in the wetsuit market.

“I’m always down by the beach and the water and always just saw a lack of colour and not many options to express yourself with wetsuits and rash shirts for sun protection,” she said. “It was all really boring and drab.

“Everyone looks like a seal!” she said, before pointing out that when Aussie surfer Mick Fanning was attacked by a shark in South Africa, he was wearing a bright blue rash shirt over his black wetsuit to be seen more easily.

“I think Ink is really what the Australian swim and sports market really needs,” Nicholls said. “I think we are tapping into an unexplored niche. We are providing consumers with an alternative to the dark and drab wetsuits, something a little different.”

Inked for success
In September 2014, Nicholls travelled to China to find a manufacturer, settling on a factory near the manufacturing city of Shenzhen in Guangdong province.

“It was really, really exciting going over there and trying to find a manufacturer and we found the perfect one,” she said. “It was quite hard to find a manufacturer who could combine the prints with the functional style of the wetsuit. It was very new to a lot of them, I only found one that stood out from the crowd.”

Nicholls currently makes wetsuits and rash shirts for men, women and kids, which she’s been selling through her online store since March 2015. Her next target is bricks and mortar retail.

“We are ready to launch into the retail world this summer, which is really exciting,” she said.

Initially, Nicholls is aiming to get Ink in Water ranged in independent surf shops and boutiques in Sydney, the Gold Coast and Byron Bay. For the retail launch, the collection will be expanded to include swimwear and bikinis to give the brand mass-market appeal and potential.

“I think it will really open it up a little more. Wetsuits in particular are a niche market, so I think it expands it to water lovers in general.”

Nicholls’ longer term plans for Ink in Water include gaining global distribution to West Coast of the US, then the UK, France and Asia.

This story first appeared in Internet Retailing’s sister site Inside Retail, click here to subscribe. 

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