Elsie Pinniger - Neon Wetsuits

When and where did you learn to surf?
Well I first surfed when I was about 13….howling, massive, freezing, onshore day…..wasn’t exactly taken by it!! I moved to Cornwall a few years later and tried it a few more times, but found it pretty hard (trying to surf a toothpick) ….then started beach guarding and really got into it…just in the sea all day surfing ..I mean working!

What do you love most about surfing?
It depends how I’m feeling….sometimes I love the process….thinking about where is gonna be good…driving, checking. Sometimes it’s just the escapism of it….leaving work for a few hours and coming back relaxed and happy. When the surfs good I just love surfing…..getting good waves, doing new things….just feeling like it’s all working. 

Do you have a session that stands out as your most memorable?
My long term memory isn’t amazing. I’ve had some such fun times at my favourite spot here in Cornwall, when I think of a perfect surf it’s always there. Noosa last year was insane, the points were so good the whole time, I’d get out so tired but would have to get back in as it was more painful to walk away from such fun waves. 

What kind of education have you had?
Pretty minimal one….I went to school got a couple of A levels at a push….I was just over the system by then, I didn't have inspiring teachers unfortunately so wanted out as soon as I could, to get out into the world and find excitement and challenges.

How did you get into designing wetsuits and swimwear?
Well it was a windy path learning lots of different things. I taught surfing for years just to fund travel etc. but really fell in love with it especially long boarding. I’d spend all day in a wetsuit when working on the beach so often thought about the design of them, I’m like that with stuff….I love design and always have. I’d always designed and made my own stuff for years…I’m fussy or maybe just odd shaped! I’d learned basic pattern cutting and construction and messed around. I ran restaurants for a few years then got into interiors, I worked in this area for a while in both design and make, I love interiors, just not other peoples taste! Anyway Neon just came about while I was doing this other stuff, I just wanted what I couldn't get in a wetsuit. This was way before all the cool stuff we see now in women’s surf and swimwear. Girls wetsuits were just black with crappy flowers on them. I designed a few suits….they were all black actually but just really nice cuts, I had them made locally by Paul at Bodyline…he’s a total legend, I worked with him for a while…he showed me how to work with neoprene, all the technics for gluing and machining, having a background helped. I worked for him for a while doing warranty work etc. Neon was just a hobby to get the suits I wanted but I had lots of interest when I wore them so eventually just started making more and more and then launched the website last year.  

Neon has really taken off lately, can you tell us a bit about and the brand and the philosophy behind the products?
Well it’s a male and female brand, we just make comfy surf wear really. The way the brand has developed has been really naturally lead. Most wet suit designers can’t actually make a wetsuit, so they get them made in a factory by people who can. This limits the designs as you have to sell volume like that. I guess because I can make them it seemed mental not to, and not to use that uniqueness as a big part of what we do. I’d never feel happy getting loads made overseas anyway. This way our customer can be part of the design process themselves. 

It can be hard as obviously this way we limit our growth to a certain degree, we can't churn them into every surf shop you see, we make everything to order for each customer…..thats the way we like it. As much as we like being small and doing it all here under one roof, it’s easy for bigger brands to get similar things a lot further a lot quicker. 

At the moment our product range has been all about warm water surfing, giving just enough warmth and protection, with a huge slant on feeling good and having fun with what your wearing in the water. I always used to make full suits too, but wanted to define the brand like this to start with. It’s a brand that I started because I love surfing and love design, that's what neon is about, just doing what you enjoy doing.

What/ who has influenced the work that you do?
The lack of choice influenced me to start this, and I’m really proud of doing what I wanted when no one else was. Neoprene is a huge influence on me, I love it. I love working with it. The block colour I use has given me a unique style that is very neon and easy to spot. Fashion and iconic designs inspire me, I like a good line. 

What do you love most about your job?
I think I love learning new things mostly. As I mentioned, I didn't go down the studious route, but I do enjoy constantly learning new things. Learning about business has been really good…still a long way off!! People too and lots about the environment and economical growth etc. When I first started neon I had a bit of an issue with it not feeling great to be making something, I learned as much as I could handle about how the industrial world works etc…scary stuff. I figured we need to learn to be small again, to see the benefit in being small. Apart from learning, I’m quite keen on being able to go surfing whenever I like. 

Do you have any advice for any aspiring designers?
Focus on one thing. 

Where do you see yourself and the brand in 10 years time?
I have no idea! I’m naturally quite underwhelmed by most stuff, I just don't get too excited or ahead of myself. I see this as a really amazing opportunity, if it only goes for another year i’d be so proud of it, and so pleased for all I’ve learned from it. If we’re still here in ten then that would be amazing, I like to do lots of things so I’d see myself possibly doing something else too….stop scaring me!

Where can we find you online? 

Web: www.neonwetsuits.com
Twitter: twitter.com/neonwetsuits
Instagram instagram.com/neonwetsuits

Posted by: Matthew Ryan, on January 10, 2014
Categories: Interviews