Founder, SOL VAE LLC
Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Enterprising Women of Color Business Center Marketing and Financial Counseling Client
Sustainability meets active/swimwear with SOL VAE LLC. Founder Bridget Thorpe grew up on the north shore of Kauai and lives an active lifestyle that includes running on the beach, followed by swimming in the ocean to cool off, as well as teaching fitness classes. She recalls always having to go back to her car to change into swimwear, and while she noticed hybrid shorts for men being sold at a local surf shop, there weren’t any options available for women.
In 2015, she came up with an idea to create hybrid sports bras that could be used for both land and water activities and spent the next five years developing her products. “I had lots of fun and it came together beautifully,” she said. “It’s one garment, but you can use it for so many different purposes.”
Prior to entering the world of entrepreneurship, Bridget worked in hospitality marketing and then most recently as a sustainability consultant based in Denver, Colorado where she helped Fortune 500 companies develop their sustainability content. In 2021, she and her husband had the opportunity to move back to Hawaii and she went full force with SOL VAE, officially launching in March 2022. (Fun fact: Bridget’s parents were going to name her Solveig, pronounced “SOL-VAE”, which is a family name from her mother’s Swedish background. The name has two meanings—“sunshine way” and “woman of the house.” The latter is powerful and invigorating and reflects the company’s goal to help people have that same sense of confidence.)
“I came up with this idea, but I have no technical training in sewing or apparel development. I was lucky to work with a woman in Baltimore who did this type of development for Lululemon, Coach, Adidas, and other companies,” Bridget explained, while emphasizing her passion for and commitment to ensuring suppliers and manufacturing are all based in the U.S.
Additionally, the fabric used in SOL VAE products is a regenerative nylon made from fishing nets, recycled carpets, and other waste, which results in 90% less environmental impact. Bridget’s expertise in sustainability helped her to measure the emissions and make her business carbon neutral. “Using all credible tools, we offset with third-party verified carbon neutral projects,” she explained. “We were also accepted into the Ellen MacArthur Foundation community, which is at the forefront of this. We believe in thoughtfully curated design, materials, manufacturing, as well as eliminating waste.”
With these extensive goals for the company, Bridget’s biggest challenge was getting the manufacturing secured, and she can proudly say that all manufacturing and suppliers are domestic. “It literally took five years to figure it out, and I feel really good about everyone we’re working with,” she said. “Most of supply chain is also female and it makes the world of difference. Forty-four percent of our supply chain is woman-owned, and twenty-two percent of the total is owned by diverse women.”
The strong representation of women is further reflected in SOL VAE’s authenticity where women are never photoshopped.
Two hybrid sports bra styles are currently available online at www.solvae.co, and Bridget has two more styles that she hopes to launch soon. Her other goals include building a community and evolving together with customers. She continues to research other materials, communicate with other sustainability professionals, and adapt to the ever-changing small business environment.
Bridget’s networking efforts connected her to the MBDA Enterprising Women of Color Business Center where she’s received marketing and financial counseling. Marketing counselor Ryan has provided her with valuable feedback and financial counselor Cammie has helped her with integrating Shopify and QuickBooks.
“It’s just really exciting to say I did it. It took so long to put all the pieces of the puzzles together in the value-based way I envisioned and it’s extremely satisfying,” Bridget reflected. “I bootstrapped and had no outside investors. It’s cool to see how resourceful you can get when you need to be. The things that had seemed at one time a mountain, now I’m at the top and looking at the next one.”
To her fellow women entrepreneurs and small business owners, Bridget offers the following advice: “Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone you don’t know and ask to connect for a brief 30 minutes. I made a lot of phone calls to presidents and CEOs. I wouldn’t let the titles scare me. More often than not, they’d talk with me and share. They’re really proud of where they got, and they want to help other people. There are a lot of challenges, but there’s a lot of kindness. And always ask, ‘Is there anyone else you recommend that I speak to?’ That has led me to three other conversations, and the stars start to sort themselves out from there. Women are good at that too—a more relational form of doing business that feels natural.”