CLONAKILTY-based designer Ali Wheeler has come up with a new ‘wild robes’ business for the swimming brigade.
Ali already had a good business making beautiful lingerie under her Hot Knickers label, but lugging home an industrial-sized sewing machine during lockdown wasn’t an option so she diversified and started making silk and cotton facemasks instead.
They sold well, but soon her customers were well supplied with reusable masks, so it was time for yet another incarnation.
Ali was quick to pick up on the demand for swimming robes. ‘I kept seeing posts of fabulous people taking up sea swimming and not being able to find something suitable to wear after their dip,’ she said, ‘so I started looking into sustainable and waterproof fabrics.
‘This took weeks of sending off for fabric samples, and, with Brexit up and running, I had to look at EU suppliers.
‘I knew I wanted to use fabrics that were lightweight yet felt soft against the skin, that gave comfort to the wearer, that could be washed in the machine when necessary, and always looked good.
‘I eventually sourced a sustainable bamboo cotton fleece for the inside that feels like a cosy dressing gown,’ she said, ‘but the real beauty of this fabric is that bamboo is antibacterial and dries quicker than cotton.’
Ali also sourced a waterproof, breathable microfibre fabric for the outer layer, but her research didn’t end there, so she spoke to loads of open water swimmers and asked them to describe their ideal robe.
In May of this year, Ali made her prototype and launched her new enterprise Wild Robes by Ali. She said sales have been brisk with just one tiny blip during the heatwave. Having done her homework, Ali was confident about going for a poncho style because, she said, ‘Freezing fingers can’t do zips!’
Ali’s wild robes also have a mid-section pouch that’s big enough to hold a hot water bottle, which means it’s toasty warm straight after a swim.
A stickler for detail, Ali even supplies a hot water bottle to match the wild robe. It even comes with a fleece that matches the lining.
Her wild robes have a big fleece-lined hood that can roll forward to offer protection against the wind and rain, or to simply dry a person’s hair.
‘The robes also have a super wide raglan sleeve so it’s not like you’re wearing a suit of armour,’ she said. ‘Instead, it feels quite free flowing.’
A final detail she said was to ‘achieve a draped look. I wanted it to be longer in the back so anyone bending over could be assured of complete modesty.’
Each of Ali’s wild robes have names. There is the Seaside in tones of royal blue with an aqua accent. There’s the Lakeside in khaki green with yellow ochre, the Dusk till Dawn in burgundy with dark dusky pink details, the Blue Lagoon in navy with petrol coloured tones, and the Baywatch, which comes in red with a strawberry pink coloured trim.
The robes, which retail at €195, can be seen on Ali’s Instagram account @wildrobesbyali or at her studio in Spiller’s Lane in Clonakilty.