Fashvest designer Vivien Mitchell's bright future
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Fashvest designer Vivien Mitchell's bright future

From a day job in the public service to immersion in the ocean, capturing the colours and geometric patterns of tropical fish, Vivien Mitchell is realising her dream to be a swimwear designer.

Last year she quit her job and threw it all behind her idea of taking the humble rash vest and turning it from often quite unattractive sun protection, to a striking "fashvest".

Owner and designer of Solar Bare, Vivien Mitchell, wearing one of her fashvest designs.

Owner and designer of Solar Bare, Vivien Mitchell, wearing one of her fashvest designs.Credit:jamila_toderas

This year Ms Mitchell has received invitations to show her designs at major swimwear and fashion events in Byron Bay and the Sunshine Coast.

One of her fashvests was worn by Turia Pitt in a cover feature for the latest Business Chicks' Latte Magazine.

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Ms Mitchell has never let the fact she resides in land-locked Canberra stop her from constantly imagining the colours and vibrancy under the water.

She creates the tropical fish designs and then has them digitally printed onto Italian Carvico lycra, which has a 50-plus ultraviolet protection factor rating.

While the first year of building her Solar Bare brand has been a lot of hard work and limited cash flow, it is what she expected.

"I knew it was going to be hard work to establish myself, but I had to take the plunge and do it, rather than live with myself always wondering whether I could have done it," she said.

She was selected as one of six applicants from a field of nearly 90 to be part of the Griffin Accelerator in 2015, a local start-up mentoring and acceleration program for up-and-coming entrepreneurs.

"Now I feel I am starting to get noticed and I am just going to give it my all," she said.

The death of her mother in 2013 and a best friend in 2014 cemented her resolve to leave her ACT government events management and corporate partnerships role, and commit herself to building the company from the ground up.

Solar Bare takes orders online and offers 10 variations on the fashvest in a range of colours and designs.

After many customer requests for something spectacular to wear under the fashvest, Ms Mitchell has just received her first bikini samples, which will debut on the catwalk at Byron Bay.

"It still gives me goosebumps to see someone wearing one of my designs on the beach," she said.

"The colour and the fabric glisten in the sunlight, so you never quite realise the magic of the designs until they are out in the sunshine."

"Behind Solar Bare is a desire to help us enjoy our beach culture more safely. I've designed my garments to tick two boxes — sun protection and style."

Emma Macdonald is a senior reporter for The Canberra Times.

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