Fashvest to walk the Fashfest catwalk
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Fashvest to walk the Fashfest catwalk

While she lives about 150 kilometres from the nearest beach, fashion designer Vivien Mitchell is setting out to prove that looking fashionable on the sand and being sun smart aren't mutually exclusive.

Sitting on a beach at Stradbroke Island in 2009, Mitchell first noticed the lack of fashionable rash vests available.

Designer Vivienne Mitchell with her daughter Antonia Skene, and neice Nyssa Mitchell who are wearing her designs that she will show at fashfest next week.

Designer Vivienne Mitchell with her daughter Antonia Skene, and neice Nyssa Mitchell who are wearing her designs that she will show at fashfest next week. Credit:Rohan Thomson

"The people on the beach had high end swimsuits, they had beautiful designer beach bags, beach umbrellas – everything was beautiful but they were just wearing black or navy blue rash vests," she said.

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Mitchell decided there was a gap in the market for fashionable sun-smart tops that people actually wanted to wear. She sat on the idea for five years as she returned to the workforce after taking a decade off to raise her five children.

Antonia Skene, Nyssa Mitchell who are wearing Vivienne Mitchell designs that will show at fashfest next week.

Antonia Skene, Nyssa Mitchell who are wearing Vivienne Mitchell designs that will show at fashfest next week. Credit:Rohan Thomson

When she moved into a part-time role in 2014, she decided it was time to take the idea to fruition and launched Solar Bare, a range of fashionable rash vests.

"I started to get a sense that if someone else didn't get the same idea they would do something similar and I felt I didn't want to one day see the same sort of concept on the beach at Bondi or Straddie, so I thought 'I'm gonna make this happen'," she said.

Less than a year later, the Solar Bare range will debut at Fashfest next week with the launch of its women's 2015-16 collection.

Inspired by the ocean and marine life, Mitchell creates the designs which are digitally printed onto Italian Carvico lycra, which has a 50+ ultraviolet protection factor rating.

The vests are designed to be, 'like a second skin'.

"The silhouette is very sexy - the tagline that I'm working to is looking hot while feeling cool. You're actually protecting yourself from the sun so it's ticking that box but you don't compromise on how you look," she said.

"People, especially teenage girls, who have grown up with that culture of wearing rash vests because their parents put it on them when they were little - by the time they become teenagers, they totally don't want to wear rash vests because they're completely daggy. Even the models who will be wearing it [at Fashfest] have all said to me 'wow I would really happily wear one of those'."

Mitchell's first collection is just for women, featuring her signature garment, the 'Fashvest', but she plans to launch a range for kids and men in the not too distant future.

Mitchell's creations will be on opening night of Fashfest on May 13, which has this year moved to the warmer venue of the National Convention Centre.

"Hopefully the rash vests can get the crowd dreaming about summer."

Jil Hogan is an food and lifestyle reporter at The Canberra Times.

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