Sunday, February 13, 2011

Chelsea + Victoria == Swish

International Association of Nitrox and Techni...Image via Wikipedia

If you’re tired of the tedium of the 9-to-5 grind at the same old office, check out the work and lifestyle of Chelsea Berg.

The founder of Swish Suits, a wetsuit that is billed as eco friendly, durable and designed for women participating in all aquatic sports, has turned her passion for scuba diving, the environment and travel into a business that doesn’t tie her down.

“My sister (Victoria) and I live in Mexico,” says Chelsea. “Freedom was really the thing I wanted to capture. You could be anywhere.”

Her mother, Carolyn, a water sports enthusiast like her daughters, lives in Chicago, where Swish Suits is based. From there, the company’s products are shipped, with most of the orders being international. One of Chelsea’s designers is in Milan and the wetsuits are manufactured in Vancouver. But distance isn’t an obstacle in today’s world. “We do video conferencing.”

Still, travel was involved in the evolution of the company that would be created to develop Swish women’s wetsuits. Chelsea, an athlete, had been travelling the world from Thailand to Egypt to Mexico, “but I couldn’t find anything I wanted to wear (in the water).”

In Thailand, she had some innovative wetsuits made for her. Chelsea kept making a few suits and finally decided to develop it as a business. “I did a bunch of research on how to make suits well.”

While most dive suits are made from oil-based neoprene, the Bergs went in a different direction. They use a form of neoprene that has a limestone base. Besides the environmental edge, it also has a couple of other advantages, Chelsea says. “The stretch is huge (513 per cent). It has made size almost irrelevant. It also is higher performing in the way each cell is injected with nitrogen so suits don’t take on much water at all. Three mils (millimetres thickness) is like five (in a conventional suit).”

Chelsea says the Swish suits are warmer and compress less, which is great for technical diving because compression becomes an issue at depth.
Swish started producing wetsuits in April and is now going to pursue dealers and ramp up production.

The Bergs are originally from Chicago, although Chelsea and Victoria lived in Montreal for awhile. There, Chelsea studied environmental economics at McGill University, while Victoria was in environmental science, also at McGill.

Their interest in environmental issues carried over into scuba diving, where both sisters are highly qualified divers. Chelsea is a PADI OWI (instructor), IANTD Cave Diver and DSAT Tec Deep diver. Victoria is a PADI Divemaster, ANDI cave diver, and DSAT Tec Deep Diver. Chelsea says while divers lament environmental disasters such as the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, many are not as aware. “We could do a much better job. A lot of divers are vacation divers so it is not like something they live for and care about every day. It’s not their fault.”

Swish is now expanding to include a men’s wetsuit in its product line, working in partnership with technical diving companies and men’s wetsuit firms. It is being made to accommodate technical diving (where there is no direct access to the surface, such as cave diving) that requires a “really functional” suit.

Besides functionality and environmental responsibility, fashion is also important to Swish. Chelsea says women divers want to look good in their gear. These traits also come into play in bikinis, which Chelsea hopes to manufacture.
“I actually wanted to make bikinis for so long. I’m an athlete, in triathlons, and I can’t find sport bikinis that don’t fall apart in two or three months . . . the material breaks down in salt water.”

Chelsea says Swish Suits are priced similarly to other high quality wetsuits.
“They last longer and perform better. We’re not trying to capture the whole market, but people who care about performance, eco or style.”

Kathy Dowsett
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