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'It hasn't been easy, but you have to have faith'

By Lisa Smyth

Published 05/07/2016

Co-founders Elaine Sykes (left) and Nadine McGurk of Welly WetSuit Ltd with model Jordan Sykes wearing the Welly WetSuit
Co-founders Elaine Sykes (left) and Nadine McGurk of Welly WetSuit Ltd with model Jordan Sykes wearing the Welly WetSuit
Model Jordan Sykes wearing the Welly WetSuit

Anyone who has ever been to a music festival - especially in the UK - knows it can be a very messy affair. The combination of heavy rain and tens of thousands of pairs of feet results in mud everywhere - leaving festival-goers with the problem of how to stay clean and dry, yet stylish at the same time.

It is this conundrum that inspired the beginning of Welly Wetsuit, set up by a mum-of-five from south Belfast.

Elaine Sykes (47) came up with the idea of a waterproof, breathable and transparent onesie that will allow wearers to stay dry and show off their outfit underneath after seeing her own children struggle to find suitable clothing for outdoor music events.

She has since teamed up with 29-year-old Nadine McGurk, who lives in east Belfast, to help her bring her idea to the market.

Nadine said: "Elaine is my best friend's mum. The idea for the Welly Wetsuit came about around five years ago when Elaine's eldest daughter, Alex, came back from a festival completely drenched, her clothes were ruined from head to toe.

"Her phone had been smashed and she ended up with a lung infection from getting so wet and, being a mum, Elaine had to deal with all of that.

"When it came round to her going to a festival again the next year, Alex and Elaine spent ages trying to find something suitable to protect her but couldn't really find anything.

"That's when she came up with the Welly Wetsuit.

"At the start, it was supposed to incorporate wellies, but that just wouldn't work, it would be too difficult to produce.

"Elaine had no experience of product development or setting up a business but it's a really good idea and she is really interested in fashion, so she just worked on her idea. There are times in life that you wish there was something to make your life a bit easier but so often, people don't follow through on their idea.

"That was the difference with Elaine, she went out and did something about it.

"She had her children quite young and she is getting her independence back now.

"She's quite creative and into fashion so she decided to look into developing the suit."

Elaine went to Belfast Metropolitan College and recruited students there to help her fine tune her design.

The resulting piece of clothing is waterproof, has a peaked hood, is adjustable and even has pockets to keep mobile phones safe.

It is made from hardwearing EVA plastic, meaning that it is reusable year after year.

Nadine added: "I had been helping Elaine out from the start but I got really involved about a year and a half ago.

"I know from personal experience what it's like when you go to a festival. The first year I went to Oxegen I took a big bag of clothes and hardly wore any of them so I took the bare minimum the next time I went.

"Of course, there was torrential rain that year and I ran out of clothes by the second day and by the end of it all my clothes were completely ruined by the mud, so I knew that Elaine had come up with a really brilliant idea."

But Elaine and Nadine have discovered that coming up with a unique product is only the beginning of a long and arduous process. "The most difficult thing so far has been getting investment to get the suit ready for the market," said Nadine.

"The problem is that quite often you need to have sold your goods before you can get investment. For example, Elaine took her idea to Dragons' Den and they thought it was a great idea but you have to have sold some of your product before they will take you on.

"We've been working really hard at developing the product.

"Originally we were put in touch with a factory in Pakistan but there was a language barrier.

"However, Elaine got in touch with a girl from China and she has great communication skills.

"We've learnt so much from her, we Skype her so much, and in fact it was her who suggested using EVA as the material for the Welly Wetsuit.

"We've built up a great relationship with her and she does everything she can to help us, she's trying to get us out to the factory out there but obviously there is a cost associated with that. For now, we are concentrating on the product and raising the profile, as well as doing lots of market research."

Nadine said they have found the support and advice offered by the Ulster Bank Entrepreneurial Spark business acceleration programme invaluable.

"We need about £25,000 to get the product to market but it is just Elaine and I doing this in our spare time," she said.

"The Enterpreneurial Spark really spurs you on, it helps you to focus and work to a timetable.

"We hope to have the product ready for the market next year.

"It hasn't been easy but you just have to have faith in yourself.

"It might take two or three times to get things right, but you just have to keep going."

Belfast Telegraph

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