Ask mother of two Jane Hayes what her summer fashion essentials are and she lists everything from an “uber chic rash guard” to bikinis, hats and sunscreen. It's the rash guard that caught our attention. The iconic Australian garment is now summer's most coveted essential and we can thank Hayes and Julie Capobianco, the clever founders of The ACQUA Brand, for its revival...
These days, the rash guard is for women who are both stylish and smart because being sun smart is now not only cool, it’s essential. Every year in Australia, skin cancers account for around 80% of all newly diagnosed cancers and between 95% and 99% of these are caused by exposure to the sun. Two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the time they are 70 years of age. The stats don’t lie – sun damage is real and it’s a killer. While we still want to spend long summer days at the beach, we’re also far more aware of our health and wellbeing than ever before. Luckily, The ACQUA Brand is providing women with a chic style solution so we can afford to enjoy those long days on the beach with our family. “The beach is a huge part of the Australian way of life and the sun can be brutal. These days women have different motivations for covering up and it is extremely satisfying to be able to provide women with a solution. Even if women are only wearing them during the harshest periods of the day, it will be making a difference,” says Hayes.
She wasn’t always so sun smart and it was actually her own mother who inspired her to start covering up. “I was a tanner from way back. It was my mother who suggested I wear a rash guard one day when we were holidaying on the coast and I just loved it,” recalls Hayes. Meanwhile Capobianco had been a long time convert but had ended up choosing a men’s surf rash guard after failing to find a stylish women’s one. “Together we decided there may be an opportunity. So we did our research and decided to create our own and what we came to realise what there was a genuine gap in the market for chic sun protection,” says Hayes. Over the next 18 months, the more research they did, the more they noticed that not only was there a gap in the marketplace, but there was thevery real challenge of reinforcing the right health messaging around skin care for women. “You can’t undo sun damage and investing in your skin is a priority for yourself and your family,” says Capobianco, “It began to feel like we had a social responsibility to get this right too.”
The inspiring duo started The ACQUA Brand back in 2014 and their products are now stocked in high-end retailers (including the luxury boutique at the One&Only resort) and worn by stylish women such as Zoe Foster Blake, Rachel Zoe and Candice Lake. Their new summer collection, available online now, is their best yet. There’s striped rash vests emblazoned with the words ‘ Après Surf’ or ‘La Mer’, chic one-piece malliots, boldly printed bikini briefs and more. For the duo, sustainability and style go hand in hand. Everything is made in Australia from Italian eco-friendly fabrics such as VITA XTRALIFE LYCRA, which has proven to be two times more resistant to chlorine, suntan creams and oils than competitors’ fabrics.
Four children between them and a thriving business, how do they juggle it all? “Both Jane and I set deadlines and we get there. If 36 cupcakes have to be made for the class party or a speech has to be written for a school assignment, then work emails are being sent out at 11pm! I think we have all done this and this is the beauty of an online environment,” says Capobianco. Adds Hayes: “Hard work, conviction, belief in the product and that little bit of magic are the driving force behind our business. Sharing the experience with someone who is at a similar life stage has also been invaluable.”
We had the pleasure of spending the morning with the dynamic pair to talk business tips, why the rash guard is a summer staple, motherhood and what’s next for The ACQUA Brand.
Photography: Grace Alyssa Kyo | Hair and makeup: Sarina Zoe | Go to www.theacquabrand.com.au | Jane wears The ACQUA Brand Long Sleeve Navy Leopard Rashvest, $179. Julie wears The ACQUA Brand Long Sleeve Zebra Rashvest, $179
What has motherhood taught you?
Jane: Patience and the art of juggling.
Julie: Patience is the big lesson, but also that there has been no greater investment.
Can you tell us about your childhood?
Jane: I grew up on Bar Beach in the coastal town of Newcastle, NSW. My parents ‘escaped’ Sydney when my brother and I were young and my father started his own accounting and consulting business and chose to grow up with his kids instead of sitting in peak hour traffic. We lived in a big beautiful 1930’s home that my mother has very stylishly restored with a pretty magical garden. I remember long summers at the beach, a half pipe skate ramp and swimming pool in the backyard, jacarandas, trampolines, cherries and watermelon.
Julie: I grew up in the eastern suburbs of Sydney and look back with warm, sunny memories. Summers were spent at Neilson Park, or in swimming pools with friends, roller-skating, riding bikes, backyard cricket, rehearsing dance acts with the neighbours (and performing for all and sundry). Chicken rolls, bagels, custard tarts and mixed lollies all come to mind.
Can you tell us about your career path and how you came to launch The ACQUA Brand?
Jane: After university I headed to London for a few years to work in advertising and ended up in Sydney heading up the marketing department at a global book publishing house. I had two kids in quick succession (15 months apart, call me crazy), but went back to work after a few years for some sanity. But after a while I realised something had to give, which was the corporate world. Motherhood definitely changed the path of my career, but opened up another, even better one.
Julie: I completed my business degree while living overseas and upon my return to Australia entered the graduate market in the world of digital media and marketing. I spent 15 years working in online media on both publisher and agency sides of the fence and with the birth of my second child I decided to take some time off to be with my young family. I really enjoyed my break from working life and although I knew I would return to work (in some capacity) by the time both children were of school age, I knew I was done with corporate life. The concept for The ACQUA Brand was perfect timing. After 18 months of research and the merging of our skill sets we launched the business. It has given me the gift of flexibility, the ability to prioritise different things in my day and a whole new career path. It is so satisfying to create something that we are passionate about and that is beneficial to women’s health.
Can you tell us about the new range?
Jane: We’ve expanded on our core offering to include string bikinis and classic maillots which can be mixed and matched to your rash guard style of choice, all with our signature gold detailing and exclusive prints. We have also introduced a french-nautical inspired long sleeve tee shirt (UPF50+), which is a looser fit, something you can use comfortably all day long.
SHOP: Julie wears The ACQUA Brand Long Sleeve Navy Nautical Rashvest, $179. Jane wears The ACQUA Brand Long Sleeve Apres Surf Tee Shirt, $139
What do you love most about what you do?
Jane: I love the design and creative process of The ACQUA Brand and our products. It’s a really exciting time to be in business with the opportunities that have arisen from working in a digital landscape. Working with Jules and Lucy also means there are great people to help celebrate or commiserate with.
Julie: It is extremely satisfying to produce something that women need and that is beneficial to their health. We have put our heart and soul into designing and creating something for women – something that we wanted for ourselves – that is not only made here in Australia and from Italian eco-friendly fabrics (UPF50+), but is a real preventative solution to skincare. The design process allows us to draw on our own styles and preferences as well as valuable feedback from our friends and customers. Working with friends takes the sting out of the day-to-day. We work hard, but we also laugh a lot which is a great way to spend your time.
What have been some milestones since you launched?
Jane: Within the first few weeks we had so much positive feedback from strong female role models such as Edwina McCann, Lisa Wilkinson (who is a Melanoma Institute Ambassador), Zoe Foster Blake, Rachel Zoe, Paula Joye and Candice Lake, who could all see the need for such a product. It was a great feeling coming from such inspirational and smart women.
What are your top time management tips?
Jane: Time is gold to me so I spend it wisely. We start after school drop off as getting out the door in the morning is its own mission. The discipline of corporate deadlines has stayed with me during the day and after the kids are home, it’s best described as controlled chaos with sport, homework etc. Luckily my husband is a better cook than me so days where we are all home, I leave that up to him to sort out. This also means being back on the computer after 8pm (with every other working mother). I also love a list. Every year I buy an old school red leather Moleskine diary where I list everything.
What’s the best business advice you’ve ever been given?
Jane: That there’s no use having a fantastic product if there is no market for it, and there’s no use filling a gap in the market with an ordinary product. Your product has to be distinctive and attractive to the right market, which is why we wanted to have Australian artisans helping us create and make our pieces out of the best fabric in the world.
Julie: Don’t try to be all things to all people – do what you do well and aim to be the best at it. Outsource what you are not good at!
Why do you think The ACQUA Brand has developed such a big following in two short years?
Julie: Our approach to the brand is very authentic to our way of life, of the sun and the surf. It’s not just about the rash guard. It is infused with the Australian lifestyle from the local artisans, pattern makers, printers and jewellers who craft each piece using the latest technology in eco-friendly fabrics. As soon as people put it on they know it is luxurious, modern, smart and cultural. Our customers are interested in quality over quantity when it comes to fashion, and Australia is becoming known on the global fashion stage as the place to go for resort and swim for that very reason. It’s where and how we live.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Jane: To ease up on the tanning.
Julie: Don’t be so hard on yourself.
What’s your approach to health and wellbeing?
Jane: Being a mum has been the catalyst for me, before then it was non-existent. It’s hard to tell your kids to eat well, exercise, get off the screens, wear a rashie etc, when you’re not doing it yourself. I loathe the gym so I stick to yoga, but I also run around all day so I tell myself it’s the same as exercising.
Julie: These are big priorities for me and I am always working at it. As I get older it is definitely about prevention. I believe you have to fight the aging process on all fronts – and see it as an investment in being the best version of myself – especially for my children.
What’s your perfect day at the beach look like?
Jane: We are pretty spoilt for choice between Bondi, Bronte and Clovelly. Bronte for board riding, snorkelling with Bluey The Groper in Clovelly or swimming in the ocean pool at Bondi Icebergs. Balmoral is also pretty special.
Julie: We are very lucky to live so close to the ocean and so we come and go to the beach all weekend. I find that there is nothing more energising than an early morning swim followed by a coffee. I also love to watch my children enjoying the water. My son is learning to surf and watching his confidence grow is hugely satisfying. We typically head back down in the late afternoon for another swim, or so the children can ride their scooters. The beach is a big part of our lives in summer.
Have you always been sun smart?
Julie: Absolutely not. I can remember being burnt countless times growing up. SHAME. My father had a melanoma removed from his chest in my early twenties. Suffice to say, I saw the light.
How would you describe your parenting style?
Jane: The company I worked for had published Robin Barker’s Baby Love and Tizzie Hall’s Save Our Sleep so when the kids were little I had an abundance of reading material and a very supportive family. It’s much easier now they’re older, but there’s a new set of needs and challenges with them being at school.
Julie: When my children were young I looked to routine to manage everyone’s expectations. One child slept through at six weeks and the other took over three years so I don’t think there is one cookie cutter solution. There is definitely a confidence that comes with experience, you learn and you grow. These days I find that routines come from external sources such a school and sport so I have a more relaxed approach to balance this out.
What has been the most challenging part of motherhood and how have you overcome any challenges?
Jane: Returning to work after having the kids was both a blessing and a curse. There was definite sanity that came with being in an office, using your brain again, talking to adults, a salary, but I missed the kids and I hated having to work around an office timetable, so ultimately it didn’t work for my family. After leaving and not ‘working’ for two years I missed the stimulation so was looking to do something that I found fulfilling without the corporate timetable. I’m also really proud to show my kids that if you work hard, it pays off. Also that when you really want something you have to go out and get it.
Julie: The most challenging part of motherhood is accepting the reality that things will not always go to plan and any plans you have can almost certainly be hijacked at any given time. There will always be challenges to overcome so patience and flexibility are my main tools.
Jane Hayes’s bedroom
What did your own mother teach you about life and motherhood?
Jane: My mother is all about family and made me see the importance of prioritising. She also always makes things look fabulous and I still steal her clothes and shoes to this day. She’s still my inspiration and the one who made me wear a rash guard in the first place two years ago and here we are now. She is the queen of style, dignity and love.
Julie: My mother has always been the eternal optimist. She has always had a positive outlook on life and finds the good in all situations. It is such an important quality and one I will always try to embody. With a career in teaching spanning 40 years, we grew up knowing that women can raise a family and have a career – in fact we never considered that there was any other way. As a child, I always felt loved and supported and I don’t recall my time with my mother ever being compromised. My mother’s great sense of pride in her family and her work was instilled in us from a very early age. As a mother I now know how much work and self-sacrifice this must have taken and for this I could not be more grateful.
Jane and Julie's little list of loves:
Hugo, Heidi, my husband Angus and his cooking.
The ocean and outdoor showers.
Isabel Marant anything.
Everyone Says I Love You directed by Woody Allen and Priceless by Pierre Salvadori.
Red wine by open fires.
Anything my husband cooks.
The sound of an empty house during school hours.
The sound of a full house at ALL other times.
Dinner with friends.