Pockets Full of Sunshine

Pockets Full of Sunshine

Senior Ashton Gillespie created an athletic clothing line for women


FASHION FORWARD Senior Avery Haugen models athletic wear for SunKissed Girl’s clothing line. PHOTO PROVIDED BY ASHTON GILLESPIE
FASHION FORWARD Senior Avery Haugen models athletic wear for SunKissed Girl’s clothing line.

Like most fair-skinned girls, senior Ashton Gillespie was not a fan of the unflattering swim shirts she wore to shield her pale skin from harmful ultraviolet rays. However, in 2011, Ashton Gillespie and her mother, Amity Gillespie, came up with  a solution. They founded a sun-protective athletic clothing line for girls and women: SunKissed Girl.

The clothing line carries UV resistant shirts, skirts, pants and jackets that are fashionable alternatives to those unflattering swim shirts that seem to “stick to all the wrong places,” Ashton Gillespie described.

The idea for SunKissed Girl first came to Ashton Gillespie  in June of 2011. After realizing they wanted to move forward that same year, Amity Gillespie acted as co-founder.

Together they designed eight shirts: the Ibiza, St. Tropez, Phuket, Bali, Formentera, St. Barths, and Hamptons. SunKissed Girl also later offered the Palazzo Pant and Mini Skirt.

All of the shirts are inspired and named by the Gillespie’s previous travels. For example, Ashton Gillespie describes the Hampton shirt as classic and timeless like East Hampton. The ruffles on the Ibiza and Formentera are inspired by the Spanish culture, and the mandarin collars on the Phuket and the Bali shirts are trends seen on the beaches of Asia.

The specific fabric used for the SunKissed Girl shirts has an Ultraviolet Protection Factor of 50; the UPF measures the UV protection provided by the fabric. This fabric blocks 98 percent of the sun’s rays.

SunKissed Girl’s first year was not an easy one. It had planned to go public in March of 2012, but disaster struck: the SunKissed logos, which were heat-transferred onto the fabric, bled through, and nearly a thousand shirts were ruined. Ashton Gillespie, however, did not let the shirts go to waste; SunKissed Girl donated the shirts to a women’s shelter in Chicago. Since then, the SunKissed logo is embroidered onto the fabric.

Like any new start-up, SunKissed had to think of promoting the brand. They asked Senior Avery Haugen, a close friend of Ashton’s, to be a model for SunKissed Girl . Haugen said she thought it was a great idea.

“It caters to normal people,”  Haugen said. “It’s for all the women who don’t want to wear bikinis on the beach, but who still want to feel good [about themselves]. I think it’s really empowering.”

On March 6, 2013, SunKissed Girl had its first sale of five shirts: the St. Barths, Hamptons, St. Tropez and Ibiza . Their original shipment of 1,800 shirts soon sold out. The Gillespies placed a second order from her manufacturers in Chicago again that March; however, it did not arrive until late August. “It’s a much longer process than we expected,” Ashton Gillespie admitted.

The Gillespies travel to Chicago about six times a year to check on the progress of the embroidery, the patternmakers at V. Mora, a Chicago-based pattern service, and the two separate manufacturers. The clothes are made in Chicago, and the higher cost of American labor is factored into the pricing of the clothing. The Gillespies never considered sweatshop labor. “We’ve visited many of the countries where [sweatshop labor] is a significant problem for young children,” said Ashton Gillespie. “We didn’t want to contribute to that.”

Ashton Gillespie has often traveled alone to Chicago and New York. “We want [our partners] to have a face with [Ashton Gillespie],” Amity Gillespie said. “She is the SunKissed Girl, and we want them to have that connection with her.”

Neither of the Gillespies have any background in the fashion industry, but Ashton Gillespie describes it as “a learning experience for the both of [them].” Although her mother is the artist behind the sketches, Ashton  Gillespie said she sees herself as the “math mind” in the business. She manages the budget and she acts as its public relations representative, advertising for SunKissed Girl on social media platforms: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Some girls know firsthand the benefits of wearing  SunKissed Girl’s  UV protective clothing. After experiencing a minor case of melanoma, Senior Janie Martin said her concern for skin health grew exponentially. “I’m quite pale,” Martin said, “so I’m wary of both sunburning and suntanning. I really do use [SunKissed Girl] shirts to help protect my skin.”

This past summer, Martin’s job required her to be in the sun for most of the day. “I tried to incorporate at least one SunKissed Girl  item  in nearly every outfit to protect my skin from the sun,” Martin said. In her opinion, the fabric is “breathable” and prevents her from overheating.

So far, SunKissed Girl has sold hundreds of shirts within its first months of sales.  The shirts are available at prices ranging  from $90 to $125. Ashton Gillespie is confident for SunKissed Girl’s future, and she attributes this to her experience at Hockaday. “Hockaday gives you a love for learning instead of a fear of learning,”  Ashton Gillespie said. “With SunKissed Girl, I will always keep wanting to learn.”

-Faith Isbell