Making Waves in Sustainable Hybrid Women’s Athleticwear

Key Takeaways

SOL VAE (formerly Kahili Activewear)

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Bridget Thorpe never thought she would be in the manufacturing industry, but as an ACE-Certified Fitness Instructor, she needed a sports bra that was supportive both on the land and in water. When she began surveying the market for sustainable, hybrid athleticwear for women, however, she found that most products were focused on menswear with very few options for women. Thus, the Fortune 500 sustainability advisor and fitness instructor pivoted her life trajectory to include becoming a manufacturer of hybrid, athletic womenswear.

SOL VAE (formerly Kahili Activewear), which can be translated to “Woman of the House” in Swedish, is dedicated to the creation of sustainable, hybrid sports bras that are functional in the water and on land. “I was resolute that our products would be manufactured in the USA and that we would have a sustainable supply chain.” After a 6-year journey that included learning the mechanics of a cut-and-sew business, sourcing the best sustainable materials, and identifying the right factories for the job, SOL VAE launched its online business on March 18, 2022.

SOL VAE prides itself on creating a women’s hybrid sports bra that is designed for comfort while providing support. The company uses a regenerative material from Italy called ECONYL® fiber, which is regenerated from fishing nets and other discarded materials. SOL VAE is a carbon-neutral company and prides itself on not only creating Manufactured in the USA products but on being a woman-owned organization.

When Bridget started the company, she knew what type of product she wanted to make but did not know the cut-and-sew industry or how to use the equipment. While Bridget determined quickly that the best use of her time was not making the products herself, she knew that she needed to be intimately familiar with the machinery and how the products were made to ensure the selection of the best manufacturer for the job. Additionally, Bridget admits that she also needed help identifying where the best manufacturers for her product were in the U.S. and how to prepare for those meetings to ensure success. That’s when she began searching for manufacturing mentors and was introduced to Manufacturer’s Edge.

Manufacturer’s Edge quickly accepted the honor of working with Bridget and connected her to a mentor whose first course of business was to link Bridget up with the Denver Design Incubator where she could learn how to use the industrial machines and familiarize herself with the factory processes.

The second course of business was to create a robust support network that could help Bridget succeed. “The networking that Manufacturer’s Edge provided me was powerful.” Through the mentoring and network that was provided by Manufacturer’s Edge, Bridget met with many factories across the U.S., developed several prototypes, and was shown the various databases her business would need to succeed. “My mentor taught me that confidence comes from preparation. He helped me flip my mindset so that I knew what to expect and was prepared to ask the right questions to get the answers that I needed. Ultimately, this helped my confidence skyrocket.”

Eventually, the networking and mentorship helped Bridget identify that the best factories that could bring her product to life were in Baltimore, which led to the important introduction to the Maryland MEP. “Manufacturer’s Edge nurtured my business during the early stages. I needed their help to bring me to the place where I was ready to meet with the caliber of factories in Baltimore. And, through their introduction to the MEP in Maryland, I was given the opportunity to fly.”

Bridget and SOL VAE are based in Hawaii and work with the Hawaii MEP and her products continue to be manufactured in Baltimore, MD.

The networking that Manufacturer’s Edge provided me was really powerful. Manufacturer’s Edge understood the challenges that entrepreneurs go through and provided fantastic mentors who constantly encouraged me and gave me that gut check that I was on the right path.

Bridget Thorpe, Founder & CEO