Drapers speaks to Emily Cohen, co-founder of Sunuva, the fashion-focused and UV-protecting kids’ swim brand beloved by celebrities and royals.
Sunuva co-founder: Emily Cohen
Emily Cohen founded the kids’ swimwear brand Sunuva alongside former PwC accountant Sabrina Naggar in 2008, after both women saw a gap in the market for stylish, UV-protective swimwear for children. Based in Maida Vale in London, the brand’s popularity has soared thanks to its celebrity following – with Prince George and Harper Beckham both pictured wearing the brand’s styles.
Today, Sunuva has 380 stockists worldwide – there are 40 in the UK, including Harrods, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols and Childrensalon. Wholesale prices range from £16 for bottoms to £30 for two pieces.
What’s your background?
I started my career in PR. My first job was at Lynne Franks PR working with some great brands and personalities, including Lenny Henry, Neneh Cherry, and The Aids Foundation. I went on to then run the press office for the London Hilton, and from there was headhunted to head up the PR for Europe at Planet Hollywood. When I left Planet Hollywood I set up a small PR consultancy on my own in the Saatchi offices.
The first business I set up with two partners was Pout in 2000, a very feminine and chic make-up brand with a shop in Covent Garden. We sold the business to Victoria’s Secret in 2007. Following this, I designed the make-up line for Topshop, and then launched Sunuva with Sabrina Naggar in 2008. [The pair met on holiday, with their children attending the same nursery]
What made you want to start the company?
We saw a big gap in the market for kids’ swimwear that was stylish and UV protective. There was really nothing around when our kids were small. The only thing you could find were ugly, all-in-one sun-protective suits with cartoon characters on the front. We really felt that what was missing was something super stylish and fashionable, so kids could look good on the beach, but stay safe in the sun.
Stylish swimwear: protecting kids in the sun
How did you initially get the brand up and running?
Sabrina and I met in 2007 and we launched the business a year later. We worked together out of Sabrina’s house for a year, really analysing and researching the industry until we felt we had the idea fine-tuned and knew what we wanted to do, and how we were going to do it. We self-funded for the first year and once we had a small collection to show, we raised finance to get the business off the ground.
How did your background help when setting up the company?
I had had a pretty varied career, including having built and sold a business [Pout], which set me in good stead for Sunuva. The PR experience I had has really helped me with developing the brand and raising awareness. PR has been a great skill for me along the way over the past 20 years.
Why the name “Sunuva”?
Sun and uva, as in it is for the Sun and protective from UVA rays.
How would you describe the style of the brand?
Chic, stylish, uniquely boho, bright and fun.
What have been some of the highlights since you launched?
Prince George plastered all over the front pages around the world on his third birthday dressed head to toe in Sunuva. Also, when we launched in Harrods, Selfridges, Childrensalon, Bonmarché, Barneys and more. Taking on our chairman [former Manchester United and Chelsea CEO] Peter Kenyon. Being spotted on celebrities’ kids like Harper Beckham, Eric Cowell, Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow’s kids, and many more.
What are you doing to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the brand?
We had a very lovely party to thank all the people who had been part of our 10-year journey. Suppliers flew in from India, China, Amsterdam and Italy. There were journalists, bloggers, buyers, designers, photographers and our best customers. It was a very special evening.
How has the brand changed since you started out?
We started out just the two of us 10 years ago, with a collection with three prints: one for boys, one for girls and one unisex. Our first collection, which was about 15 SKUs, was taken up by Harrods. It remains one of our most important accounts, and one we have really grown with over the years.
We now have 19 staff and have a great office and showroom in Maida Vale. We design around 50 prints a year. We have a baby collection, a teen collection, a mainline collection and a small offer for men and women. We are now selling all over the world, our biggest outlet being our website, and we have about 400 SKUs.
How do you keep yourself motivated and inspired?
The inspiration is everywhere. Travelling is one of our biggest sources of inspiration and ideas. Markets, magazines, Instagram, wallpapers, films – if you have your eyes open, the inspiration is everywhere. We are both incredibly excited to see the brand grow and the motivation is enjoying the journey.
What is one piece of advice you would give your younger self?
Enjoy every minute – it whizzes by so quickly.
Favourite clothing brands?
Isabel Marant and Zara
Favourite places to shop?
I love the Burford Garden Company as a retail experience, online I love Matchesfashion
Last fashion purchase?
Black jumpsuit by Halston Heritage
Hiking in the German/Austrian Alps
Last book you read?
Once We Were Brothers – an absolute must-read, it’s brilliant
Last film you watched?
I watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s last weekend with my 11-year-old daughter – she loved it
PR executive at Lynne Franks PR – the TV show Absolutely Fabulous was based on this agency
Something to do with gardens or flowers
What would we find you doing at the weekend?
Walking the dog, baking, eating and drinking, seeing friends