Success Worldwide: The One With Emily at Tribe Tropical

Well, we've all fallen in love with Aussie redhead Emily Graden. [...]

Well, we’ve all fallen in love with Aussie redhead Emily Gradon.

The Australian based entrepreneur spent her younger years protecting her skin, feeling frumpy and ‘daggy’ in beach clothes that hid her sensitive skin.

Emily’s brand Tribe Tropical is a sun-safe, swimwear fashion brand for the sensitive skin of all ages.

Here we find out the heartbreaking but powerful reasons she decided enough was enough and started the brand. We find out about Emily’s life at home, what she does for fun, and what advice she would give any of you aspiring entrepreneurs out there.

Emily with her children

Tell us about the journey that lead you to launch your brand Tribe Tropical.

Being a fair-skinned redhead, I know the importance of protecting skin while exposed to the sun.

I’m also a mother to 3 little girls and as we live in sunny Queensland, protecting them in the sun has always been paramount to me. I struggled to find unique, high-quality sun-safe swimwear that I liked so decided to create my own line!

I knew that I wanted to create unique patterns, and given that I’m truly obsessed with all things tropical, I decided to focus on elements that are unique to tropical Australia such as native Australian birds, turtles and butterflies, found in tropical regions of our country.

It’s a really fun, family lead brand with fashion and being sun safe at the forefront.

Why was this important to you?

I grew up in tropical climates (Papua New Guinea + Cairns in northern Australia) in the 80s/90s when there was no such thing as sun-safe swimwear, and covering up at the beach was really uncool; I used to have to be covered in oversized hats and big, daggy t-shirts while my sisters and friends ran off in trendy little swimsuits or bikinis – I was often teased for my unfashionable beach attire and it affected my self-confidence as a child/teen.

I have been treated countless times for sun damage and forms of skin cancer. I lost my grandfather to melanoma, so I know first-hand the importance of covering up in the sun, not just for an Australian redhead but for people all over the world. Bob Marley died from a melanoma on his toe, so we’re all at risk if we spend any time in the sun. This is the message I strive to get across while still inspiring people to dream of beautiful Australian islands & resorts!

You’ve been on a really personal journey with your own skincare, being a redhead growing up in a hot climate will have had its challenges. How did you overcome those?

It was very hard growing up as we spent a lot of time outdoors and I always had to dress differently from my peers to be protected in the sun. I used to dread days at the beach as I’d either look like the daggiest person there or I’d end the day with lobster-red skin and a cranky mother!

Mum always made sure I was well-protected in the sun but I used to hate wearing sunscreen and, in my teens/20s when my parents weren’t around, I was a bit less cautious so that’s surely when the damage was done.

This is why I try hard to educate my children and also other parents on the importance of sun protection, and also why I try to create pieces that kids and teens want to or choose to wear.

My girls are now 7, 6, and 1.5 years old and to them, wearing sun-safe swimwear is the norm, in fact they don’t own any bikinis or sleeveless swimsuits at all so that makes me really happy, knowing they’re well-protected in the sun. I also love that I can now match them in the style I released for ladies last summer!

What’s the process before adding a new collection?

The creative process for each pattern can take months and months, lots of toing & froing, and a lot of expense! Once patterns are finalised they are swatched and sampled, and if they work out as I had envisaged then I will proceed with an order. This process takes a year on average!

I only release 2-3 patterns per year and won’t release something unless I’m behind it 100%. Releasing a new style is always scary as I never know if people will like it or not – I just go off instinct and what I personally like, and just hope for the best!

To date, I have designed all patterns and concepts myself then worked with a textile artist to bring it all to life for print to fabric; this year I have started working with a brilliant artist based in Brisbane who has hand-drawn some gorgeous prints based on my visions – I can’t wait to unveil them soon!

How do you want people to feel when wearing your designs?

I want people to feel comfortable yet stylish & confident, and also happy knowing that they’re protecting their skin in the sun. I love seeing teenagers choosing to buy and wear my swimsuits.

They’re a really interesting age group to try to capture as they will often go for the trendy surf brands, and aren’t always as keen on covering up in the sun. So, when I see young girls saving their money up to willingly buy my suits it really makes me feel happy.

If you were to describe your personal style in three words, what would they be?

Tropical. Coastal. Boho (especially in the home).

What advice would you offer to anyone wanting to become an entrepreneur?

On one hand, I would say ‘absolutely, go for your dream!’ but on the other hand, I would also recommend that they speak with other entrepreneurs about the realities of starting a business.

There really is more work involved than you could ever imagine and it doesn’t stop, seven days a week! There has to be drive, passion, commitment, and also an understanding that it really takes a lot of time to
get ahead.

A lot goes on behind the scenes and there is no such thing as an ‘overnight success’ or a business that claims to have made hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales in its first year with no starting capital!

Talk us through an average day in your life.

A good day will start with a meditation and some exercise (walk/weights/stand-up paddle surf) but if my kids are awake before me then that all goes out the window and the morning mayhem before school begins!

My baby goes to family daycare two days a week so I try to use those days to work on the business- whether that’s sorting emails, packing orders, updating social media, working on blog content, finalising new styles, updating my accounting, updating my website – there are always a million things to do!

I also try to work on the business when my little one has her naps so I might get two to three hours a day to do this. Otherwise, it’s endless washing and housework, cooking, cleaning, gardening… all those fun jobs!

After the dinner/bath routines I will spend some time with my husband or jump on emails and social media, or we might watch something on Netflix. I cram a lot into a day and find that there are never enough hours!

How much has social media played a role in the success of your brand?

Social media has been great in terms of networking and showcasing beautiful images of different people of all ages wearing my swimwear – imagery is very important to me so curating a pretty feed that also encompasses what the brand is about in addition to sun safety (promoting tropical Australia & travelling to magical places, educating on UV protection and environmental concerns)
is a fun side for me.

Instagram is great for reach. I’ve just been invited to showcase at Miami Swim Week thanks to a connection via Instagram!

Our readers love to travel, what destination is at the top of your bucket list?

I’m a hugely passionate traveller (I’ve travelled to sixty-eight countries, lived in eight!) so am excited to be
asked this question!

It’s always hard to pick one place, right?! But places I’m desperate to visit are Lapland (we were planning on taking our kids to meet Santa last Christmas but Covid stalled those plans!), Bora Bora, and I’d love to see the Kremlin & Red Square in Moscow.

I’d also love to visit the Balkans & Baltic states. Places I’m dying to go back to are Nepal, Morocco, Egypt, France, Maldives, the US, Japan, and I’ll always have a soft spot for New York City and Prague.

What is your go-to quote when lacking motivation?

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.

What’s next for you and the brand?

I just hope to continue growing the brand and branching out within my means. I secured a few new stockists in the US recently as well as some new ones in Australia, so I hope to keep growing the wholesale side of the business, and continuing to connect with great people from all over the world while spreading the message about the importance of sun safety!

What does self-care mean to you?

It’s not always easy to prioritise between having a young family, a business and never-ending housework (haha) but I love to get out on the ocean on my stand-up paddleboard. SUP-surfing is a relatively new love of mine but it’s a sport I’ve really fallen in love with! Regular exercise and eating really healthily are also important to me.

Where can people find out more?

People can visit or find us on Instagram @tribetropical.

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Penny Lee
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