Surfing trip spurs swimwear-design company for island native
Ashley Chase and her partner are the principals of SeaLove Swimwear, a company that is designing and selling swimwear through stores in the United States and internationally.
Chase was born in Newport, but grew up in Jamestown. She attended the local schools and went to North Kingstown High. When her parents left Jamestown while she was in fourth grade, Chase decided she was too fond of the town to leave. She moved in with her grandparents on the island.
When her grandfather became ill while she was in high school, Chase remained determined to stay. She lived with the families of several of her friends. Eventually she moved to her family’s summerhouse in Martha’s Vineyard and completed her senior year of high school there.
“I still go back to Jamestown,” Chase said. “I’m still friends with all my girlfriends I’ve had since kindergarten.”
Chase went to St. Michael’s College in Vermont, but was soon bitten by the travel bug. First she went to Florence, Italy, to study art for six months, followed by a backpacking trip through Europe. A long-time participant in the local surfing and sailing crowd, she soon found herself dropping out of school temporarily. She traveled to Bali, widely recognized as one of the best surf spots on the planet. It was one of several trips she would make to the Indonesian island, each time for four or five months.
It was there that her future began to take shape.
“I fell in love with Bali,” Chase said. “The culture is beautiful.”
Eventually Chase returned to school in Vermont, this time to Johnson State College. She earned bachelor’s degrees in fine arts and alternative medicine.
The first time Chase went to Bali she packed light and assumed she would have no problem finding a bathing suit in such a surfing oriented location. As it turned out, it took her days to find a suit that fit her and she liked.
“I ended up going into every surf shop in the city, and I couldn’t find anything,” Chase said. “I finally found a local seamstress and I sat down with her and made a sample and a pattern for a bathing suit. We ended up making my first three swimsuits.”
Chase has always loved art and design, but because so many women she knew were going into fashion, she hesitated to get into the field because she thought it might be too competitive. Getting into swimwear was something that was born out of necessity when Chase needed that swimsuit in Bali. On her next trip to Bali, Chase made 150 bathing suits. That number increased on subsequent trips to the island.
In January of this year, Chase took on a partner by the name of Indah Huberman. SeaLove Swimwear was born. Huberman is Indonesian, but she grew up in Atlanta and New York. The two met through friends. Huberman had been making resort wear, and she combined her designs with Chase’s swimwear to create the new company.
“We traded tips and advice on design and manufacturing,” Chase said. “We also surfed together. We ended up realizing that with our similar styles and skills, and the fact that we both had our own companies, we should be working together.”
Now the partners share in the design work. Nearly every design they create is something they have collaborated on. Their designs are manufactured in Bali and sold online, both nationally and internationally through retail stores. Chase’s network of friends has helped make contacts at retail stores all over the world.
“So much of it is personal connections,” Chase said. “We’ve had so much support from local businesses.”
Thus far there are stores carrying the SeaLove brand in six states, including Rhode Island, as well as countries like Malaysia, Thailand and the Maldives. A list of stores can be found on SealoveSwimwear.com. Chase can also be contacted via email through the website, and the company hopes to have an online store up and running soon.
“My partner and I handle all aspects of the business ourselves, so all the email we get we handle directly,” Chase said.
As for the future of SeaLove Swimwear, Chase said she wants to keep expanding the company’s collection. She hopes the business continues to grow as quickly as it has thus far.
Meanwhile, it seems that Chase has travel on her mind again. She has plans to head out west for some snowboarding, a pastime of hers that she hasn’t had time to pursue for a couple of years.