For Pinghwa Okorie, Founder and CEO of Salt and Sunscreen, launching a swimwear brand only a few years out of college may not have been part of her original plan, but the big career jump seemed necessary after recognizing a major gap in the market.
Shortly after graduating from college in Washington, D.C. in 2016, Okorie moved back to her hometown of Lagos, Nigeria, and began to observe a need for quality swimwear for all shapes and sizes of women. Salt and Sunscreen officially launched just a few years later, and Okorie’s strong background in marketing and hospitality has been tremendous as she navigates the business world.
Although shopping for swimwear can sometimes be dread-inducing, Salt and Sunscreen aims to change that mindset by creating pieces meant to fit all body types and appealing to various bathing suit style preferences. Okorie is inspired by the curvy shape of the women she sees every day on the streets of Lagos, and her stretchy designs celebrate and play up these feminine body types.
Okorie designs for real women and wants everyone to find a piece that works for them. You will often find her modeling the suits herself on Salt and Sunscreen’s Instagram, a testament to the authenticity of that statement.
As an avid traveler with Nigerian and Taiwanese heritage, Okorie’s experiences with a myriad of places and cultures have helped shape Salt and Sunscreen’s signature aesthetic. Bright colors and playful cuts are never in short supply while maintaining a classic feel that makes the designs feel approachable for the everyday.
As swimwear line Salt and Sunscreen launches on The Folklore, Founder Pinghwa Okorie talks about her untraditional path to launching her brand, her design process, and taking inspiration from her surroundings in Nigeria.
Salt and Sunscreen Founder Pinghwa Okorie
How does your life in Lagos inspire your designs?
Lagos holds a special place in my heart. Within all the chaos and hustle and bustle, I can escape to the beach anytime. Growing up I always loved going to the beach which has shaped my passion for swimwear and beachwear. Nigerians are very proud of their heritage so when it comes to picking colors and prints, I want that ‘stand out’ feature to carry on to my designs. When people wear Salt and Sunscreen it allows them to feel chic and comfortable while making a bold statement.
How has your range of past experiences helped you run your own company?
Working in various industries including hospitality, tech, and marketing has helped me gain a range of experiences. For my undergraduate studies, I majored in Business Administration which covered a lot of the basics in business management. My experiences have helped me develop strong customer service skills, be able to adjust to different situations, as well as pay attention to detail. There’s still a lot of room for growth as I’m still learning every day from new experiences.
Why is it important for people to have better options when it comes to swimwear?
When I moved back from New York City to Lagos in 2017, I noticed that there were very few swimwear options in Nigeria. I wanted to merge my passion for travel and swim and give people more options when it comes to swimwear. I’m an advocate for quality pieces that are versatile – I wanted people to have options that they can pair with their favorite pieces outside of the pool or beach. Salt and Sunscreen swimwear pieces have that soft-to-touch feel, which is very important when shopping for swimwear. You’ll have to buy one of our swimsuits to experience it!
How do you approach your design process to ensure that every person can find a piece that works for them?
Research, research, research! I study my market and understand what types of pieces women seek to feel comfortable and sexy in. On an ongoing basis, I also gather feedback from my customers and community which helps future product developments. Each piece is carefully designed based on the beauty of an African woman—the feminine physique and accentuated curves, while also drawing design and color inspiration from Nigeria and beyond. We try to strike a balance between two pieces and one-pieces, as some people prefer bikinis and others prefer a one-piece with a bit more coverage.
Tell us about the inspiration behind your recent collections.
In my recent collection, I wanted to capture various joys of life found in nature in Nigeria. The yellow pieces are inspired by the bright sun that shines on us year-round, the green color draws from nature and plants that surround us, and Merah Hati shade was inspired by the red sand found in my dad’s hometown in Enugu State. I wanted to showcase an emblem of colors that represent various aspects of life at home. At the same time, I wanted tones that compliment various skin tones.
How do your source your fabrics and materials for your swimwear and beachwear?
All of our swimwear pieces are designed in Nigeria and manufactured in China. Beachwear items are sourced locally in the markets in Lagos.
During the sampling stage, I usually travel to China to meet with various manufacturers prior to final production. I remember my first visit, I had to sit with them one-on-one to go over every aspect of the final designs including stitching, fabric type, padding, accessories, you name it! It was overwhelming at first because of the language barrier but I was grateful I had my sister-in-law and mother (both Taiwanese) there with me to help translate.
Right now, I’m working on the next collection, and with the whole world on pause, my travel plans have been canceled. But I’m still messaging my manufacturers daily to ensure production is going as planned!
How has your exposure to different places through traveling or work influenced your pieces?
I love learning about new cultures and visiting new places. When I travel, every aspect contributes to and inspires my designs. A lot of the pieces from the recent collection are named after places that I’ve visited in Mexico, Kenya, the Philippines, and of course Nigeria. With each piece, I try to think of a place that it reminds me of – I want people to be instantly transported there (mentally if not physically) when they wear it.
How do you hope to see the brand expand in the coming years?
There’s so much I want to do! In the coming years, I hope to expand into more markets around the world. We’ve slowly started expanding into beachwear so I hope we can grow that aspect more.
Words by Olivia Starr