Meet the home-grown prevention-focused company taking on one of the country’s biggest killers

Australia has the highest melanoma rates in the world with one person diagnosed every 30 minutes and one person dying every six hours. Though the importance of sunblock is well established, stark statistics highlight a worrying dissonance between the entirely preventable problem and the day-to-day reality.

Enter Solbari, the Melbourne born company setting the gold standard globally in Ultra Protection Factor (UPF) 50+ protective apparel, and a $10 million investment from the Australian Business Growth Fund.

Tailor-made sun protection

Sparked by a shared passion for health and a commitment to address growing concerns around sun exposure, Solbari has not only redefined the way we shield ourselves from the sun but has also carved a remarkable journey of growth and success.

After moving to Australia, CEO and Founder Johanna Young was confronted by the prevalence of skin cancer. She couldn’t reconcile why people were succumbing to the health issue in a country famed for its outdoor lifestyle and sunny weather.

When her husband faced his own risk of skin cancer, Ms Young felt compelled to make a positive difference and quit her job working in finance to embark on a journey to redefine sun protection in Australia – this was not merely a business venture but a personal response to a pervasive problem.

“Many Australians do not apply enough sunscreen, forget to reapply, or neglect to use other sun protection measures like hats and protective clothing,” said Ms Young.

Through research Ms Young discovered the best way to manage skin cancer is through preventative measures such as protective clothing. However, a typical white cotton t-shirt only offers protection equivalent to a mere SPF5, a fact which shocked her.
While volunteering at a Cancer Council retail store, Ms Young was exposed to firsthand accounts from clients about the lack of sun protective garments that were not only stylish but also light and breathable – from this, Solbari was born.

“I realised the critical need for accessible, well made and reliable sun-protective clothing. It became clear that there was an untapped opportunity to bridge the gap between style and safety in the realm of skin protection.”

Prevention over treatment

Through a diversified product range and an unwavering commitment to quality, Solbari has solidified itself as a global leader in sun-protective apparel since its inception only 10 years ago. Today, Solbari offers the highest quality UPF50+ (equivalent to the protection offered by SPF50+ sunscreen) clothing, swimwear, sun hats and accessories. The quality of the products speak for themselves, attracting a loyal global customer base of more than 300,000 from over 160 countries.

The backbone of Solbari’s success lies in its dedication to research and development. As a specialist UPF brand, all Solbari products undergo rigorous testing to ensure it is UPF 50+. The company invested heavily in creating products that not only meet but exceed international standards for UV protection and is one of few specialist brands endorsed by dermatologists and industry authorities.

What sets Solbari apart is not just its commitment to innovation but also its dedication to customer education. Solbari’s mission is to empower people to live a sun smart life through raising awareness about the importance of sun protection, ensuring that its customers are well-informed advocates for their health.

“What was alarming to me was the detection and treatment focused nature of public discourse around skin cancer – while we were talking about things like the importance of regular skin checks, I found that Australians were missing the education piece about prevention,” said Ms Young.

“At the crux of Solbari is prevention over detection then treatment. We need to be educating people about the crucial benefits of safeguarding our skin by wearing UV protective products.”

Unlocking strategic potential with ABGF

The Australian Business Growth Fund has taken a $10 million stake in Solbari which will allow the company to expand and scale, with particular focus on targeting younger Australians and growing its wholesale market presence, which currently makes up 10% of the business.

Solbari has achieved rapid revenue growth and grown from 10 employees to 25 in the last three years and with ABGF’s support is expected to see employees grow to 40 in the next three years. As the company accelerates growth, it remains rooted in its values of innovation, quality, and customer empowerment.

“Investing in Solbari was particularly compelling to ABGF due to its specialisation in sun-protective offerings focused on addressing a customer cohort with health concerns, the products are not considered as discretionary spending but rather essential items,” said Ghazaleh Lyari, co-head of investments at ABGF.

“Moreover, the versatility of this business model positions it with a diverse potential for growth opening the door to strategic partnerships that include retailers, corporates with stringent Occupational Health and Safety requirements and organisations to catering to the specific needs of employees including council workers, construction workers, sports clubs, and educators.”

“ABGF’s expertise will ensure our journey as a global leader in sun protection continues. Their strategic insights and networks, coupled with a deep understanding of our industry, will be instrumental in our next phase of growth,” said Ms Young.

“From the moment I met the ABGF team, we just clicked. They were already well informed about our business and sector. They also asked insightful questions that demonstrated their authentic interest in our business and helped frame my vision for growth. Plus they were already a customer and had personally tested our products! From all the research I did into options to bring in an external investor, I was quickly convinced that ABGF was the right partner for our business.”

Photo: Ghazaleh Lyari (ABGF Co-head of Investments) with Johanna Young (CEO of Solbari).

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