By Andrea Brown Herald Writer
That splashy pink cheetah beach tunic flatters your curves.
The cute flowered cloche hat pretties up your face.
And those black leggings are cheeky chic, especially with the flirty skirt attached.
It’s hard to tell these are medical garb first and fashions second. The clothes are fabricated to block the harmful rays of the sun.
“You don’t have to look like a potato sack,” said Everett native Shaun Hughes, 56, founder of clothing maker Sun Precautions. “Some are slimming. I won’t say sexy. They are fun and feminine.”
The garments in Sun Precaution’s patented Solumbra fabric have come a long way since Hughes started the company in Everett in 1992 with some sun-blocking shirts and hats.
There are now about 3,000 items for men, women, children and toddlers. Most adult sizes are in the $50 to $100 price range.
Merchandise is sold online, by mail order or at the downtown Seattle plant where the clothes are made.
Solumbra fabric is made using a combination of fibers, weaving techniques and dyeing methods. It is not chemically treated or coated.
Hughes said the material blocks more than 98 percent of UV, or ultraviolet, rays.
He knows the evil the sun can inflict.
“I was a normal Everett kid who loved being outdoors, water skiing and swimming,” he said.
He also worked on getting that perfect baby-oil tan, even if it meant frying in the sun.
He was 26 and a Harvard MBA student when it all came back to bite him. A week after his regular doctor told him his skin was in great shape, a dermatologist told him otherwise. A funny looking mole turned out to be malignant melanoma.
He still wanted to be able to play outside. So he collaborated with experts to develop sun-blocking clothing for a spectrum of purposes.
“Some people can’t tolerate any sun and need protection going to the mailbox,” he said.
As he put it: It’s a medical solution that happens to be clothing.
Solumbra fabric is lightweight and wicking. It isn’t opaque, like black-out curtains. The cloth feels soft and cool to the touch, like expensive bed sheets.
Hughes said he personally puts it to the test at a Seattle lab. “Samples of every batch are turned into a quilt that is affixed to my back then subjected to 101 sunburn doses of UV,” he said. “The next day a reading is done on my back where I’ve been exposed. I’ve never been sunburned.”
This is the same back that had a melanoma hunk chopped out 30 years ago and has had numerous suspicious-but-benign things removed since.
“I look like the fish they threw away after they made sushi,” Hughes said. “I’m not a swimming suit model.”
The rising awareness of skin cancer and prevention has made many people sun savvy.
Granddaddy Sun Precautions has been joined by a slate of mainstream outfitters. Columbia Sportswear, REI, Patagonia and other companies also make numerous items from fabrics with varying degrees of sun protection.
Dr. Dieter Schmidt of North Sound Dermatology said about 86 percent of all melanomas are caused by the sun.
Melanoma is the most common cancer in people 25 to 29 years old. One person dies from melanoma every hour in the U.S.
Schmidt said clothing is the single most effective form of sun protection. He doesn’t endorse a brand, but recommends a UPF, or Ultraviolet Protection Factor, of 50-plus for clothing and hats.
Solumbra garments are sewn by a force of about 40 workers at the Seattle plant.
“They are wonderful craftspeople,” Hughes said. “They play a sewing machine like Bernstein plays the piano.”
Most Solumbra items are machine washable with regular soaps, but not bleach, which can damage the fibers.
Not all items are stylish options, however: The face guard looks like a mask a bank robber would wear.
Andrea Brown; 425-339-3443; email@example.com
Where to buy
The Sun Precautions store, at 3809 Ninth Ave. S., Seattle, is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays during the summer.