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Balmoral swim sisters launch designer wetsuit brand

Balmoral sisters, Karen Panaretto and Cathy Mackay have designed a new range of wetsuits for ladies of open water.

Every year, come April or May, two sisters who swim together every day at Balmoral, found themselves searching for the essential wardrobe item to equip them for swimming in the ocean for the cold months ahead.

They would debate brands, styles, long sleeve or sleeveless and be disillusioned and disappointed by the traditional wetsuit offerings in the marketplace. The black or fluoro-trimmed wetsuits with technical features were hard to put on and easy to damage. This didn’t fill them with joy. All they really wanted was a wettie that was warm, comfortable, flattering and easy to put on. 

After years of disappointing purchases, Karen Panaretto and Cathy Mackay decided the only way to solve their dilemma was to enter the world of neoprene. To design and manufacture a wetsuit that would satisfy their needs and hopefully solve the problems of all other ocean-loving women as well.

Following 18 months of research, design and sweat, the girls have recently launched their brand ‘The Swim Set‘. 

Karen, with her previous experience in swimsuit businesses, led the design process. She reflected that “we really wanted to make a wetsuit that had “fashion DNA”.  We wanted to use an eco-friendly limestone-based neoprene, that is super stretchy and comfortable and we definitely wanted to have colour and design as a focus”, she stressed.

Cathy added, “Living in Balmoral shapes your engagement with the natural environment and we are fortunate to be able to enjoy the beauty of our harbour surroundings every day. Our wetsuits will give women the choice to immerse themselves in their natural environment all year round”.

The sisters’ motto is “You never regret a swim”. This mantra is echoed by swimmers all around the world.

The sisters’ love of all things ‘ocean’ is not a recent whim. Their passion for the sea and the lifestyle it provides started early. Weekends on the beach. Holidays near the beach. Toddlers in zinc. Teenagers in bikinis. Karen said, “We would never have guessed that our swimming would continue to provide the same fun and enjoyment as it did when we were kids.” However, Cathy confirmed  “We knew from our first ocean swim we had discovered an adventure that we loved doing together. Particularly the preparation, the friendships formed, and the feeling of jubilation on completing something that takes you out of your comfort zone”. 

Swimming in the ocean has now become part of their daily ritual. Whether they are swimming at their local beach, Balmoral, or dropping into one of the other beaches on the eastern coast of NSW they always find a group of like-minded daily swimmers to join.

Karen and Cathy commented “Swimmers are super friendly people” and the explosion of ocean swimming groups, like The Bondi Salties and The Bold and the Beautiful at Manly are a testament to that.  The sisters go to Manly at least once a week to mix things up and they like a quick trip across the bridge to swim at Bondi with the Salties or Coogee with the COWS. In fact, during Covid, they even spent an early Saturday morning swimming past the Opera House in the harbour – just because they could!

The Swim Set girls also keep an eye on the ocean swimming calendar in Australia and have competed in Byron, Noosa, Rottnest and South Australia, along with the regular NSW swims. They are always on the lookout for other swimming adventures to do together; whether it is swimming holidays in Greece, a race around The Statue of Liberty, a relay around Manhattan Island or braving the dark on the Catalina Island to LA swim. 

Karen said “a swim race or a relay event that you train for is a great goal-oriented pastime”.

Cathy agreed, saying “Swimming not only provides you with great physical health outcomes as a form of exercise but it also provides the most amazing mental therapy”.

Whether it’s rainy, or choppy or not as clear as it could be, they believe you always come out of the sea feeling better than when you went in. The sea is a tonic. Some call it ‘Vitamin Sea’, others just say that it gives them their reason to get out of bed every morning. The girls believe that salt water fixes almost anything!

However, it’s not just the swimming that has completely hooked the sisters.

Karen says “It’s the whole package – the swim, the ocean, the connection with people from all walks of life… and of course it’s the post-swim coffee”.

Cathy says “There is nothing better than the post-swim cappuccino” with a serving of “ocean chat” on the side… What do you think the water temp was today? Did you see the PJ sharks near the boulders?  What distance did your watch tell you we swam? How beautiful was the sunrise this morning!!

The sisters agreed that they never tire of such conversation. A bit of swimming banter is a great way to start the day. The community that ocean swimmers develop and foster is amazing and it’s not just at one beach. Every beach has a swimming community and being part of that community provides connection and companionship: both essential for human wellbeing.

So if it’s that good for you and makes you feel so good, how do you make sure you can swim in it everyday? How do you make it easier to do that 2k swim before work in 16-degree water in winter? That was the challenge for the sisters who feel the cold but were sick of struggling into unforgiving neoprene every morning. They believe their new brand, The Swim Set, offers the solution.

They have spent months wear testing both the sleeveless style and the long sleeve boy leg style.  They confirmed that the long sleeve style has kept them toasty warm for their daily 2-3 km all though this Sydney winter. Not only did they have no chafing but they had lots of enthusiastic comments on the stylish design. As the girls say “Look good, feel good”.  

The Swim Set wetsuits are not “swim-specific” because the sisters love all ocean activities. They wanted to design a product that was universal for all ocean-loving women. They have used their wetsuits for surfing, snorkelling, stand-up paddle boarding and kayaking. The wetsuits also provide a great form of sun protection too.

From a love of the ocean to an addiction to swimming daily in the sea, the sisters have found a lifestyle they cherish and want to share. So all you need to do is grab your goggles and cap and your Swim Set wettie and head to the beach to share in the life-changing benefits of swimming in the ocean.

Swim Day is every day!!

  • Written by Ocean Swims on 15 August 2023
  • (Updated on 21 August 2023)



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