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From sunscreen spills to sustainable success

Two women sitting at a table adorned with colorful small containers and white mugs, smiling and engaged in conversation. One woman, with shoulder-length blonde hair, is wearing a dark green shirt and the other, with light brown hair, is in a white shirt. Both are successful entrepreneurs discussing their enterprises.

Caroline Farrer and Kelly Riley


The Business

The Founders

Caroline Farrer and Kelly Riley
The Concept

A convenient, refillable sunscreen applicator that is sustainably made and beautifully designed.

The Passion
“It wasn’t enough for us to create a reusable product. We needed to create a reusable product that was also sustainable in all elements of our business.”
The Pain
“We’ve had a couple of really big setbacks, and we’ve only been able to survive because we’ve been careful around our finances.”
A graphic design featuring two wavy lines horizontally aligned, perfect for promoting women in business. The top line is red, while the bottom line is yellow. The lines mirror each other, creating a parallel wavy pattern. The background is transparent for versatile use in female businesses' branding.

The Mission

A pair of white quotation marks facing upward against a solid light blue background, symbolizing the voice and impact of female businesses in the entrepreneurial world.

“We, of course, want to have the success of building a business that can survive well long term with strong financial success. But we only want to achieve that if it is aligned with our values.” — Caroline Farrer

Kelly Riley was standing in the terminal at Gold Coast Airport with a screaming toddler and a bag full of exploded sunscreen when the idea for Solmates first took shape.

Wiping up and wrangling kids, she thought: “Wouldn’t it be great if we could have something small and convenient that you could just tether to your bag and make it easier to put on the kids?” But the idea sat with the former corporate change manager for years before she would finally decide to press go.

“I always wanted to start my own business of some description.” Riley remembers.
“I’ve started a few businesses in the past that haven’t really gone anywhere and then I just decided one day: ‘I’m going to go to a design agency. I’m going to see if I can make this idea into a real thing.’”

She took “a scribble of my idea on a piece of paper” to a Sydney-based design company who “took it from a scribble and made it into something really cool.

A woman, possibly brainstorming business ideas for women, playfully applies sunscreen to a smiling young boy's face at the beach using bright orange sunscreen applicators. The ocean and sky with a few clouds are visible in the background. The child is shirtless, and both are enjoying a sunny day.

The Perfect Partner

It was when Riley was tackling the question of manufacturing that she went to close friend and branding and marketing expert Caroline Farrer for advice. Farrer, who says she hadn’t previously considered working for herself, believes it was “the right person” and “the right product” that ignited her passion for entrepreneurship. “As soon as I saw this product, I thought: ‘Oh I’m really jealous, I wish I’d thought of that’,” Farrer says.

“And in the course of our conversations, we just realised that it would be pretty amazing if we did it together.” Despite warnings that going into business with a friend might not be a good idea, the pair say it works well. “I think Kel and I knew each other for long enough to have that level of trust and respect to know that would work,” Farrer says. “We just realised we had really different skill sets and that by combining that we could actually make a really good go of it.” But partnering with the right people extends past a business partner to who you work with too.

The pair describe the challenging process to source fully sustainable materials so that they can “fully live and breathe” their values. But they say the demand for sustainable materials, products and packaging from businesses like theirs is starting to change things in the supply chain.“I think we’ve been exceptionally lucky with our big partners like our design agency and our manufacturer, but also the suppliers we’ve used,” Farrer says.

“We’ve thought very carefully about how we want to work with them.”

A child is holding colorful, cylindrical containers with handles, perhaps dreaming of starting a business. The child is wearing a light blue shirt and denim overalls. The handles of the containers are looped around the child's fingers, and the containers are red, yellow, blue, and pink.
Three pink and orange silicone containers sit on a light-colored surface. Two are open—one with a white cream-like substance inside, the other revealing a white ball-shaped item. Perfect for female entrepreneurs starting a business, these containers have loop handles for easy carrying.
Two children are sitting outdoors, smiling and playing together. The child on the left wears a blue and white floral hat and a white shirt with purple flowers, holding a toy. The child on the right wears a blue floral hat and denim overalls, gently touching the other child's shoulder while discussing their future business ideas for women.

Beautiful Design

The pair say their product has been received so well because it fits a growing demand from consumers who value sustainability and reusable items, from coffee cups and shopping bags to water bottles and, now, sunscreen applicators.

The product is made from certified ocean-bound plastic. It is packaged in recycled packaging and shipped in recycled boxes. All of the rejects are melted down and directed back into the production process. And if a customer loses a part of their applicator, like the lid, they can purchase a replacement part rather than a whole new product.

“For me, I think my passion for sustainability was just building for a really long time,” Farrer says. “I think it was this sense of despair and sort of hopelessness when I thought about what was happening to the planet and I think once I had my children that accelerated because I just felt a huge responsibility for them and their future.”

“When I thought about what I wanted to do next, it could only be something that I thought was leading towards a better solution for something and leading towards good. The women both believe in the importance of seeking feedback when innovating. Not only do others have solid business advice because they’ve walked the path before you, but people have different experiences that will help you innovate.”

“We’ve changed direction on certain things so many times, in a good way, just from talking to people,” Riley says. “Because you think you’re doing the right thing and then you talk to someone about something and they’ve experienced something different and you think: ‘Oh my God! That’s brilliant!’”

It was both thrilling and an honour to see their beautiful applicators featured in the New Australian Design exhibit at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum, which ran between September 2022 and April 2023.

“We went to the Powerhouse Museum to see the showcase and we took Kel’s daughter,” Farrer recalls.

“Mia would have been nine at the time and, for me, that moment was just the most magic, of seeing Mia see her Mum’s product in a museum … that’s the high point of our success so far.”

Two women smiling and leaning toward a display case filled with colorful cylindrical objects. In the background, a glass window with text reveals a room beyond. Their eyes shine with excitement, discussing innovative business ideas for women.
A modern museum exhibit display case with various colorful small cylindrical objects aligned on a beige surface. The case has transparent glass panels and is surrounded by blue metal frames. The background includes a large window and a perforated metal wall, offering inspiration for female businesses looking for unique display concepts.
Illustration of a stylized eye with a pink outline, dark blue pupil, and a small yellow circle positioned near the center of the pupil. The design is minimalistic and abstract, symbolizing vision and clarity—ideal for branding female businesses or business ideas for women.

Words of Wisdom


Keep on talking: “Talk to as many different people as possible and get as much advice as possible. There’s only so much you can know.”


Market research: “Are you truly creating something that people want? Test, Test, Test.”


Focus on your financials: “We’ve made a really concerted effort to know exactly where we’re at financially on a week-to-week basis in revenue and profit. It’s really easy to trip up if you aren’t completely across that.”


4. Look after yourself: “There are so many women like us who are trying to balance a family and a new business. Just keeping yourself sane can be a very hard thing to do and I feel like we should always acknowledge that.”


Be confident: “I wish we’d been more confident from the beginning. Kel and I started very softly, softly and we weren’t too sure we could do this. But we have now become very ambitious and we’re talking about really big plans for the future. I wish we could go back and tell ourselves that we should aim big from the beginning and that we’ve got this.”

“I think, for me, any day that I get to manage my family, get my work done and squeeze in the gym would be considered success!” - Kelly Riley

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