I met #stolagirl Liv Sharron on a nippy May morning. Over a brisk swim in The Serpentine we discussed her charity, Chilly Dippers, self-care and, of course, pyjamas.
At 7:45am Liv and I stepped into the enclosed swimming area in Hyde Park. Swimmers, giddy with excitement, flock to and from the Serpentine embracing the cold 10 degree air temperature and a mere 12 degrees in the water.
I arrived cladded out in my full cold water swimming uniform; wetsuit, waterproof socks, gloves and hat. I wear all this under a thick winter coat. Liv could not look more different; coatless, she has slipped on our Albanda White PJ top over her swimsuit and paired it with jeans. She looks every bit the chic, calm and collected pro swimmer.
As we immerse ourselves into the lake and get past the initial cold shock Liv starts chatting about her love of chilly dips. From a young age she enjoyed swimming in the sea but it wasn't until she started Edinburgh University that Liv noticed a major difference in how the water made her feel. Whenever she was stressed or having a bad day she’d sense an impulse to take a dip and would immediately be calmer and happier afterwards. On researching this correlation, articles started coming up about how the cold water boosts endorphins and adrenaline.
To spread her findings Liv launched the Chilly Dippers Challenge. This was in response to the ‘#itsokaynottobeokay’ movement that involved men taking selfies and tagging three friends to raise awareness for suicide prevention. ‘I thought, great principle to use social media for what it’s good for, spreading a message, but actually really bad in practise because these boys are just trying to look fit. It perpetuated this negative competitive system’. Liv utilized their means of spreading a message, tagging people, but with a twist. Rather than posting a selfie, she urged her peers to take a chilly dip, film it, then tag others to do the same.
This was back in 2018, just before the winter swimming trend really kicked off. More research has been done particularly looking into how cold water can boost your mental health. A fascinating report by the British Medical Journal tracked a 24 year old woman on antidepressants who had been struggling from “symptoms of major depressive disorder”. However, after becoming a mother she no longer wanted to rely on this medication and began – in consultation with doctors – a programme of outdoor swimming in 15C water. Miraculously, after just a year of swims, she was able to come off her medication completely.
With indoor pools closed over much of the pandemic another spike in outdoor swimming numbers has taken place. Recent figures from Sport England suggest more than 4.1million people are regularly donning their bathing suits to go open-water swimming. Other research from Daffodil Hotel reveals wild swimming has seen a huge 287% increase in popularity since March 2020.
I had also fallen into the cold water trend after suffering from a spinal injury. Eight months into chronic back pain I tried swimming off the Scottish coast on a holiday. I noticed the pain seemed to miraculously vanish whilst I was in the sea and even after the numbing sensation had passed I still experienced much less pain.
Liv attributed this to a ‘reduction in stress; not thinking about pain and just focusing on one thing; getting through the moment. If a lot of pain is stressed induced immersing yourself can take your mind off it which can relieve the pain. I always think of the mental side, for you it's the physical, but then from that the mental’.
After a couple of laps of breaststroke, and avoiding some close encounters with swans, we decided it was time for our morning coffee. Liv slipped back into her Stola shirt and we warmed up with cappuccinos. Both buzzing from our swim we discussed how important it is to make time in our days to swim regularly. As we spend more and more time glued to our desks working from home there is no greater feeling than ‘being engaged in a sport in a natural and green environment’. Liv described it as ‘an act of self-care; when you swim you're not on your phone and completely absorbed in a moment’.
After the past year we have all endured, making time for ourselves has never been valued more. Stola was born out of this concept and the idea that wearing comfy and sustainable nightwear is an act of self-care. Liv kindly adds that ‘it has come around at the right time. I want a clean ironed pair of pjs and to snuggle up with my dog and a cuppa tea. That whole feeling is what I get from swimming and what I want in my life every day. People now want to cosy up and feel comfy but not in tracksuits’.
Liv has always been a pyjama wearer and likes dressing them up in the day, as she’s demonstrated this morning. This is something key to our aesthetic at Stola and I feel our hemp pyjamas have a smartness to them that makes you feel sophisticated in a way tracksuit never does. Liv highlights that putting on pyjamas ‘is an act of mindfulness and self love because when you wear trackies you're about to sweat it out in a gym or be feeling hungover!’ We agree hemp pyjamas can make you feel good about yourself in a way tracksuit never does.
Liv adds ‘and I also look so stylish in my stolas!’
She looks up from her coffee and has that post swim glow, her hemp shirt shimmering against her long dark locks - she really does look gorgeous.
To find out more about Chilly Dippers take a look at Liv’s website www.chillydippers.com