Getting to know Daniela Bohling and Millie Dornan, Founders of Wylding
We took a few moments with WYLDING founders, best friends, and wild swimming companions, Daniela Bohling and Millie Dornan.
Following a swimming holiday in Wales in 2020, after struggling with bulky post swim layers, this dynamic pair came up with the versatile yet super stylish, boilersuit inspired overwear for wild swimmers and adventurers throughout the seasons. And so WYLDING wear began.
It’s safe to say that we’re a little obsessed with WYLDING here at Ancient + Brave. Not only do we love how they've designed their suits to look chic post-swim, but also how they as a brand encourage others, including our founder, Kate, to experience the joys and benefits of cold water swimming.
Can you remember the moment you decided to give wild swimming a try? What was the lead up to this and what was that first experience like?
D: Yes, I picked up the phone to Millie as usual but heard an unfamiliar tone of
trepidation mixed with mischievous excitement in her voice. She had just read a post on Clover Stroud’s (writer & journalist) Instagram page asking if any of her followers would like to join her in “Swimming Through Winter”. We were in the Thames by the following Thursday!
M: When I read Clover's post, I had butterflies in my tummy and a little tug that said... do it! So I did... and I roped Daniela in too! The next week, we were stripping off with a group of total strangers and jumping into the Thames - I instantly loved the sensation of the freezing cold and the connection to these women. I was hooked.
There’s nothing quite like trying to quickly get dressed with cold fingers, or trudging home looking like a laundry basket! Your own journeys with wild swimming inspired the wonderfully versatile WYLDING Suit. Tell us more about the concept and what others love about it...
D: We both love to dress to suit ourselves, with comfort and function for the task at hand in mind. We value quality and personal style in our own wardrobes so when we found ourselves riverside post swim, Millie in a cotton boiler suit, and me in fleece top and pants; the idea to attempt to combine the two came quite naturally.
It was how to make the suit epic that took a great deal of consideration. The weatherproofing had to be reliable and the micro fleece had to be above par. With vast and varied product testing we hit the holy grail - fabric confirmed.
The real clincher: making a historic men’s workwear piece that a woman could feel incredible in while doing what she loved. We looked at the female form and areas of our body that felt the cold most when we get out of the water, the areas that pulled as we dressed our tacky legs in traditional trousers, the fact that often, you are so cold and in such a hurry that you can’t even hook up your bra!
We took the journey from leaving our homes to the waterside and back stepped, reviewing every element and item that we would need to account for - phones, keys, cards, etc, as well as how and where our bodies wanted to feel held and where we wanted to feel unencumbered. We added inner gators for wind protection and to tuck into socks to keep the cold out. We added an inner cuff to keep the pulses warm and doubly insulated, and we chose to line our suits with pops of colour so that the wearer’s personality could come through.
By taking this journey in minute detail, we accounted for everything that was relevant to our swims and, from the oversized, velcro phone pockets, to the fleece lined front pockets, the water proof zip and the double lined seams, our customers know that we have created this piece with their end-to-end swim journey and sense of confidence in mind. We made a conscious choice not to have an attached hood as we didn’t want to deviate at all from the style statement that is the boilersuit - utilitarian, strong, durable, worn with intention.
M: The one negative of swimming for me was the post swim faff of getting dressed. Your hands are numb, your body cold and sticky, and it just felt like a buzz kill. The suit is one piece and so easy to get in and off. The fleece inside is fast wicking and will absorb any residual moisture so you are warm and dry in seconds. It has been a game changer for me.
"One customer told us that her son laughed and told her that she looked like a superhero when she wears her WYLDING suit, she replied “good, because I feel like one when I wear this suit”. I have that email printed and tacked to our head office wall. That one line is what we feel when we swim, that is why we created WYLDING." - Daniela
You mention 'Blue Health’ seekers on your website and we totally fell in love with this term. Can you tell us more about this concept and how wild swimming has benefitted you both since you began?
D: We love this term and wholly believe in the theory behind it. "Blue Health” simply put, means that being near, in or on bodies of water is good for your mental and physical health. We use this term in reference to anyone who seeks out a water experience in a natural, open air environment - open water swimming, surfing, SUP, kite surfing, sailing etc.
A large aspect of this classification of health space is that the body and mind are aligning in their purpose and intention - focused on survival and progression in your chosen endeavour. In these times the body is active and engaged on multi-sensory levels and as a result, one is, without realising, meditating into a moment.
The noise of the brain’s murmurings irrelevant to that moment are quieted and the whole self is free to completely experience total, self focus... whether that's regulating your breathing in chilly swimming temperatures or balancing on a board. Mind and body are united in common goal.
The idea that the water is more powerful than we are and that it should be respected adds a healthy dose of mortal fear and adrenal hit! The single most notable after effect of a swim in our case, is the realisation that you can actually do anything, that fear can be overcome and that our bodies are resilient, strong and powerful. It's undeniable, and that sense of self realisation, alone and in the face of doubt is addictive... and contagious.
M: The effect of cold swimming on my mental health was huge. It gets rid of any
gloom! Any apathy... I noticed on the days I swam I was extra productive and
creative. I can often be far too in my head and the best thing about the cold water is that it instantly puts me back in my body.
There’s a whole host of ways to enjoy the water, from swimming to SUP to surfing or even just a stroll along the beach. What’s your favourite and how often do you manage to do it?
D: When we both lived in Stroud, we would swim multiple times a week for varying lengths given the time of year, with the odd surf lesson at The Wave in Bristol thrown in for good measure. Now we meet at swimming ponds and lidos in London when we catch up, or “enjoy” a deluge from an ice cold bucket of water at the Banya if we are feeling like spoiling ourselves!
M: Swimming is my favourite, but just being near water is hugely beneficial. I love
walking on the beach, paddle boarding and I am determined to learn to surf. I have tried it a few times and it is so much fun!
We speak about wild swimming as part of our Brave Lifestyle and get lots of
questions from people excited to give it a go but not sure if they should just ‘jump in. Are there any do’s or don’ts for someone looking to start swimming?
D: Firstly - DON'T “Jump in”! Slow, steady and strong.
When entering the water never jump or dive, especially if it's your first time there. If you do, you’re likely to hyperventilate (happened our first time) and you will really struggle to get your breathing under control. This is particularly dangerous if you are also contending with unexpected river current conditions. Walk in gradually but try to keep moving.
As the water reaches the upper areas of your body, namely the groin and the small of your back, the inclination is to pause, but this is the turning moment. Bull on through this cold discomfort as all your focus is going to be required when the water hits your chest. It literally takes your breath away.
Do not inhale, this moment is all about the exhale - long, deep and slow. This is your brain telling your body to remain calm, that you’ve got this, you can do hard things and that you are in control.
Have an exit strategy and know your water - we were cavalier with our first swim
and 15 of us (all first timers to cold water swimming and all first timers to that location) ambled into a fast flowing river only to be swept downstream. We had to cling onto a low hanging tree branch while traversing the strong current in order to clamber out of the water. Don't make this mistake - it could have ended badly.
Don’t feel that you are competing with anyone or anything. Sometimes the “rule” or minutes to degrees is misinterpreted as a barometer of resilience, not a safety
ceiling to stay within. Swimming should be holistic and invigorating, be gentle with yourself - a couple of minutes is perfect, you are literally testing the water and understanding and processing how your body responds to the experience.
If in an open body of water, always stay close to the edge until you know you can handle the temperature. Soon after entering, your body will start to get hot as your system starts to overcompensate, do not be deceived by this and do not stay in too long as your limbs will become tired and weaker as energy is being expended on keeping you warm.
This is where neoprene gloves come into their own; if you find yourself running out of steam and are a distance from the bank, cup your hands and use them as paddles to get you to safety. A must in all seasons for me for this reason. Always wear your float.
Use the facilities and make an event of it. If you are lucky enough to be at a swim
spot that has a sauna you can use it and have loads of fun playing with temperatures. Going between the hot and cold extremities is really exhilarating but finishing on a cold plunge is a must for us ... even if the sauna calls one last time! Friday mornings we will often be found running along the jetty at the Rewild Swim Club at Elmore Court, giggling and deep breathing through alternate hot/cold exposure. Bliss!
How do you juggle WYLDING with your careers and family? What are the main challenges, and how do you face them?
D: Some of the main challenges to running an online brand with such a strong and engaged community in a space that we love means that we find it hard to draw a line under the working day when it comes to customer relations, so a few boundaries on when to knock off would help with the work life balance!
Fortunately, family is a top priority for us both and we work our WYLDING and separate projects around our family time. Our children are all the same age so we mutually respect the hours available to us in the day to talk shop and plan our next steps.
We both find working and creating hugely fulfilling, so work is never the enemy. The main challenge comes when trying to fit time for self care, friendship and doing something that you love into a day. We’ve found the loophole!
It has come about very organically but the friendship groups that we have developed around swimming allows us to feed the need for a swim while spending time with mates.
An Ancient + Brave True Collagen shot or True MCT Oil with our coffee in the morning plus a 'Balance Me' facial oil massage will tick the box nicely on the self care front, even if nothing more indulgent happens that day.
The idea of Sisterhood weaves throughout your brand and messaging which, as a female founded and completely female team, we love! Why is sisterhood so important to you and did you discover the feeling of sisterhood through swimming?
D: I am lucky enough to have three sisters and be brought up in a female heavy
family, so the idea of sisterhood was subconsciously deeply present in me growing up. I didn’t realise that I even had this circle of female strength and support around me until one day, now living in the UK, I realised it was gone.
I had put on a hard shell in order to survive and navigate London life in my 20's and early 30's, and it was only when I had kids and could no longer hide the vulnerability, fear of the life juggle and perceived identity shift, that I found true and deep friendships forming around me again.
When I moved out of the city and started swimming, I saw another level of what sisterhood was, it was showing up! Showing up for the wobble, showing up for the giggle, showing up because you promised someone you would get into 4degree water with them and they really needed that plunge that day.
Through the life/work balance that Millie and I have sometimes struggled with in our careers, we have made a concerted effort to always choose women within the WYLDING team. That might mean that they can only do things within school hours or we have to turn a plan around last minute due to home obligations, but the work always gets done and quality is never comprised - it's a more healthy and flexible attitude towards working households.
M: I found swimming to be a wonderful way to connect. I would much rather go for a swim with a friend than to the pub. The conversations you have and the closeness you feel is really special. It’s like going through something together! I have had amazing swims with my friends over the years... a summer solstice swim with Cacao and ghost stories around the fire is one of my favourites!
"In as much as Sisterhood is central to our brand and general attitude to life, so too is our mantra “she who dares"... Dare to get into that lake, dare to start that business, dare to ask for help, dare to say no - it's when daring meets sisterhood that we are unstoppable." - Daniela
Finally, a few quick fire questions, what’s your favourite...
Daily(ish) healthy habit:
D: A lemon tea followed by a coffee with Ancient + Brave True Collagen, barefoot on the grass in the garden for a few minutes.
D: Shhhhh!!!!! Cant tell.
M: I’ll never tell!
Memory of water:
D: Hollywood Lake in my hometown of Monaghan in Ireland - it has been beautifully reconditioned now and a lot more in keeping with the natural beauty of it's surroundings, but at the time it had a low brick wall built into an area in the bay that served as a type of lido/holding pen for the smaller kids, it was absolute heaven when the sun came out.
M: Swimming in the sea as a child.
Way to relax:
D: Walking the Golden Valley’s of Stroud. Recently I’ve become a bit obsessed with sourcing the originals of samples used in songs but this ends up being quite stressful if I can’t get it in the end!
Way to connect with others:
D: I find it really difficult to stay connected through phone calls and messaging so for me, connection is reinforced experientially - doing things together with friends and family (that at least one of us enjoys doing) is vital to me.
My husband and I both work for ourselves so can flip our days if need be, instead of the traditional date-night out for dinner, we might head to the Wave in Bristol for a surf lesson in the morning once we drop the kids at school.
M: Walking and cups of tea.
D: Anywhere in Italy - particularly the smaller islands that are still predominantly filled with locals where the hotels and restaurants are still small, intimate family run affairs. My grandmother, who I was intensely close to, was Italian and being around the smells of simple dishes being cooked while there makes me feel like I’m back in her kitchen waiting for my lunch.
You can see where our obsession is born from, can't you! Discover Wylding for yourself...