Like many (dare I say “most?”) people, Kelly Emberg caught the pickleball bug in the early days of the lockdown. The addictive sport with practically no barrier to entry had her hooked and outside, dinking her days away, a departure from her normal gym-going routine. But with all the fun came a new issue that Emberg hadn’t anticipated: sun exposure.
“Being a model, you couldn’t be tan all the time,” she remembers. “I was lucky enough to kind of stay out of the sun then, and after that, I knew to take care of my skin.” And this new pastime had her out and under the sun more than ever before. “Even in the morning and the evening, which is when I like to play, you get hot and you can get burned, and no matter how much sunscreen you put on yourself, it tends to either wear off or sweat off, and you see you’re either getting the [tan] lines, or freckles are popping out. So that’s kind of where it started — the ‘aha moment,’” she says. She started wearing shrugs and boleros (layered pieces to protect her shoulders and arms), scarves around her neck, and retractable visors to help shield the sides of her face as the sun moved around the court. After testing the waters selling items she sourced like hats with catchy pickleball words, visors, and accessories at a friend’s holiday bazaar late last year to rave reviews, Emberg decided to go all-in and create a full line of pieces she designed herself.
“I’m kind of an entrepreneur, so to speak. I like Shark Tank,” she says, laughing. That and her past — as a model, an interior designer, and hosting the health-oriented show Food Made Simple with Kelly Emberg on iHeart Radio — dovetailed neatly into a new mission to create beautiful, high-quality activewear that also provides safe sun protection.
“The whole idea with the line is I want it to be fun, because pickleball is fun,” says Emberg. “It’s kind of new and exciting and everyone can do it, so it’s a little bit more relaxed and colorful. People want to be protected…but they also want to look cute walking through life; they don’t want to look like a mummy. That’s the idea: Sun protection doesn’t have to be that serious. It can be fun and you can still be protected.” She named her brand Beso Shade, the Beso a play on words between the Spanish beso (kiss) and “Be so” (how the brand’s name is pronounced), as in “Be so protected,” or “Be so competitive,” she says.
As Beso Shade’s sole creator, designer, CEO, and financier, Emberg dived into every aspect of its operation, which has also become an education in functional fabrics that offer protection from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays and are safe to wear. “The idea is I’m using [materials] that will not allow ultraviolet rays to penetrate your skin,” she says, but she steers clear of fabrics whose UV protection comes from added coatings rather than the nature of the fabric itself. “I don’t know how healthy that can be for your skin. On top of that, if you wash and dry it, it takes [the protective coating] away, so I’m just learning a lot about fabric and how it protects your skin and what does and doesn’t work.”
She ties the concept to her love of gardening, equating skin on the body to the soil atop the earth. “I am concerned about the planet and our biggest organ, which is our skin,” she says. “Knowing those things, you dig a little deeper into stuff. They’ll find something [unhealthy] about everything in the end, but I am trying to find something that I think is the best for the skin at this point.”
Emberg is also set on keeping her brand local, and both her patternmaker and manufacturer are San Diego-based. “Everyone tells you, you can’t get your margins down unless you do it outside of America, which is sad,” she says. “We’ll see where it goes!”
Her initial line, slated to launch on her website this month, includes two styles of tanks and two skorts, plus a sun shrug and a pullover bolero, both with mesh insets for breathability, and scarves that cover both the front and back of the neck, with additional pieces in the works to be added. All are designed to layer, mix, and match in bright, punchy colors for the summer season (“I wanted it to be fun and bright, and so it is!” she says) plus a navy for those who prefer a more classically conservative look.
The model/designer/radio host and now fashion CEO embraces this next chapter in her life with (cautious) gusto. “I’m constantly questioning things but I think that’s part of the process,” she says. “It’s a whole new baby for me, and I like learning new things, so I’m excited!”