28 August 2023

Mangerton mum's innovation makes beach play a breeze

| Dione David
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Young boy in a green Rugii wearable hooded towel set

Ethan in his Rugii with mumpreneur Natalie Zukowski. Photo: Natalie Zukowski.

When it comes down to it, Mangerton mum Natalie Zukowski’s company Rugup Beach Co is all about one thing: flexibility.

Its signature product, the “Rugii” – the first ever wearable hooded towel set – was designed to allow children to play at the beach without restriction. And it became a business to give Natalie the flexibility she needed to work and care for a child born with a disability.

The idea for the Rugii first came to Natalie as a solution to a parent problem with her eldest son, Finn.

“My son was shy and didn’t want to be exposed while he played on the beach, but at the same time the traditional hooded towel is quite restrictive,” she says.

“It would flap around in the wind, bunch up, get caught just in the course of normal play, and it was quite frustrating.

“Most Aussie beaches have a playground nearby and, as any parent would know, it’s hard to go down a slide in a hooded towel.”

Three children play on the beach in Rugii wearable hooded towel sets

Invented in Mangerton out of necessity, the Rugii could be this summer’s must-have beach item. Photo: Sol Flare Photography.

Her first solution was simply to sew up the sides, which was already a definite improvement. But one day while at a fabric store she spotted a stretchy terry towel material and had a lightbulb moment.

She went home and sewed a pair of shorts.

“He started calling it his ‘Rugii’ and made sure I brought it whenever we’d head to the beach,” Natalie says.

“It made life so much easier, because he could transition from the water to the playground, or go for a swim and immediately after, jump on his balance bike and hit the bike paths that are also often near beaches.”

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Strangers began asking Natalie where she had bought the innovative garment, but the idea to turn it into a business didn’t come to her until her third son, Ethan, came along.

Ethan was born with a rare and life-limiting brain disorder called lissencephaly, cerebral palsy and severe intractable epilepsy, and Natalie found herself suddenly plunged into the world of a “medical mum”, spending every spare minute at appointments and researching solutions to a problem she was told she could not fix.

Unable to return to regular work hours but brimming with capability and a desire to contribute, Natalie was at an impasse.

“I had a Masters in Business from 10 years prior and I knew a nine to five was just not going to work for me in this new reality,” she says.

Two boys playing on the beach in Rugii wearing hooded towel sets

The stretchy terry Rugii is Rugup Beach Co’s signature item. Photo: Sol Flare Photography.

She underwent the Mamamia Lady StartUp course to sharpen her acumen and, soon after, Rugup Beach Co was born.

The Rugii comes in a range of colours and two materials – a high quality, warm, durable and stretchy terry ideal for winter and a lightweight, breathable waffle more suitable in warm weather.

What’s more, the product is designed with the classic Australian “beach change” in mind.

Step one – wipe down the wetness with the outside of the hooded towel.

Step two – throw on the top, which is long enough to cover little bottoms but not so long as to get in the way of play.

Step three – shimmy out of the wet swimmers and into the shorts.

“The towel side dries quickly, while the inside is a soft and cosy cotton,” Vanessa says.

“The fabric is stretchy so they can move and play without restriction.

“It’s also a God-send for a quick exit after swimming lessons.”

Two small children play on the beach in Rugii wearable hooded towel sets

The waffle Rugii is better suited to hot weather, and Natalie says makes perfect resort-wear. Photo: Sol Flare Photographer.

Natalie says joining the “mumpreneur movement” has been an intense journey.

“Starting a job or business when your mum brain is filled with questions like ‘what’s for dinner?’, I found to be overwhelming at times. I’m still working on it,” she says.

“The sheer volume of decisions I have to make in a day … at least which clothes to pack for a beach outing with the kids isn’t one of them.”

For more information visit Rugup Beach Co.

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