Summer Kramer, founder of SUMMERSKIN

It started with a scarf. A stylish scarf born of anger and frustration nine years ago.

In June of 2007, I was 26 years old, completing Pharmacy school and living with my new reality of being a melanoma survivor (the most serious form of skin cancer).

I’ve lived in Western Oregon most of my life -- a region known more for its rain than its sunburns  -- so I was stunned to be diagnosed with melanoma on my lower leg. Living in the Northwest United States, there is an underlying sun-seeking behavior, and I was no different.

I had horrible skin care habits. I used tanning beds, I used tanning oil, and I laid out in the sun, sometimes all day, and the result of these bad habits – melanoma.

Fortunately, the melanoma was detected early. Following surgery, I was told to cover all exposed skin . . . . for the rest of my life.

Relieved that I caught the skin cancer early, I found myself emotional about my new reality, and furious.

Angry at myself for tanning. Angry at the sun for being hurtful. Angry at the apparel industry for not offering stylish, sun protective clothing for someone who – essentially identified as a fashion-conscious twenty-something.

There were a lot of sport-centric UPF (ultraviolet protective factor) clothes out there for athletes, but nothing stylish I’d choose to wear to a concert or to a BBQ with friends.

Determined to create clothes that didn’t announce to the world that I was wearing ‘SPF clothes.’ I bought a fashion sketchpad, and in my spare time, feverishly sketched styles I’d choose to wear: blouses, skirts, hats and scarves in classic silhouettes and sumptuous colors.

The first style designed was the ‘Endless Summer Wrap’, a versatile piece with a UPF level of 50+. Using a soft spun bamboo rayon blend, the garment was an instant hit with women and still one of our best-selling styles. Ease and versatility are the themes for our designs, and what women, stylists and fashion bloggers are all drawn to.

Now a mother to an amazing 5-year-old and full-time business owner, I love creating products with a purpose plus a personal connection and a public message about the importance of skin health.

I caught my melanoma early, and it saved my life. I want to see melanoma numbers drop in my daughter’s lifetime.

Our 10-year vision is to reach 10 million people and increase awareness about the importance of sun protection. Skin cancers can be avoided and aging from sun-damage can be slowed.

I may have been diagnosed with skin cancer, but I now view my diagnosis as a gift because we have the incredible opportunity to change the course of someone’s life by sharing facts about sun protection. Facts that I didn’t know early enough.

My motto in life and in business is to “follow the path of happiness.” Find your people, your style, your passion and embrace them with all your heart.