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Heather Tate McCartne, founder of UV Couture.

Each week, we seek expert advice to help a small or medium-sized business overcome a key issue.

When Heather Tate McCartney discovered her father had been diagnosed with melanoma, one of the fastest growing skin cancers in Canada, she started swimming in T-shirts and wrapping herself in towels to block the harmful rays of the sun.

The look wasn't exactly pretty, let alone effective. "I knew I had to start covering up with more than just sunscreen," says Ms. McCartney, who lives in Oakville, Ont. "As I entered my 40s my skin just couldn't tolerate the sun like it used to."

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While looking for a more flattering alternative she came up with a stylish line of clothing that offers health benefits and fashion in one easy application. She called it UV Couture and launched it in 2012.

The brand consists of shirts, cover-ups, zipped jackets, dresses, leggings and skirts in solid colours and eye-catching patterns. The fabrics have an ultraviolet protection factor, or UPF, of 50 that blocks 99 per cent of harmful UV rays. Typical summer clothing has a UPF of about 10, experts estimate.

Designed and made in Canada, UV Couture clothing is priced from $39 to $165 and is sold online and through retailers.

Clothing is better than sunscreen for protecting skin, doctors say, because people usually don't apply enough sunscreen to keep them protected for hours at a time. Sunscreens also come off in the water and slide off with perspiration.

"Clothing is our first line of defence against the sun's harmful UV rays. It protects by absorbing or blocking most of them," says Kevin Sliwowicz, a physician at the Toronto Centre for Advanced Skin Repair.

Despite its benefits, sun-safe clothing is still perceived by some as unfashionable and uncomfortable. UV Couture's mission is to make covering up look chic, potentially saving lives along the way.

Ms. McCartney plans to expand into men's and children's apparel while adding new styles to the women's collection. But funds are tight and progress is slow. She says she pours all her profits back into the business, and there is little left over to promote her brand to increase sales.

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Most of all, how can she persuade consumers to take a look? "That's my million dollar question," she says.

"How do we get over the hurdle of improving our brand awareness and recognition, while working with a small marketing budget?"

The Challenge: How can UV Couture present itself as a chic, potentially life-saving product?

THE EXPERTS WEIGH IN

Natasha Koifman, president of NKPR, a public relations firm specializing in lifestyle brands, Toronto

Truly understand your audience. Brands get stuck when they try to be everything to everyone. Focus your resources on developing tactics that will directly connect with your target consumer.

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To clients with small marketing budgets, I always say that social media is an amazing and integral tool for small businesses. Amplify the multiplatform content that UV Couture shares through strategic hashtags and promoted posts – a small investment can go a long way. You should also identify community events, such as skin cancer/melanoma benefits, summer kickoff events, cottage country events, and so on, where you can demonstrate your product and tell the brand story.

Finally, word-of-mouth is everything when you're getting started. Ask your clients to act as brand ambassadors, sharing images of themselves wearing your products to drive brand awareness, recognition and sales.

Heather Hansel, sales manager of Eveden Canada, lingerie and swimwear company, Detroit

In the world of fashion, visuals are fundamental to your brand's social pages and will keep them fresh. This would be a great way to utilize the "UVC Around the World" pictures from customers on your website to attract a broader audience.

Once you know the social media habits of your key demographic, you will notice some influencers within that community. That may include surfers or warm-weather bloggers. Many influencers do not require pay for posts, so collaborating with some of these people by sending them your product is a great way to grow your brand on social media.

We have found that great imagery is essential for our product, and short, engaging posts keep the consumer coming back. Utilizing Facebook's paid ad platform on occasion can help increase your number of likes.

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Bill Baker, founder of Consonant Skincare, Toronto

In our world of conventional and social media oversaturation, you have to be in the faces of your customers constantly, or you risk being overlooked and forgotten.

A good e-mail list should be your company's most valuable asset, and when mined strategically, can often convert to sales at a rate that is well into the double digits. Each day work at building your database of e-mail addresses, and have a plan for marketing to it. Promotions work best, but education is huge, too. Education can really move the needle in terms of awareness, and more importantly, intent-to-purchase.

Second, while you may not have lots of money to spend, you probably have lots of product you can give to editors and industry influencers to experience your product themselves. Consider having a custom product manufactured exclusively for this purpose, one that is high impact and has a cool factor – it is, after all, fashion you're selling.

THREE THINGS THE COMPANY COULD DO NOW

Focus on social media

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Amplify the multiplatform content that UV Couture shares through strategic hashtags and promoted posts.

Use pictures more

Visuals are fundamental to your brand's social pages and will keep them fresh.

Set up an e-mail list

When mined strategically, a good e-mail list can often convert to sales at a rate that is well into the double digits.

Interviews have been edited and condensed.

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Follow Report on Small Business on Twitter at @globesmallbiz.

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