Can you give us a backstory on how the brand was born?
I grew up living on the beaches of Southern California, so a love of nature (and bikinis) was always in my DNA. Before launching Vitamin A, I spent years as a design consultant, developing authentic California brand stories for top names in the surf and outdoor industries like Hollister Co., Patagonia, Levi Strauss and Co., and Stüssy. After years of designing lines for other brands, I felt it was time to create something of my own, a collection that was exactly what I wanted to wear. I started in an old school “custom swimsuit” store in Laguna Beach, which had been there since the 50s. I made a few pieces (smaller tops + a size larger bottoms) to fit my shape. I had never at that time been able to buy a suit that fit me perfectly on top and bottom, because bikinis at that time were only sold as sets. Anyway, I loved them, made a few for friends, then my design clients (and their wives) started asking for bikinis. Then I decided to bring them along with me on a few trips, met with buyers in the places I loved to shop, and Vitamin A was born.
Early in my career, I worked on a project with Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, where I learned how he was creating microfleece fibers from melted down plastic bottles. I thought to myself, if he’s creating these technical fibers for outerwear, why can’t I do something similar for swimwear? Creating our first high-quality, technical, sustainable swimwear fabric was a challenge (more on this below), but a worthwhile one! Since then, we’ve continued to evolve, creating new textiles from recycled nylon fibers, recycled plastic bottles and my newest focus is plant-based fibers.
Can you describe the brand in a few words?
Sustainable, sexy, effortless. Made by women, for women.
How is the brand currently sustainable?
Sustainability touches every aspect of what we do at Vitamin A – from our fabrics, to our production process and packaging, to our partnerships. Our different eco-friendly textiles are made from recycled nylon, recycled plastic water bottles, and raw plant-based fibers to keep our footprint as small as we can. We also produce our swimwear in local California factories, which dramatically reduces our emissions for shipping and transporting both raw materials and finished goods.
What do you think of fast fashion versus long-lasting fashion?
Oh man that is so tough. It’s a dilemma for me because I know most of us don’t NEED more clothes or more swimsuits, yet we can’t resist – new and beautiful clothes and bikinis are a pleasure in so many ways. I was just having this discussion with my sister-in-law about her teenage daughter, how happy we are that shopping vintage is evergreen cool, and how everyone should exclusively shop vintage to satisfy the cravings for beautiful new clothes, rather than turning to fast fashion for an easy fix. Thankfully forme, vintage swimwear isn’t especially functional, nor readily available, so then it’s all about making the highest quality product possible, in the most sustainable way we can.
Another part of my design education at Patagonia that really opened my eyes was this concept of the “lifecycle of the garment.” This includes not just how a garment is made, but how it’s washed, how often, with what, how it’s cared for, repaired, disposed of, etc. None of this figures in fast fashion.
Did your personal convictions affect your desire to build a sustainable brand? Or vice versa?
I grew up in Southern California with a love of nature in my DNA. My dad was an ardent naturalist himself, so the idea of conservation was really instilled in me at an early age. I feel like the world’s oceans have always held an integral place in my life, did influence my passion and desire to create sustainable swimwear. These convictions and beliefs drive me every day!
How many collections do you work with per year?
We usually have 3 collections per year – Spring, Summer, and Resort. But we try to drop a new capsule nearly each month online, so it’s always fresh.
What are some of the difficult sustainable choices that you had to make?
Price – I know we could make our suits for less if we used conventional materials and moved our production off shore, but that’s not what it’s about for me. Price is something which I’m always trying to improve, because I appreciate that paying more for quality is still not easy for everyone’s budgets. It’s a trade-off to make a high-quality garment locally, especially from upcycled or recycled materials. Believe it or not, those more sustainable fibers cost more than the conventional versions. Not to mention the cost of investment to innovate these new products. Most of the time I need to pay to develop these new fabrics, but finally most mills are seeing that there is only one direction our industry can go, and if they refuse to innovate they will wither. The only way to change this is to be the change. The prices will only come down when the demand increases, so I take the responsibility seriously to support the suppliers who dare to offer the more expensive fibers, whether they be organic or recycled…
What give back program or community involvement is the brand most excited about?
This year, we joined 1% For The Planet, so we’re able to really support those organizations who do the most important work of protecting and preserving our planet. Being a member of 1 % For The Planet connects us to so many amazing partners who are at the forefront of environmental protection and activism. At the moment we are donating to an incredible organization, Oceana, who’s the first and largest non-profit dedicated solely to ocean preservation.
Where does the brand derive its design inspiration?
A lot of my inspiration comes from living in Laguna Beach, and simply being around the beach and in the ocean. Travel is also a big source of inspiration – whether it’s summer life in Scandanavia or warm sunsets in the Mediterranean, it’s always about the ocean. Lately I’ve been getting really inspired by new green technology that’s happening in the swim textile world, especially in Europe.
Has the brand always been sustainable? If no, tell us about the transition.
Not always, but it was a natural and necessary transition for us! We launched in 2000 and started developing our first sustainable fabric, in 2007. It took years to develop, and finally “The Green Bikini,” capsule launched in 2010 with an experimental recycled fabric from Italy. I was totally disappointed with the response from our retailers, who only loved the styling, but at that time simply did not care about the sustainability aspect. The next year I was able to finally develop my proprietary EcoLux fabric, and increased the size of the capsule to include 4 colors. Still no response to the sustainable aspect, but thankfully the line sold great because retailers and customers loved the fit, styling and quality. I remember in the early years, retailers would tell me there is no customer who’s walking into their stores looking for a sustainable bikini.
Each year, we strive to research innovative mills worldwide and develop new green fabrics made with recycled, organic, and technical fibers. We improve our production techniques and workplace practices (last year we banned single use plastics and this year we pledged to plant more trees!)
We’re also currently revamping all our packaging to be biodegradable and/or recyclable.
What kind of challenges did you encounter while creating the brand?
When I first tried to source fabrics that aligned with Vitamin A’s environmental and aesthetic sensibility, I was told they didn’t exist because there wasn’t a market for recycled swimwear fabrics with the same elevated aesthetic properties I was used to designing with. At first they all felt like bulky scratchy cardboard. So I had to invest in a long process of trial and error to develop what would eventually become the first high-quality, technical (and sexy!) swimwear fabric, made from a sustainable component (our EcoLux!). It took me 3 years of working closely with mills in Italy, Canada, and right here in California!
Since you are crafting items with very specific types of fabrics and materials, what are some of the difficulties that you face when it comes to manufacturing?
There are still challenges that we face today – one of the biggest ones being the potential for inconsistency in upcycled fabrics. Since the raw materials come from varying recycled sources, the process can sometimes limit the range of colors that can be achieved. But we make the best of this, rather than focusing on it as a negative!
How do you go about attracting new customers who aren’t necessarily seeking out eco-friendly items?
Vitamin A is and always has been redefining what sexy means! And for us, so much of that is about sustainability, but also about femininity and what it means to be a woman. Women can look to our brand for high quality swimwear + beachwear with an elevated aesthetic, that makes them feel good, and does good for our planet! Our designs are made by women, for women, so you can trust that our fits are impeccable.
Does the brand have any collaborations or upcoming campaigns your excited about?
We’re thrilled to be celebrating our 20th Anniversary next year! We’re launching a special 20th Anniversary capsule collection, that will spotlight the elements that have been at the core of Vitamin A since our very first bikini. 20 years of Vitamin A in 20 unique, limited edition designs using both recycled and upcycled components– we can’t wait for you to see!
According to you, what are the key elements to make long-lasting fashion?
Timelessness, Simplicity, Authenticity, Quality
From a business point of view, does investing in quality over quantity doable?
Absolutely. That is our business model, and always has been. It is a challenge at times, but thankfully more and more customers are shopping consciously and using their wallets to create change, so the quantity of customers demanding quality keeps growing.
How has social media changed things for the brand in general?
Social media has been a great way for us to speak directly to our customers and learn first hand what they care about in real-time. Before that, we had to rely mainly on feedback from our retailers. For example, for many years, we were told that customers weren’t looking for sustainable swimwear. However, on social, it was clear that our followers valued sustainability, transparency, and ethical practices.
What are your long-term plans for the brand?
We’ll continue to stay true to our beliefs and mission – authenticity has always been the key to Vitamin A’s growth! We’re aiming to continue to improve sustainability standards at every level of our process, and hopefully transform the swim industry, by pushing the mills to innovate and also empowering new eco-friendly brands.
The core of our commitment to sustainability is to achieve 100% utilization of non-petroleum based yarns and fabrics. Parallel to these goals Vitamin A is and will continue to be committed to the implementation of environmentally sensitive practices in every phase of our business and personal lives.
Where do you see the company in 4 years from now?
We’re currently working on things to increase our brand reach, with product extensions, potential licenses, and collaborations with like-minded brands on non-swim products (like organic sunscreens, cosmetics, intimates, sandals etc).
Also, beginning in 2020, Vitamin A will introduce a focused marketing effort all under the concept of improving the life of future generations through our ongoing commitment to both reducing poisonous waste, as well as a worldwide effort to clean up plastic trash in our oceans and on our beaches. Stay tuned!
Pay us a visit of your workplace, what does it look like?
Our Vitamin A design studio is located right on PCH in South Laguna Beach, just 5 minutes away from my home. It was actually designed by iconic Laguna architect Chris Abel with a cool, beach 70’s style aesthetic. Surrounded by constant inspiration and moodboards, our intimate studio is the perfect location to dream up all things swimwear and marketing with its open loft design, large organic shaped conference table, and glass windows viewing into the Pacific.
What’s a typical day at HQ like?
We are a little different than most companies since majority of our team works remotely. We get together a few times a week for brainstorming meetings, touch-bases, creative presentations, or photo shoots.
Best season in the region where HQ is located?
Being based in Laguna Beach means it’s a summer vibe year-round for us. On most days of the year, we can walk across the street and take a swim break. Even if we don’t have time to jump in the water, feeling the sand and breathing in the salty air while we enjoy a moment outside of the studio is a guaranteed mood and inspiration boost. We’re definitely grateful that we get to create here.