With every issue of Herewith Magazine, it gets better and better. In their latest issue, REVELATIONS, you’ll find pages filled with female-forward stories of travel, fashion, health, culture, and surf. One of which spotlights our very own Vitamin A founder and designer, Amahlia Stevens. Read through an excerpt of our “Going Rogue” article below.
What’s the story behind the company's origins?
Basically the name derived from me staring at a milk carton. People find it kind of interesting and it is literally not very exciting. People always ask, “Oh is it Vitamin A from the sun?” And I’m like, “Yeah, why not.” I mean, it does have all those kind of layers to it. It was a name that felt personal to me, as well as representative of the healthy beach lifestyle I was raised on in Southern California. When I started Vitamin A it was a design firm and so I was working with really small brands and really large brands. They were all coming to me, asking me to work on projects for them because at the time I was known as an expert on authentic California lifestyle. So that’s the kind of clientele I was attracting; that’s what they wanted.
If you had to describe Vitamin A in three words, what would they be?
Elevated, ethical and empowering. I’ve always been about women owning ourselves, and not looking down on ourselves, or focusing on our flaws, but doing the opposite. So that’s always been a huge goal. For instance, the [bikini] tops have to do something for your boobs; they can’t just sit there. And the same thing for the bottoms; they have to emphasize that curve and make you feel comfortable and you have to be able to dive through a wave. You should feel empowered.
Did working with Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia influence your approach to creating Vitamin A?
Totally. I was so amazed. I designed a line for him years ago, and was immersed in and educated by Patagonia design practices. My world was expanded at that time when I learned how Yvon imagined and created a micro-fleece fabric from fibers of melted down plastic bottles, and forced an entire industry to follow him. I imagined if he could create these fibers for outerwear knits, then surely I could adapt something to create a similar fiber suitable for swimwear, but all I could find felt heavy and scratchy. It would never work for Vitamin A. I was told there was no market for the kind of yarns I wanted, so I decided to make it myself. For three years I worked with mills in Italy, Canada and finally California to create a fabric that answered my requirements of beauty and quality—the touch, the sheen, the stretch and recovery, and more. I pioneered the idea of green contemporary swimwear. Vitamin A was the first to design and trademark a beautiful, high-quality, technical swim fabric made from recycled nylon, and I continue to implement new design and sourcing choices toward a fully sustainable model of business and manufacturing. My motto for Vitamin A is “Sustainability is sexy!”
You do a lot to reduce the company’s eco-footprint. Is it possible to do even more?
It’s always possible to do more. What started as a tiny capsule collection in 2011 has transformed into my core business of solid swimsuits. The EcoLux fabrics comprise between 70-80% of all Vitamin A sales. In recent seasons I have moved the beachwear and cover-ups into sustainable fabrics such as linen, Tencel, and EcoCotton, new for this season.
Printing has traditionally been more challenging because the best printers are in Italy, so it’s logistically and ecologically challenging to ship my California-made fabric overseas. I have recently sourced Italian-based fabrics so now I’m able to expand to offer prints on recycled nylon base fabrics.
“Made in California” means many things. Of course [it’s about] supporting our local economy, but environmentally speaking its the most sustainable model because part of the footprint comes from the excesses in the supply chain. I produce all my EcoLux and EcoCotton fabrics locally in California; I produce all of my swimwear pieces and most of my cover-ups and beachwear locally. This means that raw materials and finished goods are delivered by trucks, not jets, so the fuel usage and residual pollution is dramatically minimized. Also California has the strictest environmental laws in the country so we know we are producing at the highest level of responsibility. We take the time to get to know the people who make our bikinis, so we know they are well treated and well paid for their careful work.
How do you hope to influence other sustainable brands?
I’m already seeing it happening. So many new swim brands are touting recycled fabrics and so many top-level fabric mills are now offering sustainable alternatives to traditional nylon swim fabrics. This was simply not the case when I started and so many established brands are switching over. It’s clear that the future of fashion is sustainability and I hope I am doing my part to influence my tiny segment of the fashion industry.
"It’s clear that the future of fashion is sustainability"
What environmental organizations are you associated with?
We partner with various global and local environmental charities throughout the year, like Plastic Oceans and Oceana. In the past we just did donations. But now we’ve started to partner our marketing teams with their marketing teams. So far we’ve done different social activations where we talk about things like, “This week buy any of our EcoLux products and we’ll donate $5 to one of these charities.” We did this in December where every week we donated to a different charity. So you could give and get by shopping with a cause.
Do you think consumers—especially beach lovers—are starting to place a greater value on environmental consciousness? Alternately put: Is ethical the new black?
While I don’t think I have many customers who shop for a swimsuit based solely on this, I absolutely do think that more and more women are taking the time to “read the ingredients,” like with organic foods. It’s a process of education but, yes, I think that given the choice, a woman will buy the ethical option.
When I shop for things I don’t make, like kid’s clothes or bedding or towels, I don’t buy anything but organic cotton. That was another thing I learned at Patagonia: the absolute devastation that conventional cotton farming causes on the environment, it’s unbelievable. On everything, from the water supply to depleting the soil itself, so many things. And there’s no reason not to use organic, it’s just that there are so many chemical industry lobbyists that influence the legislation. But still, as a customer, it’s not our only vote, but it’s a huge vote.
What are your thoughts on the girl-boss movement, or the rising trend of women redefining success on their own terms? Is this something that resonates with you?
Yes! In just the last 50 years women have fought to continually redefine their place in society—redefine their womanhood. Every time women break through a glass ceiling they find one more above it. But with the rising girl-boss movement and influx of woman-run businesses, I hope we are on the final frontier of glass ceilings for women. There’s always a ways for us to go, but we get closer every day. The cracks in the glass ceilings weaken with each new girl or woman that dares to dream of being a girl-boss or takes that first step to becoming one. I’m all about creating a world where my daughters will grow up without those ceilings because their mom and millions of other women smashed them for them!
Strong entrepreneurial women have been given quite the platform, amid the current storm of sexual harassment allegations that seem to be coming from all directions. How do you think this will change the game for woman-run businesses?
I think the important thing to take from all of this is that women’s voices are finally being heard. It’s astonishing that it took this long for women’s voices to be validated, but it’s happening nonetheless. The amazing thing about women is that we’ve spent centuries being “lesser than,” so we’ve always had to band together and raise our voices as one unstoppable force to find the change we seek for ourselves. That’s what is happening today. We’re a unified force. This applies to the way we live, the way we have families, the way we choose our partners and the way we work. The game of women in business is changing because we’re forcing the world to change. When you force things out into the open with real dialogue and sensitive, aware conversation, it creates the change that is meaningful for us.
"The game of women in business is changing because we’re forcing the world to change."
Speaking of banding together for change, have you felt compelled to use your reach on behalf of fighting climate change? Especially after a certain “Orange Cheeto Guy” pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord?
The pain that many Americans are feeling hasn’t stopped the rest of the country from speaking up, because an overwhelming majority is in favor of taking action against climate change. And if there was any way I could encourage people to be more active, I would. That’s when I started thinking, what can I do, because I’m just one person? I have some sphere of influence and I want to use it for this cause, because it’s too important not to.
And [climate change] is not just a California thing, it’s truly a global awareness. It’s not a debate; it’s not a question. Everybody in the whole entire world knows, except for one person who’s in bed with the fossil fuel industry for some reason.
People just need to make themselves aware. Look out for local things, show up to climate marches, call your congressperson, and just be active and do whatever you can. The cool thing now is that our wallets speak so loudly and we have the opportunity to make our voices heard through our purchasing choices. Especially the younger generation—every brand wants to know how to reach that millennial generation, and it’s just like, be authentic and be positive. Figure out what you care about and chase it.
Interview by Courtney Brown for Herewith Magazine.