Taking The Leap: How Vitamin A’s Founder Launched Her Own Line
Starting a business is no easy feat. Especially after working as an employee for another company, taking the leap and starting your own business can be extremely challenging.
Amahlia Stevens, founder of swimwear brand Vitamin A, knows firsthand how tricky it can be. After years designing for brands like Hollister, Amahlia set off to create her own brand, Vitamin A, and is now living her entrepreneurial dream.
Here’s how Amahlia made it work:
SIMPLY: Tell us about your journey to starting your own brand, Vitamin A.
AMAHLIA STEVENS: I grew up on the beaches of Southern California, living in a bikini for as long as I can remember. I feel like a love of nature (and bikinis) was always in my DNA! Before launching Vitamin A in 2000, I spent 10 years as a design consultant, developing apparel stories for some of top brands 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 finally time create something of my own, a collection that was exactly what I wanted to wear, for myself.
I had previously worked on a project with Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia and a trailblazer in the environmental movement, 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 knits, why can’t I do something similar for swimwear? So I decided to combine my passion for bikinis, with my love of modern design and sustainable innovation, to pioneer the perfect bikini - simple, clean, sophisticated, sexy, and sustainable.
At first, when I tried to source fabrics that aligned with Vitamin A’s environmental values and aesthetic sensibility, I was told they didn’t exist because there was “no market” for the kind of sustainable swimwear fabrics I wanted to wear. So I had to invest in the process of trial and error to develop what eventually became the first high-quality, technical swimwear fabric, made from an upcycled component. It took a lot of persistence, and 3 years of working with different mills, to finally perfect our sustainable EcoLux fabric. Since then, we've continued to evolve, creating our EcoRib, ReFresh (and ReFresh Rib) made from upcycled polyester fibers, and our newest BioRib, which a 100% plant based fabric!
What was the biggest difference between designing for another brand versus creating designs for your own line?
In the earlier stages of my career, I was designing mostly for men, so when I started Vitamin A, it was the first time that I was really able to design from a much more personal stand point!
When I started my own line, I didn’t start for commercial purposes. I was just making exactly what I wanted to wear, to fit my body like it should. They were pieces that I actually wanted to own for myself, in colors and shapes that followed my personal style - more understated and elevated than what was going on in swim at that time. I felt like there was such a void in the market for those types of pieces. Now of course, I definitely consider my customers more when designing, but essentially it all stems from thinking about what I personally want to wear in the water.
Also, back then, you couldn’t buy contemporary bikini separates. That was #1 on my list to solve—so I designed separates that women could purchase in different sizes and in different styles that were flattering to their body types. I’ve always been about women owning themselves (focusing on our curves and not on our perceived “flaws”), so I try to design from a female perspective with a genuine understanding of women’s bodies and minds. I want women to feel comfortable and confident in my designs!
What was something about the process of starting Vitamin A that surprised you?
How hard it was to trademark “Vitamin A"! It was a name that felt personal to me, (the “A” is for Amahlia), as well as representative of the healthy beach lifestyle I was raised on in Southern California. So it was important to me to stick with it. It took a few years and a lot of attempts, investments, and creativity, but we got there!
How do you use social media to build brand awareness?
Social media, specifically our Instagram (@vitaminaswim) has played a huge role in building brand awareness. We’ve been around for almost 20 years now and before launching our online site, our presence was mainly in stores. Now in the era of all things digital, we’ve been able to reach new customers that we may not have had the opportunity to connect with otherwise. We’ve learned to align ourselves with other brands and influencers that share our values and in turn, it’s helped to strengthen our brand story and reach new audiences.
Is there an item from the latest collection that you absolutely love?
The Leah Bodysuit in EcoRib will always be my go-to piece. I can’t live without it! But from our latest collection, the Alana Bodysuit in our new Black BioRib fabrication (which is a 100% plant based swim fabric!) is my favorite. The fit is so flattering and the texture of the BioRib fabric is just so comfortable to wear.