Justine Willeford is all smiles when she walks into my office at Island Conservation, and you can’t help but instantly like her. It’s the first time we’re meeting in person, but it feels like we’ve been friends forever.
Justine is the creator of The Pelican House, a lifestyle brand for ocean lovers, saltwater addicts, and the land-locked mermaids of the world. She recently launched a line of handmade, limited-edition swimwear inspired by her life in California, which she describes as being a little bit of everything—food and recipes, beachy DIYs, healthy living, marine conservation and ocean stewardship, fashion, travel, bikinis, and the little things.
So why is she in my office? Justine donates 10 percent of all proceeds to Island Conservation, and as our resident fashion lover and communications manager, I am meeting to thank her for her support, check out her new designs, and ask a few questions.
Read on to learn what inspires her to make bikinis, the truth behind whether girls with normal bodies can pull off cheeky bottoms, and why she chooses to donate to Island Conservation.
What made you decide to make swimwear?
It was out of necessity for two reasons. One being that I have a bit of a bikini addiction, and I figured the healthiest way to manage that was to start making my own. And second, I was tired of searching for the perfect bikini. I wanted one that was complementary of a woman's body, comfortable, flirty, on-trend, and affordable. So I made one. This year I made the leap from sewing my own personal swimwear to creating swimwear for all, after my DIY Cheeky Bikini post on my blog started getting lots of attention. Everyone started asking if I sell them anywhere and I thought, let's do this.
How did you learn to sew bikinis?
My mom taught me the basics of sewing when I was a little girl, and since then I have been completely self-taught. It took a lot of experimentation, frustration, and ruined fabric, but all of my "failures" in sewing actually taught me just as much as my successes. I have actually been designing swimwear since I was in junior high.
I have a big butt that is not flaw-free—I don’t think I can pull off cheeky bottoms. True or false?
I love this question. False, of course. I wish so much that I could somehow let people see themselves through another's eyes, because so often we are our own worst critic. Rocking a cheeky bottom bikini has more to do with confidence and a healthy self-image than what your body looks like. I have seen young, fit ladies looking awesome in cheeky bottoms, but thinking they can't "pull it off" because of some made-up dimple or curve or imperfection that only they can see. No more excuses ladies. You are gorgeous. No matter your age, shape, or weight. If you feel beautiful in your bikini, you will exude beauty. It's time to free the booty.
I'm still not sure, I want to believe you, but my mirror doesn't lie. Most bikini bottoms cut me off in an unflattering way. How are your bikinis different?
All of my pieces are made elastic-free and seamless. A bikini with elastic creases the body in an unflattering way, and nobody has time for that. Everyone deserves a bikini that complements their body. By making them seamless and reversible, I eliminated the need for that pesky elastic. Your bikini will stay put, be super comfortable, and flatter each and every curve of your body.
Why do you donate 10 percent of your proceeds to Island Conservation?
I believe in the organization, and I want to help make a difference. I have been in love with the ocean since I can remember. I got my bachelor's of science degree in marine biology from UC Santa Cruz, where one of my professors founded Island Conservation. The work they do to restore native plants and animals on islands is incredible. I wanted to find a way to make my business come full circle, and make a positive impact on our planet, so I teamed up with Island Conservation to help generate funding for environmental conservation through my work.
Anything else we should know about The Pelican House?
I also make travel scarves. They are infinity scarves with a hidden zipper pocket sewn inside, so you can carry your passport, money, ID, or other valuables securely inside your scarf, and no one will know. They are also awesome to bring to the beach, so you can feel a little better leaving your stuff on the beach while you take a dip in the ocean. You can find them downtown at Wallflower boutique.
But most importantly, The Pelican House is a conscious business. Everything from The Pelican House is designed and handmade with love in Santa Cruz, Calif. by yours truly. No sweatshops. I will never outsource my manufacturing. Furthermore, all materials used to make and ship items from The Pelican House are sourced from local and small businesses in the United States, and use recycled and green options whenever possible. Some of the thread I use even comes from recycled plastic water bottles.
Fabrics are purchased in limited quantities, so every piece from The Pelican House is a limited edition design that you won't find anywhere else.