Even in the land of sunshine, launching a swimwear brand in the dead of winter isn't exactly ideal. But for the new Los Angeles-based brand Zonarch, the goal was always to redefine the concept of vacation — and if that means debuting in mid-December (and in a pandemic, no less) and inspiring us to get creative with where and how we're sporting its eco-conscious swim pieces, then so be it.
Another takeaway from 2020? Going on holiday can also be as simple as enjoying the stillness of our own back yards, Newport Beach-based founder Geneviève Andre de la Porte tells UncoverLA. It's a lesson that the Belgian-born creative director learned from her favorite British essayist, Pico Iyer — one that she put to the test when lockdowns, learning curves, and production delays pushed her original launch from last March to mid-December.
That que sera, sera outlook is in Zonarch's DNA, which she says blends her European roots with the "California mindfulness" that she's soaked up over the last decade of living in Newport Beach. (The brand's name is a mashup of the Dutch word for "sun" and "arch" to represent architecture curves.)
For Zonarch's first drop, that translates to women's bikini separates ($70 to $82) in a range of cuts and support options, minimalist one-pieces ($124 to $130) in V-neck and belted silhouettes, and cropped and long-sleeved rash guards ($98 to $174), all in season-less colorways such as black, baby blue, lavender, cherry red, stripes, and dark floral.
The swimwear is made of double-lined UPF 40+ Global Recycled Standard-certified recycled nylon and spandex blend spun from post-consumer waste, all manufactured in the Golden State. There are also fair trade accessories such as colorful crocheted bucket hats, beach reads, straw carryalls, tote bags, and other getaway-ready pieces; coming soon is men's swim trunks and a patent-pending surfboard carrier made of recycled polyester.
It was imperative to use a fabric that was recycled, natural, organic, biodegradable, or recyclable, Andre de la Porte tells UncoverLA. Keeping affordable prices while using luxury fabrics, and without compromising on fair wages and ethical manufacturing, was also important at every step of the way.
"I always say I don't want my swimsuit to cost as much of my plane ticket, she says. "Most brands charge ten times or more of their costs, which is disproportionately large compared to other markets. Nobody talked about this."
Calling out a Who What Wear story that noted that the average swimwear set is $263, the creative director explains that she's coming in at about $140, or just over half the price of other luxury swim brands. Those major markups were among the reasons why she honed in on launching her lifestyle label.
"I'm spending significantly more because of the fabrics and sustainable trim and packaging. But the nice thing is swimwear actually had a lot of margins to play with," she notes, and that's something she learned at the sister-founded swim brand, Mikoh, where she cut her teeth in e-commerce marketing and social media.
"That sensibility, fairness, and honesty, [are also] behind what makes a sustainable product. There's a cost to everything. If a swimsuit is $14, there's a cost to someone," she says, whether it's the underpaid garment worker or the environment, or both. And as an avid surfer, creating a sea-friendly product was a priority.
Though L.A. is known as the denim manufacturing capital of the world, and home to a booming fashion factory scene, Andre de la Porte points out that made-in-America doesn't always equate to ethical production.
"We've all been aware of the pay-per-piece with garment workers in Los Angeles, there's so many loopholes that [manufacturers] try to go through," she says. "That stuff would never fly with me. [Those are] things as a consumer, you have to be aware of.
That's why I wanted to work with partners who have been in business for multiple decades. In this case, they've been working in the industry for 30 years, they haven't changed factory names or tax IDs. [That shows] integrity and reputation," she says.
Those ethics, as well as social issues, sustainability, and style are among the topics that Zonarch's forthcoming blog will also explore. "There's going to be the fun stuff — travel, wellness, and how you [can] carve out some time to bring a little bit of holiday to everyday," Andre de la Porte continues. The content will also cover "the business aspect of long-term sustainability in the [fashion] industry, policy reform on workers' rights, and how we can organize and make changes in those areas."
The brand also has a revenue-based give-back model built into its business. Andre de la Porte says she's donating 3% of its annual earnings to American Civil Liberties Union, Room to Read, and 1% of the Planet.
Zonarch comes after four years as a side hustle while Andre de la Porte was working at organic açai company Sambazon, where she managed branding and community marketing programs. Prior to that was her role at Mikoh, and she also worked at interior design firm Studio Life/Style.
Andre de la Porte credits her time at Sambazon — renowned for its environmental and community activism — and her fellow Europeans for inspiring the blueprint for Zonarch as a company. As the World Happiness Report routinely finds, Nordic countries with welfare-state models continue to be home to the cheeriest people on the planet. The study found that more than half of the top ten happiest cities were Scandinavian; L.A. ranks No. 31, right in between NYC and the Irish city of Cork.
In addition to access to clean water and healthcare, Andre de la Porte notes that the study revealed that responsible production and consumption were among the factors that contribute to happy cities.
"As [that] score got higher, the happiness level just went way up. As you invest in those types of structures, [workers] have time to spend with family because their basic rights are taken care of. There's always struggles and low points in life, but at some point you have to find purpose in what you do every day," she says.
Another number that inspires Zonarch? Andre de la Porte calls out a U.S. Travel Association study that found that 746 million vacation days in 2018 were unused American workaholics. When she moved to L.A. nearly 15 years ago, she was suprised that her stateside friends enjoyed such little off-duty time.
"If you're lucky enough to have work, that's one thing. But for me, worker's rights, labor laws, these things go very deep. Especially coming to the U.S. [and] seeing how people suffer and get taken advantage of. It's wild," she says.
She hopes that she can lead by example as she expands Zonarch. "The mental wellness aspect that I really want to build into the structure. It also comes back to leadership," she notes. "Building a better business from the inside out [is important]. I want to reinvent the way that we holiday from the inside out. It's not about the product, it's about how we approach [that idea of rest and relaxation."
The ultimate goal: To improve work-life balance among its employees and customers — one colorful, holiday-ready swimsuit at a time.