Upstarts: The Pura Vida Movement

Photos: Chris Kimball

The phrase "Pura Vida" (pu·ra vi·da) means pure life in Spanish. While most of us in big cities across the globe (even those lucky enough to call laid-back locations like  San Diego home) are rushing around trying to check endless items off our to-do lists, other cultures are embracing the opposite. In Costa Rica, the “pura vida” lifestyle means enjoying life slowly, celebrating good fortune, and not taking anything for granted--an amazing concept indeed, and one that’s being embraced more and more by a frazzled, overworked society looking to unplug and relax for a few minutes every day.

That was exactly the case for two college buddies, when they embarked on a five-week college graduation surf trip to Costa Rica. But what started as a retreat away from the daily grind, two years later has snowballed into an entire movement, Pura Vida, a company turning heads with their simplistic yet creative bracelet business model. In 2010, San Diego State University graduates Paul Goodman and Griffin Thall met two local artisans on the beach of Dominical, Costa Rica, who were hand-making bracelets and selling them to tourists. That’s all it took for the wheels to be put in motion.

“With their limited outreach we figured we could help so we bought 400 bracelets and started selling them to our family and friends as soon as we got back to the states,” Goodman explains. “Weeks later stores began ordering, people started calling, and the Pura Vida Movement had begun! We now sell to more than 2,500 different stores and fully employ 30 local artisans in Costa Rica. Every bracelet purchased helps provide full time jobs to local artisans in Costa Rica.”

The brand has been gaining momentum, not just within the surf industry, but also in mainstream media outlets. This month, Pura Vida was featured in Sports Illustrated’s coveted annual Swimsuit Issue, alongside many other well-known brands like Billabong, Rip Curl, and Tavik. On the heels of the big unveil in SI, and finishing up a strong tradeshow season circuit  at Project in Vegas, we caught up with Pura Vida Co-founder Paul Goodman to hear his take on building a brand from the ground up, where he sees the bracelet business headed, and  his overall outlook on the surf industry.

What do you make besides bracelets? Do you plan to expand what you make?

We have ventured into iPhone cases, beanies, and hats, to go along with our six different styles of bracelets. In 2013 we plan on further extending our line with simple tee’s and hoodies that represent the Pura Vida lifestyle.

What other charities or organizations have you teamed up with? Why are those causes something that you believe in and something that supports the overall brand message?

We have worked with over 150 different charity organizations since the start of Pura Vida. By working with different organizations and like-minded brands we are able to offer our customers a product in which they can be passionate about. It adds a personal attachment to the bracelets and allows our customers to raise awareness for the causes they support.

How did you get involved with the Sandy Hook School System, and what type of support have you been providing for those families affected?

As soon as the Sandy Hook Tragedy took place we knew we wanted to get involved. We contacted the Sandy Hook Memorial Fund and created a custom bracelet to sell in honor of the kids that lost their life on that tragic day. So far we have been able to provide over $25,000 worth of funding through the sales of our custom Pura Vida “Sandy Hook Memorial Bracelet”.

Follow the jump for more from Goodman and a look at Pura Vida through the lenses of Sports Illustrated‘s Swimsuit Issue:

What other causes do you plan to get involved with in the future?

We plan on working with some of the largest non-profits in the country to promote their specific “charity-bracelets” and help raise awareness for their causes.

Where do you see the brand headed in the next 6 to 12 months?

In the next year we plan on releasing five-to-ten new bracelet collections as well as a small flagship store that will be connected to our office in La Jolla, California. Our goal is to be able to provide over 50 local artisans in Costa Rica with full time jobs by the end of the year.

Hear the story straight from the local artisans in Costa Rica who first created the bracelets:

What retail locations are you in at the moment and how does your distribution look as far as domestic versus international?

We are currently in around 2,500 different locations. Anywhere from PacSun, Zumiez, and Tilly’s, to core shops like Sun Diego, Heritage Surf, and Rip Curl. We have very strong distribution in Japan and Canada, and are currently working on developing a European presence.

Where do you think Pura Vida fits in the grand scheme of the industry? How do you plan to get your message out to the public more effectively moving forward?

Our focus is simple. We are a very niche brand and specialize in making bracelets. Our goal is to be known as the best bracelet brand in the industry, similar to what Stance has done for socks and Neff has done for beanies. By keeping our message simple and straight forward, it allows our customers to easily “share” our story. Word of mouth is the most powerful form of marketing and by providing our customers with a reason to brag about our product, it allows more and more people to join the Pura Vida Movement.

Three things that Pura Vida is:

Simple + Unique + A Lifestyle

The biggest misconception about Pura Vida is:

Trying to stay away from the stigma of “Give Back” brands and the misconception about whether or not they really donate.

The most important issue facing the surf industry today is:

Brands need to start being original and unique. Creating a product that truly sets you apart from your competitors seems to be a tough find.

Closing thoughts?

Focus on the end goal which is creating the best possible products and experience for your customers. All the other drama is easy to fix…