Justine Willeford

“Everything is figure-out-able,” according to our Woman of the Week Justine Willeford, founder and designer at Pelican House Swimwear. After graduating from UCSC with a BS in Marine Biology, Justine ended up landing her dream job as an aquarist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  Although she loved it, she began to get restless after awhile. She felt like she was destined for more, and the job market left much to be desired. “I was fed up with everyone else dictating what I was going to do with my career,” she says. “I wanted to create a job for myself that utilized all of my skills and education and creative energy.”

So what did she do? She started an Etsy store making the apparel that evolved into what is now Pelican House Swimwear. “I really wanted to bring everything full circle with my company, so I created it as a for-purpose, for-profit business that raises money for conservation. I have no prior business experience and my design and garment making skills are all self-taught from an early age, so I have definitely learned a lot along the way.”

Born in southern California, Justine grew up in Sonoma county. She and her family spent most of their weekends and vacation time road tripping up and down the California coast in their little camper. “I’ve always been a beach girl through and through, and Santa Cruz felt like a good balance between a small northern California town and a buzzing southern California beach town,” says Justine. “I think what makes Santa Cruz special is the people… I love how all my different social and business circles in Santa Cruz overlap, it’s like this big web of awesome people that are all connected in one way or another.”

Selling swimwear is really just the tool drives the true vision and purpose of her company: to aid conservation projects, educate and inspire women to join the slow fashion movement, and build a community of ocean lovers that share “the stoke.” The community is what drives the mission, by making the choice to purchase a bikini that gives back.

Justine says that clothing design and manufacturing are just like any challenge in life: it’s all about trial and error. “If there is something I am totally stumped on, I just research, research, research like the little scientist I am…” she says. “It’s true what they say, the only real failure is to never try.” Having role models, mentors and a support group has helped Justine stay afloat. “As an entrepreneur you likely are doing something no one else has done before so there’s no instruction manual, but If you can find someone that inspires you or that you look up to as a business woman, it will give you strength.”

Taking the time to care for yourself is a must, she says. “If you are taking a little time each day to exercise, have mindfulness, a little play and nourishment you will be able to work more efficiently and avoid the dreaded burnout. It’s really hard to bounce back from burnout when you are a one woman show, so I always allow myself the me time that I need without feeling guilty.”

Justine is excited to be working on a campaign to acquire local, sustainable manufacturing help. She will be organizing a pre-sale for an all new collection, which will launch on Kickstarter after her next immediate project: creating her first professionally produced videos. These include a day-in-the-life story that follows her around behind the scenes of Pelican House and shows you how she does it all. Pelican House is also in the process of becoming B Corp certified. So head over, share “the stoke” and join us in celebrating Justine Willeford: HER story is OUR story!

Find her on Facebook: @pelicanhousesc

Written by our discoverHER blogger: Liz Hodges