Vanessa with sewing machine

Sustainable, Funky Fashion: Meet Vanessa Izmirlian, Owner of Surfthelook!

Her Campus (HC): Tell me about Surfthelook, what kind of business is it?

Vanessa Izmirlian (VI): I started Surfthelook a little under a year ago. I always knew I wanted something of my own, and I always knew I loved being environmentally friendly. In my sophomore year of college, I started thrifting with my friends. My body shape is unique, I’ve always been curvy, and I wanted to start something inclusive of all body shapes. Once I started thrifting, I started cutting up and cropping things! My mom has always been into sewing, and I started playing around with it too. I started sewing little shells on my clothes because I find that I’m a beachy person and I like that kind of style. I started to think more about it, and I saw brands changing to be eco-friendlier, and as I thought about how I love sewing. It took me about five months to start the business, it officially launched in Nov. 2019. This is one of the best ways for you to see how brands are trying to do the best for society. You hear about the sweatshops, the destructive businesses in the Us around the world. I just wanted to make a change and give people unique clothes!

HC: How did you get your idea/inspiration for the business?

VI: I have had a funky style my whole life, and I feel like when I sew or create something, it’s not just for money, it’s me expressing myself! It makes me feel good and gives me the drive to know my art is out there in the world. I love doing it for me and I also love making other girls happy. I love it when people message me and tell me how good and confident, they feel in my clothes because that’s exactly what I was going for.

matching set with sunnies Photo by Vanessa Izmirilan HC: What is your business’s overall mission?

VI: I feel like my overall mission is just to send the message to be cautious, make sure you’re supporting good brands whose values match up with yours. None of us are perfect, but whenever you buy from a company, I think it’s important to read about them and their ethics. Not everything is going to be 100% sustainable, but we can do our best to be open to small businesses like mine and support them. I’ve bought from other businesses like my own, and it’s just so personal and you see how much care goes into it. I find that making people aware of the ethics of their shopping and the clothes they put on their bodies is important.

HC: What made you want to become a part of the clothing/fashion field?

VI: When I was younger, I was overweight so I felt like I couldn’t wear anything I enjoyed much. Once I started getting into a healthier mindset, and discovering self-love, and just transforming physically and mentally into a healthier state, I began to experiment with fashion. I love fall clothes, I love buying dresses, I love buying weird things. I started thrifting with my friends in college, and I realized how much I loved it because you’re getting such a good price, and you’re also buying secondhand. I’ve always loved wearing crazy things. I feel like it reflects my personality because I love wearing weird, crazy things that most people wouldn’t wear, and I like that!

HC: Do you have any employees?

VI: No, it’s just me. I do all the social media, website, clothes, packaging myself. I’m thinking as I grow, I’ll probably need someone to help me with all the little things. When I first started, I realized I was never going to grow my business if I wasn’t fully focused on it. It is hard running this company and being a full-time student, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I took a risk! And now it’s working, and I try and work hard every day towards it. I make monthly goals for myself and I work really hard!

HC: How do you advertise Surfthelook?

VI: I’m active on Instagram, I recently made a TikTok, I also love to put my business cards in packages, and I try to stay in touch with girls who buy from Surfthelook! But I’m the most active on Instagram.

set  set with tape measure Photo by Vanessa Izmirlian

HC: Are customers mostly local/national/international?

VI: I’ve shipped out of the country to Canada and France before! I ship within Florida a lot, but I also get a lot of orders from people in Hawaii and California, I think because those places fit my brand’s vibe! I’ve also shipped to New Jersey a lot. It’s so cool to see that my little business has trickled all over the map!

HC: How do you connect with clients?

VI: I love to be very open, being interactive, and posting questions through Instagram posts or stories. I’m learning every single day about how to improve the business. I use mostly Instagram to follow up with customers, making sure they got their product and making sure they liked it!

HC: Do you have any advice for someone looking to start their own business?

VI: Go for it! There’s always going to be someone on the outside that doesn’t believe in you. Be stronger and continue to do what you are doing. Make mistakes! I made a lot of mistakes, starting this business by myself. But don’t be afraid to jump into it! Every single day I’m learning something new, whether it’s about the product, the website or the clientele. It’s a crazy ride, but just hold on. It’s worth it, I enjoy it and I’m so happy I stuck with it!

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