From Brazil to Italy to Southern California, Amanda Chinchelli is no stranger to beautiful seaside landscapes and vibrant surf cultures. Her unique brand of women’s surf wear, SEEA, has been bringing high fashion to the waves since the summer of 2011. Here she speaks about garment manufacturing in Los Angeles, online vs. retail selling, and her international mix of style inspirations. She also shares details for an upcoming line of land clothes in the SEEA collection.
You mention that you were making suits just for yourself at first, and when you got lots of compliments you started thinking you could actually market them. Was it difficult for you to make that jump to actually make a business? How long did it take from when you said, “I’m doing this” until you actually sold suits to strangers?
Right after the first couple sessions surfing in them, I knew that I wanted to share them with the world, but I also knew it wouldn’t happen just sewing a few here and there by myself. I love crafty, handmade stuff, but swimsuits just aren’t the kind of garment you want looking “crafty.” I wanted the suits to be durable, and neatly done, and the first models were pretty technical and hard to construct, so it took me about six months to really get things off the ground. I had to change factories three times before I found a good one, and I’m very thankful to have found them in L.A. Garment manufacturing is not easy, and I don’t think I would have been able to make SEEA happen without a solid background in apparel development and my previous experience with design.
Today, a lot of designers are getting their lines off the ground through sites like Etsy. Are online communities where you do most of your business, or do you find that in-person/retail selling still works for you?
Retail is super important. We work directly with an amazing network of small, independently owned surf shops and boutiques, and the environment they provide is a key part of the experience of SEEA. The suits are different and visually appealing, so they draw people in, both in-store and online, but at a cool shop you can try the suits on, feel the fit and quality of the fabric, and most importantly, hear the brand story from the retailers themselves. Shops like Mollusk, Surfy Surfy, and Thalia have supported us from the start, and like KTV, they attract a different kind of consumer who appreciates knowing where and how the stuff they buy is made.
We still sell a good amount of suits online, but the majority of those orders are sent off to cities and countries where we don’t yet have dealers. In the end, we put a huge amount of work into our blog, Facebook, and social media sites, as they are extensions of our own views and aesthetics and an opportunity to provide the online community with a window into who we are and how we make things. I love Etsy, and in a way, I still feel there is a handmade aspect to SEEA as we are practically hands on in every part of the business, from designing the suits to shipping out orders, we do it all ourselves.
How is the women’s surfwear market? Do you notice more ladies getting involved in the sport these days?
Absolutely, and the coolest thing is that I see it becoming a unique branch of surfing in and of itself. Before I felt that there was almost a competition going on into women’s and men surfing – like we had to prove something. Now I feel that it’s understood that as women, we surf in our own way, that we like to smile while we ride, make weird noises when we fall, and also like to wear cute clothes at the beach. Surf has always been a trend in the fashion world, but now I think there is more room for fashion in the surfing world. Girls are tired of all black everything and want to express their style in what they wear in the water as well on land.
How often do you launch a new line, and how many different designs do you typically do?
That is a good question which we are still trying to figure out! Right now we are producing 2 seasons per year which dealers can book in advance, but we also do special colors in limited runs throughout the year to keep it interesting. So far, we’re averaging about three to four new styles per season, but new designs can be pretty costly to develop, so we can’t afford to make as many as I’d like to. The beauty of manufacturing domestically is that we can make things happen pretty fast, so when I find a textile I can’t resist, I’ll usually just buy it and figure out what to make with it later.
Okay, this might be an unfair question, but since you’ve lived in some pretty amazing places, I’m curious which do you prefer – Brazil, Italy or California?
This is totally unfair and extremely hard to answer. I deeply love all of them for different reasons, but wouldn’t live anywhere else than California right now. I never forget how lucky I am to be able to do what I love and surf nearly everyday.
Who are your top five style icons?
Sofia Loren as an icon of Italian style, my mom for her sense of class, Sonia Delanuay for her colors and patterns, Julie Cox for her cat-smooth surfing, and Doris Monteiro, for her unique Brazilian rhythms and musical style.
Where do you turn for design inspiration?
Colors themselves give me the most energy — in that sense, inspiration is all around us, in nature and in our everyday, so I don’t feel the need to consciously seek out new ideas. Magazines, photos, and books can be great sources of inspiration, but it’s the juxtaposition of color and pattern itself that gives me the creative burst to make something new. That’s usually how the theme of a collection will start to take shape, but the real inspiration behind SEEA are the Seeababes themselves. I am so fortunate to be surrounded by a group of such stylish and creative lady surfer friends. They are my muses – I always design with them in mind. Traveling is also a super important way to recharge – I go back to Italy at least once a year, to breathe art and history and refresh my roots.
It looks like you’re experimenting with land clothes in addition to sea clothes now. Is an extended line in the future for you?
Yes, it is! We’re starting this fall with a cape to change from sea clothes into land clothes, which will probably be the first link to an expanded line in the future. I also have some great ideas for wetsuits as well, which I’d love to make happen. Either way, I’d like to keep the idea of “surfing garments” to making stuff that you can wear in and out of the water with sun protection and comfort.