The modern world is filled with images of women that so many of us strive to emulate. This form of beauty is based on some sort of standard that was set long ago. Our own self-worth seems to be determined by our own physical appearance. Feeling worthy is something I struggle with every single day, especially with summer quickly approaching. Seattle may be known for its rain, but its summers are stunning. When summer hits, I will have to shed my layers of comfy clothing, long sleeved shirts, skirts with tights and boots and start wearing more weather appropriate fashion. While I love summer and all of the activities that come with it, I dread wearing clothing that does not cover my self-perceived flaws. Wearing something as simple as shorts and a tank top (let alone a swimsuit) makes me feel so self-conscious because I am not tan by any means and I have cellulite that even when I am at my best from an athletic perspective, it won’t go away. I am not the only woman who holds a negative self-perception of myself.
One day last year after a long conversation with his friend, Jennifer Stanley and his daughter Sariah about doing something more in fashion than just making money, Seattle-native Justin Jones had a vision. He bought three sewing machines and for the first time ever in his life, Justin started sewing. Determined to make a difference in the world of fashion, Vulure Couture was born.
Justin and Vulure Couture believe that all women are beautiful, just the way they are. They have chosen designs for women who are a B cup or smaller so they look and fit better than most off-the-rack or straight-out-of-the-catalog suits. The suits are also designed to show off the curves and other wonderful assets that each individual woman possesses. Vulure also knows that the fashion industry is plagued with unhealthy imagery and eating disorders. As a part of their dedication to a healthy lifestyle, a portion of the proceeds Vulure makes each year goes to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), whose mission is to support individuals and families affected by eating disorders, and serves as a catalyst for prevention, cures and access to quality care.
On Saturday, April 27, Vulure officially launched their new line of swimwear at Sandbox Sports Seattle. Miss A Seattle writer, Kim Vu, and I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the launch. Upon entering Sandbox Sports, we were greeted with just that – a huge sandbox and a beach volleyball court. This venue could not have been more perfect for the launch of a swimwear line. With DJ Slá spinning the music and the models playing volleyball and spinning hula hoops, it may have been cold and raining outside, but it certainly felt like summertime on the beaches of Southern California inside.
With Dagruv bartenders manning the tiki bar, drinks were provided by Gene Juarez and Edgar Martinez’s tequila brand Zac Mezcal with Demitri’s Mixers adding the mixes to the margaritas. Lady Yum, Poetry in Motion and Spirited Cupcakes provided all the delicious food for the launch.
Justin himself was very easy to spot in the crowd. With his long surfer hair and laid back casual fashion, he epitomized the fun lifestyle one would have living near the ocean. I introduced myself and his warm and inviting personality shined through immediately. In my short conversation with him and watching him present his designs and tell his story, you could see that he was hard working and very passionate about helping women change their perceptions about themselves and make them feel beautiful.
I also had the opportunity to speak to some of the Vulure team. Julius Leano helps with swimsuit design. He graduated from the International Academy of Design and Technology (IADT) in 2012 and Vulure is his first designing job. Julius also designs his own men’s wear, women’s evening wear and ready-to-wear fashion through his own company, JULEANO, which was recently showcased at Metropolitan Fashion Week. Zina Izrailov designs swimsuits and creates samples for Vulure. She also recently graduated from IADT and has her own collection of women’s day and evening wear called Zinaiz. Jennifer Stanley, who has known Justin since age 10, does all things social media for Vulure. She is on Facebook almost 24/7 helping promote Vulure. Jennifer talked to me about how passionate Justin was about starting Vulure. After the long conversation she had with him about starting the company, literally the next day, Justin called her and said he was ready!
I also met Deborha Petruzzi, a Keller Williams Realty broker by day, and the recent winner of Ms. America’s Humanitarian, a pageant for women who contribute to their community through volunteering and philanthropic work. Deborha also earned the President’s Volunteer Service Award for having 130 hours of community service work with the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), the Lake Stevens Family Center and the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life (she is also a cancer survivor!!). She was very excited for the launch of Vulure and the work they do with NEDA.
The fashion show began at 8:30 p.m. and 17 models walked the sand-filled beach runway wearing the unique and dazzling Vulure Couture designs. One suit had an almost lingerie feel, others had crisscross patterns that I have never seen before, and one design had a 1920s flapper vibe as a strapless fringe design. The colors ranged from black to bright and bold reds and turquoise to fun shimmers. All the suits were made to fit women who wear an A and B cup. Most bikinis are made to fit women with a C cup or larger, leaving those who are smaller never quite able to fit into a bikini top correctly. Vulure has answered that call in a very fashionable way.
After the fashion show ended, Justin stood before the large crowd to talk about Vulure Couture’s real mission. Justin believes that as a business owner, he has to do more than just sell a product. He wants women to feel good about themselves. With tears in his eyes, he opened up about the story of his daughter, Channi. As a young adolescent struggling with anorexia, Channi was surrounded by small models wearing swimwear around the house. She told her dad, “This sucks.” It was then that he realized what was wrong with society in the fashion world. He then invited his daughter up to speak.
April 23, 2013 was Channi’s one year anniversary from recovery after battling anorexia. On that day one year ago, she went to the Rosewood Centers for Eating Disorders. Not long before that, she wanted to starve to death before her freshman year of college, hoping she would have a heart attack so her death would look like an accident. Channi knew even then that she had an amazing family, and anorexia took away all of her compassion. Her father cried out to her, “Where is your heart? Don’t you care?” She knew anorexia had turned her into a zombie. One year later, Channi now looks the way she always saw herself in the mirror while she was battling anorexia. Now, even her worst day is 100 times better than her worst day when she was anorexic. This year has been the best year for her since the age of 12. Channi created a Facebook group called Thirty Days in a Bikini, which now has over 1,000 members. Members of the page (both men and women) submitted photos of themselves in bikinis or not wearing much, and wrote messages of inspiration to others about overcoming their body image struggles. Some of these photos and messages were played on a projector, and Channi read their messages of hope as the photos scrolled through. I do not believe there was a dry eye in the house after this presentation!
Karen Andonian, a member of the board of directors for NEDA, spoke to the crowd after Channi’s inspirational story. Karen spent most of her adolescent years in the hospital while battling anorexia for 25 years. She is now a personal trainer for those who have chronic illnesses. Karen discussed the startling eating disorder statistics. Thirty million Americans struggle with eating disorders, which includes 20 million women and 10 million men. Anorexia is the number one cause of death for women between the ages of 15-24. Only 10 percent of those battling an eating disorder get treatment, and of that, 50 percent relapse and only 30-40 percent fully recover. Not much national media attention is paid to eating disorders. NEDA is there to help those fighting the battle – through their website, you can click to chat with someone or there is a phone number you can call to help. NEDA also holds educational seminars and hosts over 50 walks across the country. One of the biggest battles NEDA fights from a legislative standpoint is insurance coverage. Right now, insurance does not cover the effects caused by eating disorders, especially since it is not known what truly causes anorexia or bulimia. More research needs to be funded so NEDA can recruit the best scientists to study eating disorders to find the root causes. Karen did mention that one small battle has been won recently. The Virginia State Legislature passed a bill that created an eating disorder screening in high schools.
Finally, two very brave women shared their recent stories. In relation to his daughter’s Facebook group, Justin worked with a production crew and filmed a series of short documentaries for YouTube called “Thirty Days in a Bikini.” Thirty Days follows two Seattle women, Erica and Cassandra, as they wear bikinis everywhere for one month. Erica, who I had a chance to speak with briefly, works at a bakery and heard about the audition for Thirty Days through a friend. After showing off her fantastic and upbeat personality, she was one of the two chosen to wear a bikini everywhere for thirty days. On day one, she had to go to the airport to fly down to Arizona. Upon entering, airport officials asked her to go into the bathroom and change clothes. Overall, Erica had an amazing experience being an advocate for women everywhere. Cassandra said it was great to be a part of such a good cause. The first eight days in a bikini were very difficult for her, but now she is stronger than ever. The documentary chronicles the stares, the nasty remarks, the judgment, the bewildered questions, the random photographers and the emotional and spiritual journey the two women take while facing society’s notion of beauty. Justin is currently working on creating a full length documentary on Erica and Cassandra’s experience.