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“I just realized that not everyone is going to hold my hand and walk me through things,” Alyxandra Tortorice shares with me, sounding surprisingly light-hearted and happy. Our timing for the phone call was a little bit off—she’s on Pacific Time, I’m Eastern Standard. I must have caught her while she was out and about because I can hear the wind rushing past the phone and commotion in the background. Is she at the beach?
It wouldn’t be a surprise. Alyx is a surfer. A designer and a student, but mostly a surfer. She recently graduated from the Laguna College of Art and Design with a BFA in Action Sport Design and is the creator of the Starfysh Wetsuit—the suit that is filling a much-needed gap in the wetsuit industry. What started as an assignment in one of her classes turned into a flourishing business. With help from the school, her professors and advisors, Alyx was able to turn her hobby into a career full of passion and innovation.
Business Management and Why You Should Always Double Check
When I spoke with Alyx, her wetsuits were available online and locally in two Laguna stores. The road to this success wasn’t paved for her though. During the many ups and downs of fulfilling any project, Alyx hit a major roadblock when she took her hand-sewn prototype to production.
“I worked with a factory that I didn’t do enough research on,” she tells me, “and it ended up being a whole scam.”
Catharin Eure, the chairman of design and digital media at LCAD and one of Alyx’s teachers, explained a little more.
“Alyx is paying for school and paying for an apartment and paying for life in general. She put all of her money into one of the first prototypes, and, well, you know, it was just a bad manufacturer that definitely was not ethical. He took her money, and not only that, but he took her prototype. At that point he dropped out of sight and dropped out of contact.”
Can you imagine? One moment, you’re moving full speed ahead, and the next, everything is gone.
Thankfully, Alyx had a strong team behind her. Her school, the professors, the student body—pretty much anyone that knew Alyx pitched in to help. They devised a strategy to make contact with the fly-by-night manufacturer. And thankfully, it worked. The prototype was back in Alyx’s hands and so was her money.
Almost immediately, Alyx moved forward with the patenting in hopes of avoiding any future problems. And in 2015, her creation won Print magazine’s Wearable Design Award: Best in Show.
Wearable Designs and Design Management
Judge Bridgid Agricola of the Wearable Design Awards says, “The Starfysh wetsuit functionality is outstanding for the wearer.” The suit uses an S-lock system that allows its wearer to choose a configuration comfortable for them. Whether that’s long sleeves with shorts in all black, the full body suit with a colorful pattern or something in between, it’s all up to the surfer. The ensemble itself isn’t the only uniquely creative aspect of the suits either.
Originally from New York, Alyx’s bicoastal lifestyle gave her a unique perspective while creating her first Starfysh patterns.
“The beaches in Montauk [New York] and the beaches [in Laguna] are actually a lot different,” she tells me. “In New York there are a lot more dunes and flowers and more foliage in the summer.” This foliage is what inspired the creation of Starfysh’s Ditch Plains ensemble. Pink and blue pastels come together in rounded clusters to create arrays of organically beautiful flowers.
As for the West Coast design, orange and pink pastels repeat themselves in a step-like pattern contained in a teardrop form. Alyx’s inspiration for this one came from the appropriately named Thousand Steps Beach in Laguna. Beach-goers have to face “a billion stairs” to get to and from the water. Both patterns allude to a retro something that could be found during the Summer of Love.
“My logo also touches on the east and west, my bicoastal lifestyle,” Alyx adds. “The ‘S’ obviously stands for Starfysh. But also, the two circles on the end represent the sunrise and the sunset.
“When you’re surfing on the east coast, you see the sun rise from the water … And then when you’re surfing on the West Coast, you see the sun set. So it’s actually a very different experience both ways, and they’re both equally beautiful.”
Environmentally Conscious Business Management
As our conversation came to a close, I remembered a quote of Alyx’s from her online portfolio. At the top of resume, she had written:
“Design can change the world. There are so many things that can be improved upon. My dream is to help build a world that respects mother nature. I use design to educate and to create. Sustainability is not an option, it is the only choice.”
So my question to her was whether or not she felt that Starfysh held true to her beliefs as a designer. And her answer was incredible.
“A big part of my brand is that my wetsuits are made very locally.” Alyx says, adding that she refuses to outsource the production of her suits, despite warnings from many about the high cost of local production. “I want my price point to go down, but I think I’m designing a strong enough product, and people are buying them,” she explains. “I never want to make something outside of the US. It’s all made in the US now, and I want to keep it that way.”
In addition to supporting local companies by manufacturing directly in Southern California, Alyx is making sure Starfysh remains environmentally friendly throughout the entire production process. All of the suits are hand-sewn to keep them away from the extremely toxic glue that binds most wetsuits.
“… You actually can’t use [the glue] in the state of California—it’s illegal. So all wetsuits that are glued off the bat cannot be made in California,” she adds in support of remaining local.
In the future, Alyx hopes to produce the wetsuits using a neoprene called Yulex. Most neoprene is made from synthetic rubber created by the polymerization of chloroprene. Yulex, however, is derived from the guayule plant, making it far more environmentally friendly than the synthetic stuff.
“I just think all companies that are starting, if you’re not looking towards sustainability, you’re not relevant at all. It’s just not an option to not at least try to be more sustainable.”
And she’s right. What reason do companies have to not work towards sustainability? Is cost really the only factor preventing our society from protecting the beautiful planet to which we’ve already caused so much damage? Unfortunately I don’t have an answer to that. But it’s definitely some food for thought.
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