Upon opening the Vivida communications email account for the first time, Jackie Tyburski recalls stumbling upon something she had never seen before. As the newly hired Global Engagement Director and first full time hire for the company, Jackie waded through the Vivida inbox finding friendly dispatches from customers all over the globe. As she sifted through the communications, she discovered a constant stream of affable updates. It was as if customers were reaching out to keep in touch; sharing news of exciting travel plans, relaying athletic accomplishments or sending product feedback and encouragement. Jackie found photos of single Vivida items, seemingly passed through small towns across South America, worn by different characters in every place, while other people wrote in to share Vivida product sightings in unexpected corners of the globe. At the time, Vivida was a small apparel company making t-shirts, hoodies and poncho towels, but the sense of brand community was pouring out of the email inbox as if the company was one big ‘brotherhood of the traveling Vivida shirt.’
The one thing that stood out, even in the days before social media influencers, was that none of these communications came from sponsored athletes or formal brand ambassadors – no one was asking for anything – Jackie had stumbled upon a brand supported by a self-established community and surrounded by a true grassroots culture. In her introduction to the brand, it was explained that the concept for Vivida comes from the Spanish phrase ‘living a long meaningful life’ and was born when company founder David Harris-Burland set out to travel the world. Having teed up a promising career path in finance in his early 20s, David put aside the race for material wealth to travel and explore the cultural beauty of the natural world. Deliberately immersing himself in local cultures, he became inspired by people living authentic lives in harmony with nature and seeking out positive experiences.
Determined to wring every ounce out of his travels, David stumbled upon the Vivida spirit in the Dominican Republic and carried it with him through Brazil and onto places such as Tarifa and other notably windy & surf-centric international locations. Driven by his unmistakable enthusiasm, passion and infectious energy, he sought out rich communal experiences, often immersing himself in small communities just beyond the well-worn path of kiteboarding destinations. The Vivida concept soon became an icon of these eye-opening experiences, first appearing on t-shirts and then other accessories useful to the active lifestyle. With every personal connection, the Vivida logo became a bond between people and eventually a brand message that David wanted to share with the world.
In the early years, Vivida experienced organic and niche-focused growth in windsports destinations around the world. Building a brand from scratch was a huge undertaking, and without big money backers or a major funding source, Vivida’s early projects were financed by creative fundraising and carefully forged relationships with suppliers that would support small quantities and razor-thin budgets. Originally, the brand’s products tended to be exploratory and were often things David found useful for travel; items ranging from duffle bags to sleep eye masks. However, with time, the natural feel and non-corporate ethos of the company and its user-community focused-in on key watersports accessories and apparel.
One of Vivida’s early successes was in their women’s swimwear line. These eco-friendly suits were designed with materials carefully sourced from recycled post-consumer plastic bottles and were engineered to stay-put even during the most active watersports activities. With every watersports-oriented product hitting its mark, Vivida turned its focus to neoprene products, using recycled rubber tires and eco glues to blend sustainability and style into neoprene wetsuits and jackets. Another category of standout products has been wearable poncho towels that help riders get in and out of their swimsuits or wetsuits while maintaining warmth and privacy. As the line of Vivida poncho towels has evolved, they are now seen everywhere across the world, and have inspired a whole new range of wearable robes that deliver function, comfort and utility beyond just changing.
Having joined the company at a time when there were just two other employees, Jackie has witnessed first-hand the evolution of a community-driven product development model. Today, Vivida is still a small company, but its product offering has become more technical with the addition of a core group of professional designers capable of building sophisticated accessories that meet the brand’s sustainability goals. Despite this progression, Vivida’s products are still driven by a core group of early adopters and ambassadors that are always eager to help with dialing in proper fit, suggested features and performance feedback.
Part of Vivida’s breakout success was the brand’s timing with the emergence of social media platforms like Instagram. Before influencer programs existed, the Vivida community embraced social platforms to share the concept of the Vivida lifestyle. At a time when budgets were bootstrapped, photos of Vivida products in use were popping up organically in the social media feeds of water-oriented customers all over the world. People would snap a photo if they spotted a fellow Vivida customer stepping off a plane in a far flung location, mostly because Vivida was a connecting force outside of traditional boardsports venues — #spottedinvivida on Instagram is still a much-used hashtag. According to Jackie, “People have invested and cared for the brand in ways you would never see of a corporate concern,” and in turn, Vivida has embraced that support.
Their new series, ‘Living Vivida’ is a prime example of this. Here is ambassador, Joss de Pfyffer:
With regard to sponsorship, Vivida has avoided the typical professional athlete association and instead, has chosen to carefully partner with only brand ambassadors that exemplify the philosophy of the company. Professional kiteboarder, Mikaili Sol has been a Vivida ambassador since before she began dominating the freestyle world championship scene. Mikaili is celebrated not only for her kite-specific talents, but also for the way she seeks to inspire young women on a grander scale. According to Jackie, “Mika is an incredible example of female empowerment and being unapologetic about doing what you love. She came on early because she loved the Vivida message and purpose, not because we were a huge sponsorship deal.” Another long-standing ambassador is Greidy Diaz, a native of the Dominican Republic who overcame the challenges of poverty and used kiteboarding as a tool to find balance and stability in his life. In every way, Greidy demonstrates a talented and positive soul working hard to make the most of every moment in life. Everything from its array of products to the small list of ambassadors is aligned to fit with the Vivida mission, which values positive experience with their product and the community over sales quotas.
One of the biggest challenges in the evolving watersports accessory space and one that is very much in line with the Vivida mission is building products that push the envelope of environmental sustainability. According to Jackie, “being a ‘sustainable’ brand is incredibly difficult these days. It’s not uncommon for apparel brands to greenwash their product – maybe a line of boardshorts claim to be made of coconut shells or coffee when, in reality, only a small portion of this ‘eco’ fiber is mixed into polyester, which will leach microplastics into the ocean. Worse yet, mixing classes of fabric together for the purpose of greenwashing makes it difficult to extract the components at the end of the lifecycle, ruining any hope of circularity, recycling or re-use of the fibers at the end of the garment’s lifespan.” Since her start with Vivida, Jackie has learned that sustainability can be measured in so many different dimensions, “It’s hard for a brand to decide whether to focus on reducing each product’s carbon footprint, increasing its recycled materials or zeroing in on ethical labor and fair trade.” There’s a lot of complexity in the sustainability quest because of the inherent tradeoffs. If a brand refuses to make any compromises, the end result is a product that no one can afford, and without a customer base, there’s no sustainability impact on the market.
Vivida tries to focus on achievable goals and continual improvements, for instance, it is probably one of the smallest brands to be a part of the UNFCCC (United Nations Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action) which involves monthly meetings and reporting, as well as continued education seminars on the latest in sustainability innovations. When confronted by the scenarios where there are no silver bullets for achieving sustainability, Vivida aims to be transparent and continues to search for alternatives that tread lightly on the environment that these products are designed for. In the future, they also hope to build a closed-loop resource system so that when products reach the end of their lifecycles, customers are able and incentivized to send them back for Vivida to reuse the resource.
For water-minded athletes seeking to maximize the value of their time in the water, Vivida now has an impressive catalog of technical apparel and accessories to further that goal. From eco neoprene to changing towels, stay-put swimsuits and the new all-weather dry changing robes, each product is meticulously designed for style and function. While most brands start with a ‘product’ and then work backwards to create a visionary brand identity, for Vivida its evolution was the exact opposite. Vivida began with the ethos of inspiring healthy, outdoor lifestyles and what resulted was a grassroots community dedicated to leading meaningful, adventurous lives. The evolution of products followed that culture, and in that sense, Vivida started as a community and remains committed to those same principles today.