If I told you about a new company in Naples called OLSSA, what would you say? A trendy IKEA competitor? A high-end Danish sports car? Maybe a new Swiss watch?
Luckily for those of us in Southwest Florida, OLSSA is a new swimwear company founded by Gina Stankard and Jeff Stankard. The brand is distinguished from other labels by the fact that the fabric used was once a trash can. OLSSA swimwear is made from discarded water bottles and plastic debris that clog the oceans we love.
Approximately 14 million tonnes of debris clog our waterways each year. Plastic accounts for 80% of all marine debris, polluting the Gulf and endangering its wildlife.
This is especially important for those of us who live in Florida. We spend a good part of our time in beach clothes and enjoy the gulf as a leisure attraction. Being able to carry something that once harmed this body of water seems particularly relevant.
Ever admiring the outdoors, the Stankards were saddened by the conditions on the world’s waterways. “We are beach people,” says Gina. “We were inspired to do something when we saw the abuse and the waste, and the state of the water. We wanted to improve the health of the water.
The Stankards moved to Jupiter on Florida’s east coast in 2014. An early retirement in 2020 brought them west, when they settled in Naples and embraced its beach life.
Gina, having worked in fashion retail for over 25 years and Jeff, a former automotive industry professional, didn’t stay long in retirement. Once settled in Naples, they decided to provide the city with a doubly advantageous product; trendy beachwear that reuses materials that threaten the beaches we enjoy and rely on to fuel our tourism economy.
While recycled polyester has been around since the early 1990s, improvements in technology have made it much more comfortable and durable, the Stankards say. “We looked at dozens and dozens of samples before deciding on our 92% recycled polyester/8% spandex fabric,” Gina said. “The material has a surprisingly luxurious feel and dries quickly, with 4-way stretch for comfortable fit and movement.”
The line, including men’s board shorts, t-shirts and hats, also offers an elastic-waisted hybrid that moves easily from the boat to the pool, gym or restaurant, making it a essential in Naples. The company also hopes to add women’s clothing down the road. But as Gina says, with such a versatile fit and universal fit, “We have a few customers buying our men’s swim shorts!
The process of creating OLSSA’s unique fabric begins when plastic is reconfigured into a raw material adaptable enough to eventually be woven.
“The practice of converting water bottles into recycled polyester fabric is pretty high-tech, and using it for swimwear was still cutting edge even in 2017,” says Gina. “The first step in the process is to break the water bottles into flakes. After that, the flakes are melted into very small pellets. After the melting process is complete, the pellets are filtered and spun into threads and woven into fabric.
Customers viewing the website will notice the natural colors and lack of vibrant design options. Gina explains the ecological reason for this choice.
“When it comes to swimwear, you may like a playful print or a bold color, but you’ll quickly find that it quickly goes out of style or you get bored with it. Our mission is to design swimwear that’s modern fit in timeless solid colors that will pair well with almost any shirt, from the Budweiser summer t-shirt to the traditional golf shirt and will remain a staple in your wardrobe for years to come.
For more variety, OLSSA offers three different colors, several lengths and two styles to choose from. A new color option will soon be introduced, giving shoppers another choice for their eco-friendly wardrobes.
Upholding the couple’s mission to improve our waterways, OLSSA donates a percentage of sales to the Loggerhead MarineLife Center at Juno Beach, The Ocean Conservancy and Save the Manatee Club.
While most shoppers pick up their OLSSA apparel from the company’s website, the line has recently become available at a few stores in Naples as well as Marco Island, Sanibel and Captiva. The Stankards are negotiating with other Southwest Florida brick-and-mortar retailers to get the line to local stores.
Visitors to the OLSSA website will notice that the Stankards wanted to create a welcoming shopping experience for beach lovers so much that the site even includes a Spotify playlist to inspire the coastal lifestyle.
“We were sitting on the beach in Naples listening to music and watching the sunset when the idea for OLSSA was born,” says Gina. “It’s a new experience for us. It’s kind of an adventure. We like to think that instead of just dipping our toes, we’re diving head first.
Whether diving headfirst or swimming over breakers, Floridians now have an eco-friendly option for their Sunshine State swimwear. Finally, shedding light on the meaning of the company name, one can see the couple’s dedication to this company and the mission of their brand. “OLSSA,” says Gina, “is ‘Our Little Swimsuit Adventure.'” ¦
In the TO KNOW
Stores in the region:
The Old Naples Surf Shop
1311 3rd Street S., Naples
2144 Tamiami Trail N., Naples
14830 Captiva Drive, Captiva Island